The rise in confirmed cases of persons infected with COVID-19 globally and in South Africa has caused the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) to enforce a nation-wide lockdown for 21 days, with effect from 23:59 on Thursday, 26 March 2020 until 23:59 on Thursday, 16 April 2020.
In order to ensure compliance with the NCCC's resolution, the Competition Commission (Commission) as well as the National Consumer Commission (Consumer Commission) will be collaborating in efforts to focus their limited human resources on complaints filed in relation to COVID-19 over the next 21 days. Accordingly, companies are discouraged from submitting merger notifications (except those involving failing firms), lodging abuse of dominance or any other anti-competitive complaints during this time that are not linked to conduct involving the emergency regulations and measures put in place by government in response to COVID-19.
The Commission as well as the Consumer Commission have indicated that they have already received complaints, which allege that there has been excessive or exploitative pricing conduct in the provision of essential products such as face masks, toilet paper and sanitisers. The Minister of Trade and Industry has confirmed that 11 firms are currently being investigated for possible contraventions. Firms that are found to be excessively pricing these essential products or contravening other emergency regulations will be subjected to administrative penalties of up to 10% their turnover (or 25% for repeat offenders), R 1 million fines or imprisonment for up to one year.
We have published a guideline to assist firms in complying with the Competition Act and Regulations during these economically challenging and uncertain times. The note can be accessed here.
By Angelo Tzarevski, Senior Associate and Thato Mkhize, Candidate Attorney, Competition and Antitrust Practice, Johannesburg