Competition law is only the first step
Thankfully, the long-awaited competition bill was passed by the legislature. Despite weeks of filibuster on other weighty subjects over the past few weeks, lawmakers managed to finish the law before Legco disbands in the summer. The passage, however, has been greeted with mixed feelings. It is a relief to see that the blueprint, which seeks to outlaw unfair market practices like price fixing and bid-rigging, is finally in place after 16 years of debate. But there is also an air of discomfort in that the ordinance has been heavily watered down, so much so that it may become a toothless tiger when it is enforced - probably in 2014.
It is, therefore, ironic to hear commerce chief Greg So Kam-leung say that the passage of the law signifies the government's determination to maintain free and fair competition in Hong Kong. Officials have twice bowed to business pressure and offered major concessions. The results are weaker penalties and more exemptions for small- and medium-sized enterprises. The decision to exempt most of the statutory bodies, whose services are arguably competing with those provided by the private sector, further discredits the government's claim to be enhancing free competition. None of the amendments lawmakers proposed to strengthen the bill were approved. That the bill barely passed Legco - only 31 of the 60 lawmakers voted in favour of it - shows it pleases neither the business sector nor the public.
Building a fair society is one of the reasons the bill was introduced. The perception that the rich and powerful wield disproportionate influence in business, politics and people's everyday lives will not change unless genuinely fair competition can be achieved.
Putting the bill on the statute book is only the first step. In the coming year, a competition commission and a special tribunal will be established and guidelines on compliance issued. Now more awareness is needed to ensure all business players, however big or small, adhere to fair competition.