Com­pe­ti­tion law and crack­ing car­tels is in com­mis­sioner Tem­binkosi Bon­akele’s blood

CityPress - - Business - MSINDISI FENGU busi­ness@city­press.co.za

Adriver for social jus­tice is the brains be­hind the push to pu­n­ish pow­er­ful lo­cal con­glom­er­ates that seek to cheat un­sus­pect­ing cus­tomers. In the past few weeks, the coun­try has been shocked by al­le­ga­tions of col­lu­sion be­tween in­ter­na­tional and lo­cal banks, where cur­rency traders al­legedly fixed prices and di­vided the mar­ket.

The com­mis­sioner for the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion, Tem­binkosi Bon­akele (40), this week told City Press that he was born in Mty­olo vil­lage, near King Wil­liam’s Town in the East­ern Cape, to a fam­ily of mod­est means.

“I was largely raised by my ma­ter­nal grand­mother, who re­mains my moral cam­pus even in death,” he says.

He at­tended pri­mary school in Qwe­qwe vil­lage near Mthatha. His grand­mother and other vil­lagers built a high school there by them­selves – tak­ing turns to make bricks and pay for the con­struc­tion.

He was then sent to SMB Tapa High School in Mdantsane in East Lon­don, which was later re­named as Solomon Mahlangu High School.

Bon­akele says that, from a young age, he’s loved his­tory and en­joyed pol­i­tics. He was in­spired by the late Oliver Tambo and Steve Biko.

He stud­ied at the Univer­sity of Fort Hare, where he be­came a stu­dent leader and pres­i­dent of the Stu­dent Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Coun­cil (SRC), and was also the vi­cepres­i­dent of the Univer­sity of SA’s SRC, where he co­or­di­nated SRC ac­tiv­i­ties across the coun­try.

“I played a huge role in the trans­for­ma­tion of higher ed­u­ca­tion in post-apartheid South Africa,” Bon­akele says.

He joined the com­mis­sion in 2004, and has worked in vir­tu­ally every core divi­sion.

“I joined the man­age­ment quite early, in 2006. I am driven by the sense of social jus­tice – it per­me­ates ev­ery­thing I do. I grew up in apartheid South Africa, and am de­ter­mined to make my own con­tri­bu­tion to de­stroy its ves­tiges. I hate inequality. I be­lieve that change re­quires strong and em­pa­thetic lead­er­ship. I love South Africa and its peo­ple.”

Bon­akele is an at­tor­ney and pre­vi­ously worked at Chea­dle Thompson & Haysom in Jo­han­nes­burg, largely in the ar­eas of labour law, reg­u­la­tion, and health and safety.

He also spent a year work­ing in cor­po­rate fi­nance with an­titrust groups at multi­na­tional law firm Clif­ford Chance’s of­fice in New York.

He oc­ca­sion­ally teaches com­pe­ti­tion law at the Univer­sity of Fort Hare and Wits Univer­sity, and is a fel­low of the Univer­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg’s Cen­tre for Com­pe­ti­tion, Reg­u­la­tion and Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment.

He holds a BJuris and an LLB from the Univer­sity of Fort Hare, and an MBA from the Gor­don In­sti­tute of Busi­ness Sci­ence.

Bon­akele is a mem­ber of the In­ter­na­tional Com­pe­ti­tion Net­work Steer­ing Group.

He was ap­pointed as deputy com­mis­sioner of the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion in 2008. Be­fore that, he worked as head of merg­ers, head of com­pli­ance and se­nior le­gal coun­sel.

Bon­akele es­tab­lished the com­mis­sion’s car­tels divi­sion and has worked on all of the com­mis­sion’s ma­jor cases over the past 10 years, in­clud­ing the bread and con­struc­tion bid-rig­ging car­tel cases, and a num­ber of high-pro­file merg­ers.

He has been in­volved in ne­go­ti­at­ing most of the com­mis­sion’s ground-break­ing set­tle­ments and helped de­velop the com­mis­sion’s Cor­po­rate Le­niency Pol­icy, as well as the Con­struc­tion Fast Track Set­tle­ment Pol­icy.

Deal­ing with so many dif­fer­ent things makes his job tough.

“Right now, for ex­am­ple, many peo­ple are not aware of this, but the food value chains are about to be changed for­ever with con­sol­i­da­tion of seed sup­pli­ers at a global level. We have to un­der­stand the tech­ni­cal de­tail of this so that we can un­der­stand the im­pli­ca­tions of the merg­ers,” he says.

“At the same time, we have re­cently had to deal with large merg­ers in our telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions space, which have changed the land­scape sig­nif­i­cantly. While do­ing that, I also need to be on top of our en­force­ment agenda against car­tels and abuse of dom­i­nance. All of them are highly tech­ni­cal, with con­se­quences for mar­kets and con­sumers.

“The re­ward is this deep un­der­stand­ing of mar­kets – of­ten more than you could find even from mar­ket par­tic­i­pants. We learn every day, of­ten from scratch, that this is where the ex­cite­ment comes from, in ad­di­tion to be­ing this force for pos­i­tive change,” he says.

A pro­posed merger be­tween Sa­sol and En­gen is the most chal­leng­ing job he has had to deal with so far.

“Dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the pro­posed merger be­tween Sa­sol and En­gen some years ago, I was a young lead coun­sel for the com­mis­sion team. I was in­ex­pe­ri­enced, and the fuel in­dus­try and its lo­gis­tics are com­plex. We made some mis­takes, but we re­cov­ered and the merger was suc­cess­fully blocked. Multi­na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tions such as the bank­ing one are also com­plex, es­pe­cially if you are not a cur­rency trader your­self.

“Health­care is also not easy, but I have learnt that if things are too easy and straight­for­ward, those mar­kets would prob­a­bly have a self-cor­rect­ing mech­a­nism. En­dur­ing com­pe­ti­tion prob­lems are of­ten in com­plex mar­kets, ex­cept for a few dump car­tels,” Bon­akele says.

Ac­cord­ing to him, the big­gest suc­cess of the com­mis­sion by far has been its work against car­tels.

“The com­mis­sion’s work against car­tels has made it the dar­ling of the peo­ple and many stake­hold­ers. Think about the bread car­tel. Those close to the ac­tion also know that we have done a lot to pre­vent merg­ers that would have harmed com­pe­ti­tion in South Africa.

“My per­sonal favourite was when we blocked the merger be­tween Pick n Pay and Fruit & Veg City. It would have led to higher prices, but look at what Fruit and Veg has been able to do since then – it has grown and its new brand, Food Lover’s Mar­ket, is giv­ing com­peti­tors a run for their money.”

The big­gest chal­lenge for the com­mis­sion has been in­ad­e­quate re­sources.

“We deal with the pri­vate sec­tor with deep pock­ets, and they can throw ev­ery­thing at us. We also need to pay our peo­ple bet­ter so that we can re­tain them and also at­tract skills,” Bon­akele says.

He wants the com­mis­sion to have its own eco­nom­ics and le­gal ex­perts so that it can re­duce reliance on ex­ter­nal con­sul­tants.

“We are work­ing on all these ar­eas and are mak­ing good progress. We have young peo­ple who are ex­cep­tion­ally bright, but we need to en­cour­age and sup­port them to reaf­firm that the pub­lic sec­tor can be a cen­tre of ex­cel­lence, and peo­ple can be in­tel­lec­tu­ally stim­u­lated while also serv­ing a higher pur­pose; a pub­lic good. That is our chal­lenge.”

He says an­other chal­lenge is that uni­ver­si­ties do not of­fer stu­dents the abil­ity to study for the skills re­quired by the com­mis­sion.

“Our lawyers do not get eco­nom­ics train­ing, and our econ­o­mists don’t get le­gal train­ing. Our uni­ver­si­ties are not strong on in­dus­trial eco­nom­ics, and busi­ness schools do not teach com­pe­ti­tion,” he says, adding that the com­mis­sion has made a great con­tri­bu­tion by hold­ing busi­nesses ac­count­able and the econ­omy in­clu­sive.

When asked why he thinks his job is nec­es­sary, Bon­akele says: “Given our high con­cen­tra­tion of mar­kets, the com­mis­sion is a strate­gic body to drive change and mon­i­tor con­duct in mar­kets. We are mo­ti­vated by the change we see when we in­ter­vene in mar­kets, by break­ing up car­tels, pro­tect­ing jobs and open­ing up mar­kets for greater par­tic­i­pa­tion, in­clud­ing by small, medium and mi­cro en­ter­prises.”


PAS­SION The com­mis­sioner for the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion, Tem­binkosi Bon­akele, speaks can­didly about his job

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