Women in the pub­lic sec­tor

Public Sector Manager - - Contents -

The Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion’s Nom­pu­cuko Non­tombana on be­ing the pub­lic’s watch­dog

Nom­pu­cuko Non­tombana is a pub­lic watch­dog. She does this through her role as the En­force­ment and Ex­emp­tions Di­vi­sional Man­ager of the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion of South Africa.

Non­tombana drives the com­mis­sion's strat­egy on abuse of dom­i­nance, which aims to curb the abuse of mar­ket power by firms in dom­i­nant po­si­tions.

“I over­see all investigations car­ried out by the com­mis­sion in re­la­tion to abuse of dom­i­nance and re­stric­tive ver­ti­cal prac­tices.”

Re­stric­tive ver­ti­cal prac­tices re­fer to anti-com­pet­i­tive con­duct by firms in a ver­ti­cal re­la­tion­ship.

“For ex­am­ple, min­i­mum re­sale price main­te­nance is pro­hib­ited in the Com­pe­ti­tion Act.This is con­duct which may occur when a man­u­fac­turer dic­tates the re­sale price at which dis­trib­u­tors must sell to end con­sumers,” she ex­plains.

Non­tombana works with a “great team” of about 30 lawyers and econ­o­mists who con­duct th­ese investigations in the di­vi­sion.

The di­vi­sion also re­views ex­emp­tion ap­pli­ca­tions, where firms and pro­fes­sional as­so­ci­a­tions, ap­ply to be ex­empt from the pro­vi­sions of the Com­pe­ti­tion Act.

“The Com­pe­ti­tion Act lists the grounds on which firms and pro­fes­sional as­so­ci­a­tions may rely on when ap­ply­ing for an ex­emp­tion. For ex­am­ple, a group of firms may come to­gether and ap­ply for an ex­emp­tion on the ba­sis that, if granted, it will pro­mote the abil­ity of small busi­nesses or firms con­trolled by his­tor­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged in­di­vid­u­als to be com­pet­i­tive.”

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion de­ter­mines

whether or not there is a ba­sis to grant or re­ject each ex­emp­tion ap­pli­ca­tion re­ceived.

Pri­or­ity sec­tors

The com­mis­sion is an im­por­tant player in the eco­nomic space and con­trib­utes to­wards the eco­nomic goal of a grow­ing and in­clu­sive econ­omy as stated in the Na­tional Devel­op­ment Plan.

“We have var­i­ous investigations and mar­ket in­quiries into the pri­or­ity sec­tors, which have been iden­ti­fied as strate­gic and are aligned to broader govern­ment pri­or­i­ties. Th­ese are sec­tors that we iden­tify as likely to have the big­gest im­pact on con­sumers.”

She ex­plains that th­ese in­clude mar­ket in­quiries into health­care, gro­cery re­tail and trans­port.

“We also in­ter­vene in mar­kets through the ad­vo­cacy work that the com­mis­sion does, where we mostly tar­get spe­cific group­ings such as trade unions and small busi­nesses. One of the lat­est is an ad­vo­cacy pro­ject in the au­to­mo­tive af­ter­mar­ket,” Non­tombana adds.

Crack­ing down on price fix­ing

Price fix­ing is when two or more in­de­pen­dent firms, who are sup­posed to com­pete for mar­ket share, agree on a price for a par­tic­u­lar item or ser­vice, or agree on trad­ing terms or con­di­tions such as dis­counts.

“Car­tel con­duct is con­sid­ered to be the most egre­gious of all con­tra­ven­tions in the Com­pe­ti­tion Act. When firms col­lude, it ul­ti­mately amounts to steal­ing from con­sumers,” she stresses.

In terms of the Com­pe­ti­tion Act, the penalty for a firm im­pli­cated in price fix­ing can be up to 10 per­cent of its an­nual turnover.

Any­one can re­port price fix­ing or any other con­tra­ven­tion of the Act.This can be done by lodg­ing a com­plaint us­ing the pre­scribed form or by sub­mit­ting in­for­ma­tion and ev­i­dence which the com­mis­sion can use to ini­ti­ate an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Non­tombana ex­plains.

She says that one of the chal­lenges the com­mis­sion faces re­lates to the fact that the South African econ­omy is highly con­cen­trated due to its his­tory, which means that an in­ter­ven­tion in one or two sec­tors does not dra­mat­i­cally change the struc­ture of the econ­omy.

“The im­pact of the com­mis­sion's in­ter­ven­tions is there­fore not al­ways im­me­di­ate.”

“Car­tel con­duct is con­sid­ered to be the most egre­gious of all con­tra­ven­tions in the Com­pe­ti­tion Act. When firms col­lude,

it ul­ti­mately amounts to steal­ing from con­sumers.”

An­other chal­lenge is the re­al­ity that the Com­pe­ti­tion Act can­not solve all the prob­lems faced by the South African econ­omy.

“In fact, the Com­pe­ti­tion Act has its lim­i­ta­tions and there are talks about it be­ing amended to deal with some of the chal­lenges we face in its in­ter­pre­ta­tion and im­ple­men­ta­tion.”

An­other con­cern is that some of the firms in­ves­ti­gated have very deep pock­ets and are pre­pared to spend a lot of time and ef­fort to de­lay and de­rail investigations, she says.

Some of the work the di­vi­sion is busy with in­cludes an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the excessive pric­ing of can­cer med­i­ca­tion; a mar­ket in­quiry into pub­lic pas­sen­ger trans­port; the excessive pric­ing of school uni­forms and an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Transnet for al­leged anti-com­pet­i­tive con­duct in its pric­ing prac­tices at ports and rail ser­vices.

A place of learn­ing

Non­tombana adds that al­though the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion is a rel­a­tively young in­sti­tu­tion, it has achieved a lot in its 18 years.

“The com­mis­sion at­tracts very young, dy­namic and bril­liant

minds so the learn­ing curve is very steep for ev­ery­one, and we learn from each other all the time.”

Im­pact stud­ies are done to eval­u­ate the ef­fec­tive­ness of the com­mis­sion's work.

“Th­ese stud­ies prove that the com­mis­sion puts some money back into the pock­ets of the con­sumer through cost sav­ings, which may not have been achieved with­out its in­ter­ven­tion.

“The World Bank also con­ducted a study which sug­gests that the work of the com­mis­sion broadly, has a pos­i­tive im­pact on the econ­omy and par­tic­u­larly the lives of the poor,” she says.

Great ca­reer prospects

Ac­cord­ing to Non­tombana, com­pe­ti­tion law and eco­nom­ics is a niche field with great ca­reer prospects, within the com­mis­sion and out­side the in­sti­tu­tion.

“More im­por­tantly, you get an op­por­tu­nity to make an im­pact in the econ­omy through the work you do. We are now ac­tively reach­ing out to more and more uni­ver­si­ties so that those who have an in­ter­est in the work we do, get ex­po­sure to it ear­lier on.”

Non­tombana loves her job be­cause ev­ery in­ves­ti­ga­tion is dif­fer­ent mean­ing she is con­stantly learn­ing some­thing new.

“You also get to know the dif­fer­ent sec­tors of the econ­omy re­ally well, with an even bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of mi­cro-eco­nom­ics.”

In the im­me­di­ate fu­ture, Non­tombana hopes to see key investigations suc­cess­fully con­cluded, while her more long-term plans in­volve be­ing in a re­search en­vi­ron­ment.

Nom­pu­cuko Non­tombana holds a MPhil in Eco­nomic Pol­icy from the Univer­sity of Stel­len­bosch. Prior to that she ob­tained an Honours de­gree in Eco­nom­ics from the Univer­sity of Cape Town. More re­cently, she stud­ied and com­pleted an MBL through Unisa's Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness Lead­er­ship.

She joined the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion as a Prin­ci­pal An­a­lyst in the En­force­ment and Ex­emp­tions Di­vi­sion in 2007. Af­ter a few years, she was sec­onded to the Merg­ers and Ac­qui­si­tions Di­vi­sion un­til she was ap­pointed into her cur­rent role in October 2015.

Nom­pu­cuko Non­tombana is the En­force­ment and Ex­emp­tions Di­vi­sional Man­ager of the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion of South Africa. Writer: No­luthando Motswai

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