Monday, July 4, 2022

Botswana’s leading brands probed for abuse of market power

Botswana’s leading brands, among them BIFM, Choppies, Spar, Sefalana, Pick n Pay, Security Systems, Shoprite/Checkers/Usave and Eureka/Trident Group and Total Botswana are among a number of big-name brands currently being investigated by the Competition and Consumer Authority for allegedly abusing their market power.

Botswana’s top supermarket chains, Choppies, Spar, Sefalana, Pick n Pay, Security Systems, Shoprite/Checkers/Usave and Eureka/Trident Group are being investigated by the country’s anti-competitive practice and consumer watchdog following allegations that they purposely abuse their market power to lockout emerging and small family brands.

The CCA said it conducted a market inquiry on In-House Brands in the year 2015 to 2017. One of the findings of the market inquiry indicated possible abuse of market power by different retailers/wholesalers’ use of In-House branded products to stifle growth of Family brands.

“It is alleged that the behaviour is practised amongst others by Spar Wentzel Group, Tsetseng Retail Group, Choppies Enterprises Limited, Sefalana Group, Pick n Pay, Shoprite/Checkers/Usave and Eureka/Trident Group. The process of preliminary inquiry continues into the 2021/22 financial year,” states the report. 

Immediate response from these retailers was not available as some of their phones rang unanswered while others did not respond to Sunday Standard queries.

The Competition and Consumer Authority (CAA) revealed in its 2020/21 annual report that it has also launched investigations into other entities such as Total Botswana, Botswana Insurance Fund Management (BIFM) and Security Services to determine whether they violated laws governing competition and consumer protection.

With regard to Security Systems, the Authority explained that its investigation involves allegation of possible abuse of dominance in the form of predatory pricing and price discrimination by Security Systems (Pty) Ltd (Security Systems) for alarm monitoring and response (inclusive of SMS alerts and electric fence monitoring).

The Authority initiated a preliminary inquiry against Security Systems after receiving a tip off that the security firm could be abusing its market power. The report shows that the preliminary inquiry process is on-going and will be carried forward into the 2021/22 financial year.

The company’s marketing officer, Chileshe Musonda confirmed that, “Yes, we are aware of the investigation by Competition and Consumer Authority; however, we are not at liberty to share anything while the investigation is going on.”

Total Botswana is also under investigation following complaints over its resale price maintenance. It is alleged that Total Botswana (Pty) Ltd dictates the price and margins at which its merchants or fuel stations (that have entered into a merchant agreement) are to resell petroleum products and participating goods and services to Total Cardholders.

“The investigation is still ongoing. Currently, the matter is before the Competition and Consumer Tribunal following an application of an interim relief by Cotton Fields (Pty) Ltd following Total Botswana (Pty) Ltd indication of termination of operation of the Game City fuel filling station (by Cotton Fields (Pty) Ltd),” the Authority said. The investigation has been carried forward into the 2021/22 financial year.

The Authority further revealed that investigations against Bifm involve allegations of possible abuse of dominance in the form of refusal to deal by the company. The Authority initiated a preliminary inquiry against BIFM after receiving a complaint from a whistle-blower alleging that Khumo Property Asset Management (Pty) Ltd which is owned by BIFM, also participated and got awarded a tender to manage about four (4) properties which BIFM co-owns through various partnership agreements with other entities namely: Motor Vehicle Accident Fund, Debswana Pension Fund, and Engen Marketing Botswana.

CCA say the whistle-blower’s concern is “that it would be unfair for other property management entities to compete for business with Bifm when Bifm has influence in the decision making in the upstream market.”

The CCA said the matter is still in a preliminary inquiry stage and the process would flow into the 2021/22 financial year.

Asked to comment on these allegations, Marketing and Client Executive at Bifm Babedi Mogotlhwane told Sunday Standard in written response that BIFM was aware of an investigation undertaken by the Competition and Consumer Authority which took place in March 2021.

Regarding a Bifm associate, Khumo Property Asset Management (Khumo PAM), being awarded a tender to manage property facilities on behalf of the Motor Vehicle Accident Fund, Debswana Pension Fund, Bifm Local Property Fund and Engen Marketing Botswana Partnerships, Mogotlhwane said, “through the partnerships in which the Bifm Local Property fund (On behalf of clients) is a partner, a nominated director from Bifm forms part of the board of directors. With tenders of this nature, where an associate of Bifm (Khumo PAM) is a participant, Bifm, in line with corporate governance principles recuses itself from participating in the tender process,” said Mogotlhwane.

Mogotlhwane said the Board of the Partnership resolved to have the tender handled by an independent third party including the tender adjudication process.  This was to ensure governance is adhered to and that the tender process was fair for all parties involved. Khumo PAM was awarded the tender for facilities management of the properties based on merit and the recommendation of the independent third party which was ratified by the board,” she said.

She said the Competition and Consumer Authority engaged BIFM with a view of gaining clarity on this matter and BIFM cooperated fully. “After their investigations, the Competition and Consumer Authority concluded in a letter written to BIFM on June 2021 that there were no findings of abuse of dominance through refusal to supply or deal with other enterprises, including refusal of access to an essential facility by BIFM,” said Mogotlhwane.  

In a separate case, Khumo Property Asset Management (Khumo) is being investigated following allegations of market dominance. The allegation is that Khumo Property may be abusing its dominance by refusing to deal with The Braai Place Ltd by not leasing its rental shop space at Airport Junction Mall. The investigation process has moved from a preliminary inquiry stage into a full investigation stage. The investigation process will be carried forward into the 2021/22 financial year, the Authority said.  Khumo Property had not responded to Sunday Standard queries at the time of going to press.

The CAA also revealed that it was investigating allegation by various micro lenders which claimed that both BOTUSAFE and LESAKA could be abusing their position to access government employees by way of using central registries as a barrier to entry for other micro lenders.

“The investigation process will be carried forward into the 2021/22 financial year. Immediate response from these organisations was not available,” the CAA explained.

Related to this is a case is another one in which the Authority received a complaint alleging abuse of dominance by Diamond Flowers (Pty) Ltd t/a Afro Nobel. “The complaint related to the alleged abuse of dominance in the form of predatory conduct by Diamond Flowers (Pty) Ltd t/a Afro Nobel, the respondent was alleged to be selling some of the leading mining explosive products at a price lower than the cost price charged by the supplier,” the Authority said.

 CAA also revealed that it was also investigating a case of alleged abuse of dominance through margin squeeze levelled against Conduit Investments (Pty) Ltd. “Investments (Pty) Ltd after receiving a complaint from a whistle-blower. The whistle-blower alleged that Conduit Investments (Pty) Ltd (a crusher dust producer and supplier located in Moshana (near Kanye) could be abusing its market power by charging its customers (both brick moulding businesses and individual customers) a much high price for crusher dust. The allegation is that Conduit Investments also competes with customers that mould bricks as it also has presence in the downstream market. By charging its customers a higher price on crusher dust, it is alleged that the strategy is for these brick moulding customers to find it difficult to compete with Conduit Investments in the business of selling bricks in the downstream market. The company could not be reached for comment.

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