EA region needs effective competition policy

Business Daily Africa, January 05, 2011

By Samson Awino

The recent happenings in Kenya’s telecommunication sector have given the Tenth Parliament a new food for thought in the ongoing quest for a level playground. It is now widely appreciated in the country that competition benefits consumers through lower prices, better quality and improved choice of products, and indirectly, through its impact on economic growth.

However, in cases where the market is paved with varied anti-competitive practices and weak regulatory framework, it is difficult for such a market to work for the poor.

Anti-competitive practices can only be controlled by the existing competition legislation and authority like Monopolies and prices Commission (MPC) in Kenya. However, the MPC faces challenges in tackling competition related problems due to weak regulatory framework, which is not compatible with the current trade regime in the East African Community where increase in the level of cross border trade has led to massive anti-competitive practices.

However, evidence in the EAC region reveals indicates a limited progress in regulatory reforms towards effective competition policy and law among the EAC member states.

In cases where there is a competition law, there is no effective operational competition regulatory authority to facilitate the implementation of the existing competition related legislation.

For instance, Kenya is yet to pass the competition Bill in Parliament, which has bee long overdue. The implementation of the EAC common market ahs just started, yet no member state has established an independent competition authority to support the implementation of the competition law and policy.

Furthermore, the EAC secretariat is yet to establish a regional competition authority to handle cases of anti-competitive practices in the current common market regime. Evidence from other advanced RTAs affirms that competition related reforms are key in making markets work for the poor, hence such reforms in the EAC would be important in enhancing consumer welfare and private sector development.

The existing scenario in EAC depicts a slow progress in the advancement of competition related reforms, which can be attributed to several factors like limited awareness on the importance of competition to foster private sector development and consumer welfare and limited political will to enact and implement competition related reforms within the EAC.

This can be affirmed by a study undertaken by Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) in 2009 which depicted that most stakeholders in Kenya do not understand the importance of competition.

Mr. Awino is a programme officer at CUTS