Free run for cartels and monopolies; more torment for citizens
MABAD Since the Competition Ordinance 2009 expired on March 28, along certain other ordinances requiring re-promulgation, the Competition Commission of Pakistan entered on Monday a vacuum period having no legal backing in terms of an Ordinance or Act of Parliament.
This is a prime time for those who wish to make cartels or to exploit weaker stakeholders, especially consumers, with their hegemonic designs or dominant position in the market as the country at present is without any competition law in place. Even if the government gets the Ordinance repromulgated immediately after the Parliament is prorogued, and the CCPs existence for the vacuum period is legalized in retrospective effect, cartel formation in these days would have a strong defence, a corporate law expert observed requesting not to be named.
Meanwhile official sources told this scribe that the government has already furnished the summary proposal to the President for repromulgation of the Competition Commissions Ordinance along with others. Sources in the Presidency also confirmed that it was on the table of the President but he cannot sign till at least one of thehouse of the Parliament is in session.
The Competition Commission, however, on Monday continued internal operations but lack of legal backing in the event of the Ordinances expiry barred them from external working including hearings, and follow-up of notices etc.
Not only did the Senators delay the passage of the Competition Commission Act that the National Assembly had already passed but they also came down hard on the incumbent Chairman of the Commission who is a bit outspoken in the enforcement of law.
The mighty Senators annoyance compelled the poor Chairman Khalid Mirza to issue a public statement to clarify his position:
I am a little surprised by suggestions in press reports that in so far as enactment of the Competition Bill is concerned, I should respect the will of the legislators. This is surprising since in none of my public utterances have I ever indicated or implied that CCP would not fully comply with and implement the law as enacted in letter and spirit. Indeed being a mere creature of the law, the Chairman, CCP, cannot afford to proceed otherwise. For clarification and removal of any doubts, I would also like to declare unequivocally that I hold all legislative bodies in Pakistan in the highest esteem.
This does not detract from the sacred right of all citizens, including myself, to express views for or against any legislative measure or resolution (or any aspect thereof) by a legislative body. While I retain the right to express my considered opinions openly, I must, perhaps at the cost of repeating myself, state in clear terms that I will not compromise in my duty to faithfully implement the competition law as it stands on the statute book.
That said, it is my fervent prayer and hope that the competition law, eventually enacted, will be substantially the same as the Competition Ordinance, 2007 (later re-promulgated in November, 2009) since this is a state-of-the-art law, which has been successfully implemented for the benefit of the consumer and the common man. Pakistan has received global accolades for the character and content of the law as also its due and proper enforcement. I am convinced that another two or three years of vigorous implementation of this law could well mean a huge reduction in cartelisation, abuse of market power, and deceptive marketing practices.
I am greatly concerned - as often happens in most countries attempting to introduce a modern competition regime - that powerful vested interests and other egregious elements that pervade all dimensions of society will find a way (possibly through cogent-sounding arguments) to influence the introduction of significant weaknesses and render the law ineffective. The deleterious impact of this on productive efficiency and the consumer would be a misfortune for the economy. I remain sanguine that this will not happen.