Competition law is evolving, on a policy and academic level, to further support the competition regulatory framework in South Africa. The nature and extent of papers presented at the Sixth Annual Competition Conference, hosted at the University of the Witwatersrand on 6 and 7 September, indicated that interest in and importance of competition law as a means of regulating the market is increasing.
Conference participants urged the Competition Commission (Commission) to err on the side of caution when exercising its powers. This request was made in the light of several cartel and prohibited practices decisions made by the Commission which have been overturned. The cases were overturned, on appeal, by the Supreme Court of Appeal and Competition Appeal Court which ruled that the Commission had not followed proper procedures in its initiation and referral of complaints to the Competition Tribunal (Tribunal).
Shan Ramburuth, the Competition Commissioner, stated at the conference that there needs to be intellectual honesty in respect of the challenges brought against the Commission's decisions. He emphasised that there should be a differentiation between whether the procedural challenges brought are in respect of genuine irregularities or whether they amount to mere delaying tactics by the firms accused of contravening the Competition Act.
The conference's keynote address by the Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, emphasised that the ultimate goal within the healthcare sector is to ensure that all members of society are able to access high quality services which are affordable. The Minister made it clear that if competition (or the lack thereof) is hampering this objective, action would need to be taken. The vast majority of panel participants expressed that any market enquiry undertaken in the healthcare sector would need to have well-defined terms of reference. Some speakers noted, however, that such a market enquiry may not alleviate the broader issues in the sector.