COMPETITION law enforcement is an important element of trade liberation in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) regional integration agenda.
Raising public awareness on anti-competitive practices, negative effects and the benefits of addressing them is a powerfulmove for the enforcement of competition law in the region.
COMESA Competition Commission (CCC) manager, legal services and compliance Mary Gurure says competition enforcement is an important tool which is why the CCC remains committed to aggressive enforcement of the COMESA competition regulations.
Ms Gurure says that the commission is also mindful that enforcement is not the only tool available as there are other more effective tools to achieving the same goal, especially where dealing with policy makers is concerned.
Competition policy by its nature is more than enforcement; it is a way of organising an economy.
Competition policy is a form of regulation that competes with other regulatory regimes, many of which are not friendly to free markets.
In this regard, the competition policy should become more aggressive in competing with other forms of regulations.
“We, as competition advocates should, therefore, support a competition mass movement at every opportunity or forum. This is where the critical role of the media comes in,” Ms Gurure says.
Since the commencement of operations of the CCC in January, 2014, there have been numerous inquiries about operations of the institution.
Some have doubted the need for enforcement of the regional competition regime, others have questioned the implementation modalities of the regime, while others still have gone as far as prophesying doom for the institution.
Such issues are expected whenever any new organisation is starting something new. What is needed is not to panic or despair but to engage the doubters in a constructive manner so that they come to understand what the regime is all about.
The CCC cannot achieve this task alone, it needs a dedicated team of stakeholders to assist in spreading the message across.
CCC board chairperson Mathews Chikankheni said the role of the media in competition advocacy cannot be overemphasised as they raise awareness and enhance competition culture in the region.
“I should at this moment acknowledge and appreciate the role the media has played so far in disseminating information on the operations of the Commission.
“I recall that when our COMESA Merger Assessment Guidelines were approved last year, the media massively covered this subject, especially in Kenya where the last workshop on the formulation of these guidelines was held,” Mr Chikankheni says.
He says despite these many teething problems encountered by the commission, operations of the commissions in two and half years down the line, has been largely successful.
This has largely been due to positive engagement process undertaken with various stakeholders in the field of competition policy and law to exchange with them best practices on a wide area of issues.
“The media has become an effective tool for detecting anti-competitive practices on the markets. One cannot talk about enforcing competition law in the common market without talking about the COMESA court of justice.
“It is indeed true that disputes are likely to arise in the enforcement of any law, competition law is not an exception, it is in this regard that the COMESA court of justice plays a very important role,” Mr Chinkankheni said.
The willingness of the commission to engage stakeholders across the globe has attracted applause from the legal fraternity, business community, and competition law practitioners among others.
Mr Chinkankheni says the media has historically played a critical role in raising awareness and enhancing competition culture in advanced competition jurisdictions such as the United States of America and the European Union.
Immediate past principal judge for the COMESA Court of Justice Samuel Rugege says the regional court played an important role in promoting regional integration and yet few people were aware of its existence.
Prof Justice Rugege, who is also Rwanda Chief Justice, says there is need for the media to aggressively publicise the work of the court and educate people on the COMESA treaty so that more litigants and lawyers in the region could utilise it.
“The COMESA Court of Justice plays an important role in settling disputes and in promoting the regional integration agenda but people were aware of its sittings.
“It is your responsibility as journalists to let people know about the court and matters that are being settled before the court,” he says.
Prof Justice Rugege said only 42 cases from litigants had been handled by the court since its inception many years ago.
CCC has up to date assessed more than 72 merger transactions valued at more than US$20 million in the region.
CCC manager mergers and acquisitions Willard Mwemba said the 72 merger transactions assessed by the commission represented a transaction value of more than US$20 million.
Mr Mwemba says this was the money invested in the common market through mergers and acquisitions as this was a success for the commission.
He attributes the success of the commission to the media which he says played an important role in disseminating feedback of the stakeholders, especially on the merger notification fees and thresholds.
Mr Mwemba further urges the media to continue spreading to the general public the operations of the commission and also to disseminate feedback to them so that the Commission could perform even better.
He said media advocacy can help raise public awareness of both the role and actions of a competition authority, as well as the benefits of addressing anti-competitive behaviour.
Media advocacy influences the behaviour of business communities through enhancing an understanding of competition law and exposing risks taken by offenders thus contributing to improving compliance.
He notes that business-targeted media advocacy activities may be particularly important in developing or transitional economies, which may lack an established competition culture or business community with the requisite legal or technical knowledge to take preventive measures against anti-competitive practices.
Most of the competition authorities monitor the media for signs of anti-competitive practices on the market.
It does not come as a surprise, therefore, that most competition authorities have dedicated personnel to deal with media information detection.
The commission, however, recognises the role that other stakeholders can play in complementing the advocacy work considering that they interact with governments, businesses, consumers, among other people on a daily basis.
The commission, in this regard, intends to reach out to the stakeholders in the region to promote the understanding of the role of competition in a market economy and to show how its enforcement activities further such goals.