So, this is where it was feared to get stuck! The Competition Commission, though officially announced, is non-functional as of now, and no one seems to know how long will it take. Soon after the government had decided on setting up this highly important organisation, this newspaper published editorials and articles welcoming the move while at the same time striking a note of caution about the preparations required to get along with the task ahead.
It was reported in the newspapers that the government at long last has only been able to appoint the chairman of the commission, but there is no organogram as yet to recruit officials and required support staff. The funds made available to run the organisation is also reportedly meager. These are clear indications to suggest a lack of understanding of the importance of an entity that, if equipped properly, can deliver harmony and coherence in market forces, much to the relief of the consumers.
The very idea prompting enactment of competition laws and commission is one and the same across the globe in that the purpose is to eliminate practices having adverse effect on competition, promote and sustain competition, protect the interests of consumers and ensure freedom of trade in the markets. While curbing syndicated monopoly in times of sudden fluctuation in prices of commodities is a prime mandated activity of competition commissions all over the world, the main tools required are human and related resources to effectively prevail upon the situation. It is here that a commission anywhere assumes the role of a watchdog.
The commission is also required to give opinion on competition issues on reference received from other agencies established under law and to undertake competition advocacy, create public awareness and impart training on competition issues. The Indian Supreme Court in response to a civil appeal in 2010 clearly spelt out the role and functions of the Competition Commission in India. The same may be applicable to most countries, including ours. According to the judgment, the main objective is "to promote economic efficiency using competition as one of the means of assisting the creation of market responsive to consumer needs and preferences. The advantages of perfect competition are three-fold: allocative efficiency which ensures the effective allocation of resources, productive efficiency which ensures that costs of production are kept at a minimum, and dynamic efficiency which promotes innovative practices."
Bangladesh government enacted the 'Competition Act 2012' in June 2012 providing for the establishment of the commission as a statutory body with powers similar to those of the civil courts in the country. It did take a long time to finally get the draft bill approved into a law. The need for the Law was more than ordinary. In the present day globalised market economy, given the limitations of governments to prevail upon market practices with regulatory instruments, Competition Law is one of the most preferred measures to restrict unfair business practices while at the same time improve production and pricing efficiency.
In Bangladesh, during the past two decades or so, flagrant violation of basic business ethics through cartels, notorious syndicates, hoarding, black marketing and so on have plagued the marketplace with serious distortions that more than necessitated a legally recognised system to tackle the situation. It is sad that four around years after the passage of the law, the government is yet to make the all important commission visible. Needless to say, an act (law) or a policy is no more than an expression of intent, and to make it functional, it has to be worked out through appropriate execution mechanism.
For its functional purposes, the commission will be required to frame rules, policies, administrative decisions, and set up mechanisms for conducting enquiries on receipt of complaints, devising procedures for preliminary determination of anti-competitive behaviour and take penal action upon final and conclusive determination through public hearing or whatever is deemed appropriate. For this, one of the key requirements is a group of legal and trade experts. The job is challenging in as much as it entails understanding and forecasting market conditions under different circumstances - domestic as well as global - and the way they tell upon consumers on the one hand and the market players on the other.
This calls for, beside effective market monitoring, developing and nurturing relations and interactions with sectoral regulators to ensure smooth alignment of sectoral regulatory laws in strict conformity with the competition law. In pursuing the path, a commission can be expected to perform competition advocacy and spread information on benefits of competition among all stakeholders to establish and nurture healthy competition culture in the economy. Given this perspective, it is expected that concerned quarters will put in their best to make the commission functional as early as possible.