'During the period covered by the report, Compag examined 16 cases of possible anti-competitive conduct, a Government spokesman said. The report also highlights the recommendations of the Competition Policy Review Committee that a new, cross-sector law be introduced, and that a Competition Commission be set up to enforce the new law.' Government press release SO I CHECKED with the website maintained by Compag (Competition Policy Advisory Group) to learn a little more from this report about these 16 cases of possible anti-competitive behaviour and guess what I found. You guessed it - a litany of cases 'not substantiated'. No, I lie. There was one instance of 'prima facie case established'. Driving instructors who had colluded to fix fees were given an explanation of the government's competition policy. I didn't know that the government had one but we can safely assume that driving instructors will not be so open about defying it again. There was also one instance of a complaint 'partially substantiated'. It was against government itself, the offending party being a government agency, Tradelink Electronic Commerce. Government then slapped itself on the wrist. Ouch, how that must have hurt, oh so painful! But what I find surprising here is that the Competition Policy Review Committee (CPRC), which was formed through Compag, should then advocate a competition law and a competition commission to enforce this law. Now, I fully recognise that it would be gutless legislation. The CPRC was at pains to stress that the law 'should not target market structures or seek to regulate natural monopolies or mergers and acquisitions' and further that it should allow exemptions on 'public policy or economic grounds'. In other words, it would be like a law against stealing with exemptions for robbers, thieves, burglars, pickpockets, muggers, shoplifters and stockbrokers. But think about it. Compag opened its doors to complaints of anti-competitive practices, received only 16 of them in a full year and could find grounds for qualified support of these complaints in only two cases. I would ordinarily call that prima facie proof that there is no problem here at all with market restrictive practices. How could there be when an agency tasked with investigating anti-competitive behaviour could find so little evidence of it? Why do we then need a competition commission? I have my tongue in my cheek as I write this of course. One of the cases in which Compag made a 'not substantiated' ruling involved a complaint by corporate gadfly David Webb of tariff collusion by air freight forwarders. I have rarely seen so blatant a case of it. In other jurisdictions, people would first be astounded that the freight forwarders would even try it on and then utterly floored at their gall in publishing their rigged tariffs on their industry association website. But it was done only, said Compag, 'to provide guidance'. Yes, this is indeed what they called it, 'guidance'. Could you put a little of that kind of guidance into my bank account, please, fellas? Let me not fault them overmuch, however. Compag has an impossible task and so would the competition commission it envisages. To make this sort of thing work, a commission would need real investigative powers. It would need the right to compel any entity it investigates to disclose its audited financial accounts. Anything less than that and real proof would rarely surface. This is all very well for listed companies that publish their accounts anyway but what would we do with private companies that have no listing on the stock market? They would protest at the invasion of their liberties and an invasion it would certainly be. Invasion it would have to be, however, to give real teeth to a competition commission and more than that, such a commission would need powers to break up what it deemed monopolies or to disallow their formation. Are we willing to go that far? Good question but don't vex yourself about it. We won't go that far. We are to have a competition commission because other advanced economies have them and therefore we must have one too. It will employ hundreds of people, it will consume tonnes of paper and it will make great show of being a dedicated bloodhound sniffing out miscreants who try to fix market prices. It will then resort to its standard ruling - case not substantiated.