Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Citizen owned enterprises oppose Bidvest, BMS merger

Scores of citizen-owned enterprises are opposed to the proposed acquisition of 60 percent shares in BMS (Pty) Ltd, Office Technique (Pty) Ltd and Rangecom (Pty) Ltd by Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) listed Bidvest Office Holdings.

They fear that upon approval, the transaction will consolidate and expand the already existing monopoly that the three companies had hitherto enjoyed under the parent company of e-Africa . It is further argued by the opposing enterprises that the takeover by Bidvest will perpetuate the monopoly in contravention of the Competition Act of 2009 that seeks to promote and maintain fair competition in the economy.

The Competition Authority (CA) received the merger notification in terms 56 (1) of the Competition Act.
In terms of the proposed transaction, Bidvest Office Holdings will acquire 60 percent shareholding in each of the three companies within e-Africa Holding Limited. If approved, the JSE listed Bidvest whose turnover exceeded R180 billion in 2014 with a market capitalization of over R80 billion as reported in its latest annual report will become the majority shareholder in the three locally incorporated stationery and office supplies companies.

The Competition Authority published the proposed transaction as Merger Notice No: 11 2015 in terms of section 57 (3) of the Competition Act that requires that any person, including a third party not a party to the proposed merger to voluntarily submit to the inspector of the Authority any document, affidavit, statement or other relevant information in respect of the merger.

The merger notice states that Bidvest Office Holdings (Pty) Ltd is part of the Bidvest Office Division Limited, a company listed under the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. The company is involved in the market for distribution of office products, stationary, office, furniture, office automation and related technology.

It represents a number of brands such as Konita Minolta, Oce, Waltons, Hortors, Cecil Nurse, Dauphin, Pago and Global Payment Technologies.

e-Africa Holdings Limited on the other hand is a company incorporated under the laws of Botswana and controls the three target companies of BMS (Pty) Ltd which supplies stationary and offers business centre services in the form of copying, printing and archiving with an estimated eight percent market share. Office Technique which plays in the photocopying equipment/servicing and meter click services space while Range Com (Pty) Ltd enjoys an estimated market share of six percent in wholesale distribution of stationary, office furniture and equipment.
It is the view of the opposing companies that the transaction is likely to reduce competition. If the small players are excluded from the equation, the market share of BMS reaches at least 25 percent and the coming on board of Bidvest will undoubtedly close out small players.

The citizen owned enterprises are further apprehensive that the proposed transaction will end up with Waltons rebranding all the BMS stores. Although the companies are not per se opposed to the transaction as it is a good opportunity for Botswana to have an international brand, the fear is that it could manifest into a monopoly in contravention of the Competition Act that seeks to level the playing field and entrench local entrepreneurs in the stationary and office equipment industry.

The smaller companies opposed to the transaction argue that there is already another citizen owned company that is dominating the paper market which is likely to be squeezed out of business by the proposed merger unless the appropriate legislation is put into force to subvert the eventuality of Bidvest monopolizing the market further.  

It is also argued that if Bidvest gets the nod, it might extend its foothold on the toners and cartridges market which is already dominated by foreign owned companies at the expense of emerging local citizen companies.
The opposing enterprises feel that it would only be fair if the proposed transaction is not approved while further investigations into the stationary and office industry is undertaken to ensure a level playing field in which citizen owned companies can also claim a stake as opposed to the current situation in which the market is dominated by foreign owned companies.

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