The Parliament building in Cape Town. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
The Parliament building in Cape Town. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

Parliament’s economic development committee has adopted amendments to the controversial Competition Amendment Bill, despite strong objections by the main opposition and legal analysts.

The DA objected to various proposals, particularly on the minister's role on regulations, saying the clause would give too much power to the economic development minister.

Stakeholders have also criticised aspects of the proposed legislation, arguing that they may deter foreign investment. 

Jean Meijer, a partner at international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, said previously the bill would give the government the right to block foreign investment.​

"Section 18A is titled ‘intervention in merger proceedings involving foreign acquiring firm’. In broad terms, the section establishes a framework within which a committee appointed by the president [comprising cabinet members and other public officials] is given the power to decide whether or not a proposed transaction may proceed if it involves an acquisition by a ‘foreign acquiring firm’ and relates to certain yet-to-be-identified national security interests," said Meijer.

Among other things, the bill is intended to provide for an extension of the mandate of the competition authorities and the executive to tackle high levels of economic concentration, limited transformation in the SA economy and abuse of market power by dominant firms. 

DA MP and economic development spokesperson Michael Cardo said the committee on economic development had rubber-stamped amendments to the bill to be debated by the National Assembly in coming weeks.

A previous committee meeting earlier in October that was meant to adopt the bill was scuppered by the DA walking out and leaving the committee without a quorum.

Commenting on this week’s committee meeting, Cardo said: “The ANC rammed the Competition Amendment Bill through the committee on economic development, and adopted a report agreeing to various amendments. To make sure they had the numbers for a quorum, the ANC bussed in two never-seen-before members to act as pliant yes men and women.

“The committee chair resorted to these rent-a-crowd tactics after the embarrassment of two weeks ago, when the committee found itself inquorate after a DA walkout in protest against her refusing to entertain questions from the DA to the minister….

“The DA objected to the adoption of the committee report. This bill is going to have far-reaching consequences for the economy. It gives both the minister and the competition authorities a great deal of power to try and reshape the economy. It is unfortunate that the ANC, and the committee chair in particular, have suspended their critical faculties to force through this controversial bill and behaved like puppets on a string pulled by the minister of economic development.”

Committee chairperson Elsie Coleman could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

The bill is intended to change the process by which the Competition Commission initiates market inquiries, empowers the economic development minister to initiate market inquiries and promotes the administrative efficiency of the Competition Commission and Competition Tribunal.