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Competition law yet to be fully embraced

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Despite having a robust competition enforcement mechanism in place, there is still slow progress in some sectors to accommodate and embrace competition law, the Competition and Fair Trading Commission (CFCT) has said.

Competition policy works to promote competition among market players and ensure that they offer a range of goods at competitive prices so that consumers have the choice to buy elsewhere.

Locally, some of the repeat violations include disclaimers refusing liability for defective products, misleading pricing and retailers withholding change from consumers.

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The commission has indicated that it is now moving towards imposing fines as one way to enforce compliance.

CFTC Executive Director, Wezi Malonda, said it is disappointing that despite engaging traders on the requirements of the Competition and Fair Trading Act as well as the Consumer Protection Act, there are still some repeat offenders that are refusing to comply.

Malonda was speaking during a sensitisation meeting CFTC held in collaboration with the Comesa Competition Commission in Blantyre on Monday. The meeting targeted lawyers and the private sector with Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Henry Mussa, in attendance as guest of honour.

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Malonda said going forward, CFTC will be more vigilant and will escalate its enforcement model to force compliance from enterprises that are breaching competition and consumer protection provisions.

“There are blatant violations of the law on issues that we have been talking about for a long time. So, it is a mixed bag; in one area, we are happy that there is increased awareness but, we are also seeing that we have to be vigilant and have a robust enforcement system, particularly for industries resisting change,” she said.

One sector that CFTC is watching with keen interest is the retail industry following an investigation the commission conducted in 2016, which found that top supermarkets in the country are defrauding consumers through deceptive pricing and withholding change.

While indicating that the commission will be stricter to enforce compliance in the industry, Malonda commended retail operators for cooperating with CFTC in its investigations.

“We understand that there is high employee turnover in the industry of frontline staff. What is needed is that our mentality has to change towards a mentality and spirit of compliance because, sometimes, it is the people who are operating the tills that are perpetrating this practice and not necessarily the policy of the owner,” she said.

In a separate interview, Chief Executive Officer of the Comesa Competition Commission, George Lipimile, said the absence of a culture of competition at national level would put Malawian goods at a disadvantage at regional level.

Lipimile said competition laws are meant to facilitate business transactions in the common market and allow for free movement of goods and services across borders.

“As a commission, we are working to enhance competition among the 19 Comesa member states and also promote free movement of goods and services. This includes cutting the cost of doing business and competitive pricing of goods and services,” he said.

The Comesa Competition Commission is an international organisation, which was established by Comesa competition regulations and has a mandate to promote inter-regional trade among Comesa member countries. It has its headquarters in the Capital, Lilongwe.

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