LILONGWE, MALAWI – The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Competition Commission (CCC) has marked 10 years with a call for greater efficiency in public procurements as Uganda awaits major merger decisions.
The CCC is the trade blocs watchdog responsible for ensuring that fair trade practices among the 21 member states, including Uganda, are observed.
Speaking at the Bingu International Convention Center (BICC), in Lilongwe – Malawi, Chileshe Mpundu Kapwepwe, the COMESA Secretary General said that preferential trade amongst COMESA Member States is essential for reducing the cost of doing business.
“The benefits of trade liberalization notwithstanding, there are also risks of unfair business conduct and exploitation of consumers by unscrupulous businesses which engage in strategies to drive out competitors from the market to maximize their profits and to divide the Common Market, which is inimical to the single market imperative of the COMESA Treaty,” she said.
Kapwepwe explained that a competitive business environment in the Common Market translates into better prices and a wider choice of these goods and services.
Simplex Chithyola, the Malawi Minister for Trade and Industry, who represented President Lazarus Chakwera, offered land to the CCC for permanent offices in Malawi.
Dr Willard Mwemba, the CCC director and Chief Executive Officer said that consumer protection is an area that remains untapped with a number of countries still lacking in consumer protection laws.
He noted that from inception in 2013 to date, the COMESA Competition Commission has investigated over three hundred and sixty (360) merger cases and the companies involved derived an aggregate turnover of over $210b (about Ugx782 trillion) in the Common Market.
Prof. William Kovacic of George Washington University Law School pointed out that competitive markets allow innovation to thrive. He urged COMESA member states to ensure transparency and competitiveness in public procurements.
“Even small improvements in the effectiveness of public procurement can have staggering positive results. Instead of two hospitals, you can have three,” he said with a roar.
Among the CCC’s responsibilities is its veto powers over mergers and acquisitions that impact two or more member states as well as investigating unfair business practices such as unconscionable behavior.
Steven Kamukama, Manager Consumer Protection CCC, highlighted the importance of consumer protection and informed the participants about the conduct prohibited under the consumer welfare provisions of the COMESA Competition Regulations.
Among the cases the CCC has handled, Kamukama said that in May 2016, Fastjet was investigated for advertisements that did not disclose the full price of their air tickets.
“It excluded applicable taxes and other fees; making the ticket to look cheaper. Fastjet agreed and withdrew the advert,” Kamukama said.
The CCC also investigates uncompetitive behavior such as firm collusion, market foreclosure, and discrimination against new entrant’s which affects the competitiveness and affordability of key consumer goods.
The CCC is set to issue decisions concerning merger applications for Energy Plus Ltd and Equator Energy Ltd, Serengeti Energy Limited and Rwaza Hydropower Limited, and AkzoNobel N.V, Kansai Plascon East Africa Proprietary Limited and Kansai Plascon Africa Limited that will impact Ugandan consumers.
The watchdog is also investigating Pay Tv companies; Multichoice Africa holdings, Azam Media Limited and StarTimes Group for blocking certain regional television channels from airing during the 2022 World Cup without compensation to affected consumers.