National Reference Group meeting held

Daily Observer, Gambia, November 02, 2009

The Pro-Poor Advocacy Group with Consumer Unity and Trust Society CUTS Center for Competitions, Investment and Economic Regulations (CUTS C-CIE R), on Friday held their second national reference group meeting on the implementation of a two-year project entitled: ”Strengthening constituencies for effective competition regimes in select Western African countries?(7Up4 project), at the Seaview Garden Hotel in Kololi.

The purpose of the meeting was to share the research findings on the state of competition in The Gambia with a wider group of national stakeholders and to evolve a national advocacy agenda and an action plan as to how the national advocacy agenda is to be operationalised.

In his opening remarks, Yussupha A.Kah, minister of Trade, Industry and Employment, said the group is made up of key stakeholders interested in evolving a viable competition regime for economic efficiency, sustainable growth and poverty reduction in The Gambia. According to him, the group is tasked to review the output of the perception survey of the state of competition in key sectors of the economy. ”I am reliably informed that as part of this 7UP4 project, CUTS international will be building the capacity of national constituents to prepare them implement a viable competition regime and will also be supporting advocacy initiatives for competition reform,” he said.

He observed that the private sector requires the ‘right enabling’ environment and a conducive ‘investment climate’ to thrive. The Gambia government, he went on, through his ministry seeks to implement a competition regime that is appropriate to their needs and situation. Minister Kah noted that the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Employment seeks to promote fair markets and to enhance consumer welfare for economic development and poverty reduction. ?As you are all aware, The Gambian economy thrives on free market policies. The government believes in private sector-led growth and development as spelt out in the Vision 2020 blueprint and the country’s MDG-based PRSP. It is therefore imperative to make sure that businesses operates on a level playing field. Our role as a government is to alleviate poverty and provide the enabling environment for a private sector-led growth,? he remarked.

He further told participants at the meeting that competition regulation across all sectors is a nascent phenomenon in The Gambia. He revealed that the MoTIE with assistance from the Commonwealth Secretariat facilitated the formulation of a Competition Act in 2007 with a view to fostering fair competition that increases economic efficiency and safeguards consumer welfare.

As in all developing countries, he went on, the Gambian economy is rife with examples of anti-competitive business practices in all sectors. Such practices, he said, harm consumers and prejudice economic operators. These anti-competitive practices, he said include collusive agreements, bid rigging, tied selling, market sharing, predatory pricing, exclusive dealing, resale price maintenance, cartels and the like. Effective competition regimes on the other hand, he added, can have a big impact on the welfare of the poor. ” Over-priced goods and unsuitable products harm the poor tremendously,” he stated.

Minister Kah further assured the national stakeholders that MoTIE and the competition commission will continue working on the tools and policies of competition reform to deal with market inefficiencies and stimulate growth. ” I am convinced that this project will immensely benefit those entrusted with the responsibility of developing and implementing The Gambia’s competition legislation. ?Key advocacy strategies or tools to address each of them will be developed. In so doing, the NRG members will chart a way forward for promoting a healthy competition culture at the national level, as a mean to alleviating poverty,? he concluded.

For his part, the Pro-PAG Policy and Budget analyst, Omar Jobe, who is also the coordinator of the 7UP4 project, told the audience that the thrust of the 7UP4 project is three-fold: first, it seeks to document the state of competition in The Gambia through literature review and questionnaire based researches. Second, on the strength of the evidence obtained, advocacy campaigns are mounted with a view to promoting a viable competition culture that delivers maximum utility and value to consumers. Finally, he said, national stakeholders are poised to benefit from capacity building interventions.

He indicated that the ?7UP4 approach? has been widely tested and validated in the other developing countries in Asia and Africa, and is helping foster effective competition regimes that benefit consumers and stimulate economic growth. The project coordinator then flagged some of the key findings of the research; thus indicating that there is a general lack of awareness of existence of competition laws among respondents from the business sector of The Gambia. Jobe added that the existence of regulatory authorities is however generally known, and that the general perception that competition issues are not well understood in the economy and lack of sensitization campaigns are cited ascontributory factors to that low level of awareness.

He indicated that the key informants are of the opinion that competition issues are rarely reported in the media due to lack of capacity and awareness of competition issues by journalists. It is however important to noted that civil society actors take the view that there is absolutely no competition in the power sector which is a natural monopoly. All the groups reported that the level of competition in the retail consumer goods sector is high (55.4% of the respondents).

Anticompetitive practices like price fixing, market sharing and price discrimination are considered to be rife in the economy. Private business group (63.3%) and civil society group (54.9%) believe that the level of competition is high, whereas, those from the government 44.4 % describe the level as moderate. About 59% of the respondents asserted that the level of competition in the telecommunication sector is high,he concluded.

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