The Competition Authority has rejected an application for a buying group exemption from Choppies Distribution Centre and Payless Supermarket.
The applicants are enterprises trading in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) and this makes them direct competitors. However, in terms of the Competition Act competitors can apply for an exemption where there are off-setting public benefits that out-weigh the anti-competitive effects of an undertaking they seek to engage in. The thrust of the application was that the envisaged buying group would enable better purchasing power which would translate into lower prices, better quality products and therefore availing benefits to consumers and employees.
Prior to the current application, the applicants had launched a similar application in 2014, which while it was rejected the applicants were given some time to wind up the buying group agreement and for a period of more than three years the buying group has been active. During the life of the buying group exemption (which continues even now) Payless’s performance reportedly improved, stabilized financially and increased its staff complement. It is the contention of the applicants in the current application that if Payless is not granted the buying group exemption it would suffer devastating harm possibly resulting in liquidation.
When fortifying their case in the current application, the parties or the two stores maintain that the buying group arrangement is the main cause of Payless’s improved performance and stability due to the combined leverage of the two stores economies of scale when buying; stabilised cash flow; ability to rebrand and refurbish its stores; and ability to retain employees, but also created an additional 250 more jobs since the last exemption ( when the weaning-off period was granted), increasing its staff complement from 400 to 650. As a consequence Choppies and Payless are now applying for an exemption to run for a three (3) year period.
In considering an exemption application, the Authority is directed by section 32(1) of the Act on the assessment criteria of exemptions, which provides that, “ Where the Authority finds, on investigation that an agreement other than a horizontal agreement or vertical agreement prohibited by section 25 and section 26 (1) respectively prevents or substantially lessens competition, the Authority may, subject to section 34, grant an exemption from the prohibition if it can be reasonably expected that there will be offsetting benefits for the public directly attributable to the agreement.
Considering this application, the Authority turned out very adverse findings proving a dire case of substantial lessening of competition in the considered market. After a careful Competition Assessment, the Authority established that:
There is no competition between Choppies and Payless, the duo had monthly promotions wherein they had the same goods on promotion at identical or similar prices and the pamphlets were an exact replica of each other. The two stores had alleged that Choppies would not benefit from the arrangement. It however emerged that Choppies was benefiting, particularly given, the quantity of Choppies in house brands found in Payless stores.
Payless did not have any in house brands, but instead sold a variety of Choppies goods in large volumes. Further, the Authority finds that the granting of an exemption to the applicants would be in effect granting the Choppies and Payless the leeway to continue with their price fixing and distortion of competition.
The two stores hinged their application around the assertion that the agreement would yield public benefits that would off-set competition concerns. However, on closer examination of the alleged public benefits claims, it is clear that these are not supported by any documentary evidence. The Parties failed to prove that Payless’ financial stability in the last three years was solely based on it being a member of the Buying Group.
With regard to employment, it is worth noting that initially when the application was made, the two stores claimed that Payless had been able to retain the same number of staff and even increased its staff complement. Upon scrutiny this claim was found to be untrue. Whilst the parties allege that profits have remained low because of some projects Payless had undertaken to revamp its brand, such as refurbishing its stores and rebranding, there are no documents to support these plans and cost thereof.
The parties have mostly made unsubstantiated allegations in support of their application without any concrete evidence. The application is therefore rejected on the basis that there is no evidence that proves that the agreement has any offsetting benefits for the public directly attributable to it in the form of maintenance of lower prices, higher quality or greater choice for consumers, as provided under section 32(1) (a) of the Act, because Choppies and Payless sell the same goods at similar prices especially during the month-end promotion period;
and further the parties or the two stores have failed to prove that the agreement has any off- setting benefits in the form of maintenance or promotion of employment in Botswana as stated under section 32(1)(d) of the Act, instead, the information shows that Payless has reduced its employees and the parties tried to mislead and provided false information to the Authority.
The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Bank of Botswana decided to maintain the Bank Rate at 3.75 percent at a meeting held on October 21, 2021. Briefing members of the media moments after the meeting Bank of Botswana Governor Moses Pelaelo explained that Inflation decreased from 8.8 percent in August to 8.4 percent in September 2021, although remaining above the upper bound of the Bank’s medium-term objective range of 3 – 6 percent.
He said Inflation is projected to revert to within the objective range in the second quarter of 2022, mainly on account of the dissipating impact of the recent upward adjustment in value added tax (VAT) and administered prices from the inflation calculation; which altogether contributed 5.2 percentage points to the current level of inflation. Overall, risks to the inflation outlook are assessed to be skewed to the upside.
These risks include the potential increase in international commodity prices beyond current forecasts; persistence of supply and logistical constraints due to lags in production; possible maintenance of travel restrictions and lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic; domestic risk factors relating to regular annual price adjustments; as well as second-round effects of the recent increases in administered prices and inflation expectations that could lead to generalised higher price adjustments.
Furthermore, aggressive action by governments (for example, the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP)) and major central banks to bolster aggregate demand, as well as the successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programmes, could add pressure to inflation. These risks are, however, moderated by the possibility of weak domestic and global economic activity, with a likely further dampening effect on productivity due to periodic lockdowns and other forms of restrictions in response to the emergence of new COVID-19 variants.
A slow rollout of vaccines, resulting in the continuance of weak economic activity and the possible decline in international commodity prices could also result in lower inflation, as would capacity constraints in implementing the ERTP initiatives. Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for Botswana grew by 4.9 percent in the twelve months to June 2021, compared to a contraction of 5.1 percent in the corresponding period in 2020.
The increase in output is attributable to the expansion in production of both the mining and non-mining sectors, resulting from an improved performance of the economy from a low base in the corresponding period in the previous year. Mining output increased by 3 percent in the year to June 2021, because of a 3.2 percent increase in diamond mining output, compared to a contraction of 19.3 percent in 2020. Similarly, non-mining GDP grew by 5.4 percent in the twelve-month period ending June 2021, compared to a decrease of 0.7 percent in the corresponding period in 2020.
The increase in non-mining GDP was mainly due to expansion in output for construction, diamond traders, transport and storage, wholesale and retail and real estate. Projections by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) suggest a rebound in economic growth for Botswana in 2021. The Ministry projects a growth rate of 9.7 percent in 2021, moderating to a growth of 4.3 percent in 2022. On the other hand, the IMF forecasts the domestic economy to grow by 9.2 percent in 2021; and this is expected to moderate to a growth of 4.7 percent in 2022. The growth outcome will partly depend on success of the vaccine rollout.
According to the October 2021 World Economic Outlook (WEO), global output growth is forecast at 5.9 percent in 2021, 0.1 percentage point lower than in the July 2021 WEO update. The downward revision reflects downgrades for advanced economies mainly due to supply disruptions, while the growth forecast for low-income countries was lowered as the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines weigh down on economic recovery. Meanwhile, global output growth is anticipated to moderate to 4.9 percent in 2022, as some economies return to their pre-COVID-19 growth levels.
The South African Reserve Bank, for its part, projects that the South African GDP will grow by 5.3 percent in 2021, and slow to 1.7 percent in 2022. The MPC notes that the short-term adverse developments in the domestic economy occur against a growth-enhancing environment. These include accommodative monetary conditions, improvements in water and electricity supply, reforms to further improve the business environment and government interventions against COVID-19, including the vaccination rollout programme.
In addition, the successful implementation of ERTP should anchor the growth of exports and preservation of a sufficient buffer of foreign exchange reserves, which have recently fallen to an estimate of P47.9 billion (9.8 months of import cover) in September 2021. Overall, it is projected that the economy will operate below full capacity in the short to medium term and, therefore, not creating any demand-driven inflationary pressures, going forward.
The projected increase in inflation in the short term is primarily due to transitory supply-side factors that, except for second-round effects and entrenched expectations (for example, through price adjustments by businesses, contractors, property owners and wage negotiations), do not normally attract monetary policy response. In this context, the MPC decided to continue with the accommodative monetary policy stance and maintain the Bank Rate at 3.75 percent. Governor Moses Pelaelo noted that the Bank stands ready to respond appropriately as conditions warrant.
The Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) recently launched the Mayor’s forum. The Authority will engage with local governments to improve ease of doing business, boost investment, and fast track the development of Botswana’s Special Economic Zones (SEZs).
The Mayors Forum was established to recognise the vital role that local authorities play in infrastructure development; as they approve applications for planning, building and occupation permits. Local authorities also grant approvals for industrial licenses for manufacturing companies. SEZA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Lonely Mogara explained that the Mayor’s Forum was conceptualised after the Authority identified local authorities as critical partners in achieving its mandate and improving the ease of doing business. SEZA intends to develop legal instructions for different Ministries to align relevant laws with the SEZ Act, which will enable the operationalisation of the SEZ incentives.
“Engaging with local government will bring about the much-needed transformation as our SEZs are located in municipalities. For us, a good working relationship with local authorities is the special ingredient required for the efficient facilitation of SEZ investors, which will lead to their competitiveness and ultimate growth,” Mogara stated.
The Mayors Forum will focus on the referral of investors for establishment in different localities, efficient facilitation of investors, infrastructure and property development, and joint monitoring and evaluation of the SEZ programme at the local level. SEZA believes that collaborating with local authorities will bring about much-needed transformation in the areas where SEZs are located and ultimately within the national economy. Against this background, the concept of hosting a Mayors Forum was birthed to identify and provide solutions to possible barriers inhibiting ease of doing business.
One of the key outcomes of the Mayors Forum is the free flow of information between SEZA and local authorities. Further, the two will work together to change the business environment and achieve efficiency and competitiveness within the SEZs. Francistown Mayor Godisang Rasesigo was elected as the founding Chairman of the Mayors Forum. The forum will also include the executive leadership of all city, town and district councils, among them Mayors, City or Council Chairpersons, Town Clerks and District Commissioners.
Mogara explained that initial efforts would engage the local government in areas that host SEZA’s eight SEZs: Gaborone, Lobatse, Selebi Phikwe, Palapye, Francistown, Pandamatenga and Tuli Block. Meanwhile, Mogara told WeekendPost that they are confident that a modest 150 000 jobs could be unleashed in the next two to five years through a partnership with other government entities. He is adamant that the jobs will come from all the nine designated economic zones.
This publication gathers that the Authority is currently sitting on about P30 billion worth of investment. The investment, it is suggested, could be said to be locked up in government bureaucracy, awaiting the proper signatures for projects to take off. Mogara informed this publication that the Authority onboard investors who are bringing P200 million and above. He pointed out that more are injecting P1 billion investments compared to the lower stratum of their drive.
SEZA’s mandate hinges on the nine Special Economic Zones – being Gaborone (SSKIA), whose focus is of Mixed-use (Diamond Beneficiation, Aviation); Gaborone (Fairgrounds) for Financial services, professional services and corporate HQ village; Lobatse for Beef, leather & biogas park; Pandamatenga designated for Agriculture (cereal production); Selibe Phikwe area which is also of a Mixed-Use (Base metal beneficiation & value addition), Tuli Block Integrated coal value addition, dry port logistics centre, coal power generation and export; Francistown is set aside for International Multimodal logistics hub/ Mixed Use (Mining, logistics and downstream value-adding hub); whilst Palapye is for Horticulture.
The knowledge economy buzz speaks to SEZA’s agenda, according to Mogara. The CEO is determined to ensure that SEZA gets the buy-in from the government, parastatals and the private sector to deliver Botswana to a high economic status. “This will ensure more jobs, less poverty, more investment, and indeed wealth for Batswana,” quipped the enthusiastic Mogara. SEZA was established through the SEZ Act of 2015 and mandated with establishing, developing and managing the country’s SEZs. The Authority was tasked with creating a conducive domestic and foreign direct investment, diversifying the economy and increasing exports to facilitate employment creation.
De Beers rough diamond production for the third quarter of 2021 increased by 28% to 9.2 million carats, reflecting planned higher Production to meet more robust demand for rough diamonds. In Botswana, Production increased by 33% to 6.4 million carats, primarily driven by the planned treatment of higher-grade ore at Jwaneng, partly offset by lower Production at Orapa due to the scheduled closure of Plant 1.
Namibia’s Production increased by 65% to 0.4 million carats, reflecting the marine fleet’s suspension during Q3 2020 as part of the response to lower demand at that time. South Africa production increased by 34% to 1.6 million carats due to the planned treatment of higher grade ore from the final cut of the Venetia open pit and an improvement in plant performance. Production in Canada decreased by 13% to 0.8 million carats due to lower grade ore being processed.
Demand for rough diamonds continued to be robust, with positive midstream sentiment reflecting strong demand for polished diamond jewellery, particularly in the key markets of the US and China. Rough diamond sales totalled 7.8 million carats (7.0 million carats on a consolidated basis) from two Sights, compared with 6.6 million carats (6.5 million carats on a consolidated basis) from three Sights in Q3 2020 and 7.3 million carats (6.5 million carats on consolidated basis) from two Sights in Q2 2021.
De Beers tightened Production guidance to 32 million carats (previously 32-33 million carats) due to continuing operational challenges, subject to the extent of any further Covid-19 related disruptions. Commenting on the production figures, Mark Cutifani, Chief Executive of De Beers parent company Anglo American, said: “Production is up 2%(1) compared to Q3 of last year, with our operating levels generally maintained at approximately 95%(2) of normal capacity.
The increase in Production is led by planned higher rough diamond production at De Beers, increased output from our Minas-Rio iron ore operation in Brazil, reflecting the planned pipeline maintenance in Q3 2020, and improved plant performance at our Kumba iron ore operations in South Africa. “We are broadly on track to deliver our full-year production guidance across all products while taking the opportunity to tighten up the guidance for diamonds, copper, and iron ore within our current range as we approach the end of the year.
“Our copper operations in Chile continue to work hard on mitigating the risk of water availability due to the challenges presented by the longest drought on record for the region, including sourcing water that is not suitable for use elsewhere and further increasing water recycling.” On Wednesday, De Beers announced the value of rough diamond sales (Global Sightholder Sales and Auctions) for the eighth sales cycle of 2021. The company raked in US$ 490 million for the cycle, a slight improvement when compared to US$467 million recorded in 2020 cycle 8.
Owing to the restrictions on the movement of people and products in various jurisdictions around the globe, De Beers Group has continued to implement a more flexible approach to rough diamond sales during the eighth sales cycle of 2021, with the Sight event extended beyond its normal week-long duration. As a result, the provisional rough diamond sales figure quoted for Cycle 8 represents the expected sales value from 4 October to 19 October. It remains subject to adjustment based on final completed sales.
Commenting on the cycle 8 sales De Beers Group Chief Executive Officer Bruce Cleaver said that: “As the diamond sector prepares for the key holiday season and US consumer demand for diamond jewellery continues to perform strongly, we saw further robust demand for rough diamonds in the eighth sales cycle of the year ahead of the Diwali holiday when demand for rough diamonds is likely to be affected by the closure of polishing factories in India.”