Time for the Competition Commission to bare its teeth
With law now in place, watchdog must prove it means business by cracking down hard on anti-competitive behaviour
There is no better way to weed out unfair commercial practices than holding transgressors to account. Now that the Competition Ordinance has been in force for a year, it is time the Competition Commission showed some teeth. We trust the watchdog meant business when it vowed to take action against some major contraventions of the law. During a year-end press conference, commission chairwoman Anna Wu Hung-yuk denied dragging her feet over prosecutions. She pledged to take on “big tigers” in the coming months, but stopped short of disclosing details.
Established in 2013, the commission is not sitting idle on the complaints it has received. In what is seen as a veiled warning to last May, it released a study showing some suspicious bid-rigging cases in the building-maintenance industry before the law came into effect. So far, it has handled some 1,900 complaints and inquiries and has singled out about 130 cases for further assessment. About one-tenth have been investigated further and may lead to legal proceedings in the Competition Tribunal.
It is true that investigations take time, particularly when complaints are related to several parties and involve complex business behaviour. But the reality is that examples of alleged unfair competition are still commonly found in everyday life, including price adjustments by petrol suppliers and the abuse of dominant market position by some supermarkets. The public can be excused for feeling impatient with the lack of enforcement.
The commission said the law had had a positive effect on compliance in some respects, after 19 trade associations identified as prone to contraventions had removed price restrictions as a result of the commission’s efforts. But given the law also covers cartels, abuse of market power, predatory pricing, bundling and other anti-competitive business conduct, a lot more needs to be done to show that the law means what it says. The commission should speed up investigations into major abuses and prove that it is a watchdog with teeth.