Vodafone/Melita merger – no good

Some days ago, Vodafone Malta and Melita Ltd announced that they intend to merge as one telcom provider.  We believe that this is bad news for local consumers as this will continue to limit the number of operators and thus competition.

Thus that local consumers not only do not have a real choice but to add insult to injury have got to pay very high prices when compared with the prices other consumers have to pay in other EU countries. Reducing the number of suppliers will make the situation much worse.

Consequently, we wrote to the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority, MCCAA, (see below), the regulator empowered to approve such a merger, to register that the Consumers’ Association is against this merger as of now.  Therefore we would like to register ourselves as objectors to the said proposal and expect the Competition Office to keep us informed on the process including keeping us informed on its market analysis which we assume in the light of the media declarations would have already kick-started.

We believe that the Competition Division in its evaluation should give special importance to the impact such a merger would have on consumer choice and publish a consumer impact assessment study especially the impact such a merger would have on ordinary consumers especially the prices that these consumers would have to pay for telephony, internet and tv services.  Such a study would have to compare the prices that consumers would pay under the present and the suggested scenario.

In the event that the MCCAA would approve this merger, we expect that the MCCAA to give those consumers under contract with Vodafone to opt out free from their contract.   The reason for this recommendation is that when choosing to subscribe to a service offered by this company consumers chose the services offered by Vodafone over those provided by either Go or Melita.  From available information it seems that “Vodafone” would simply be a brand name as Melita will have a 51% majority shareholding in the new setup.  Therefore in reality consumers who chose Vodafone will end up having a contract with Melita, something which they chose not to in the first place.

We also expect that the MCCAA would then assume its responsibilities by making bi-annually market study to ensure that none of the remaining operators are exploiting the resultant dominant position to the detriment of the consumer.   Needless to say, we expect that such studies should be made public.

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BEUC delegation meet Malta Presidency

On the 25th November, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) and its Maltese member Ghaqda tal-Konsumaturi met Dr Helena Dalli, Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties to present their expectations for Malta’s EU Council Presidency. During the meeting, the consumer delegation asked Minister Dalli to advance consumer interests in the Digital Single Market and to make enforcement of consumer rights a top priority for the EU.

In light of the 25,000 deaths attributed each year to antimicrobial resistance, BEUC and its Maltese member organisation stressed that the two pending EU proposals on veterinary medicines and medicated feed should be adopted swiftly in order to tackle the misuse of antibiotics in livestock.

Örjan Brinkman, president of The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), commented:

“The European Commission wants to make the EU fit for the digital age. This will however only happen if consumers trust the digital economy and can choose from the best offers online. Concretely, consumers should be able to access the online goods and services of any trader in the EU. It is hardly a Digital Single Market if traders can erect artificial barriers to the detriment of consumers.

“It is common knowledge – and not just since the VW scandal – that company misbehaviour usually does not stop at the border. To reign in rule-breaking companies and bring justice to consumers, it is crucial that enforcers work together. We want the Maltese government to help wrap up the pending EU proposal on the cross-border infringements of consumer rights.”

Benny Borg Bonello, president of the Consumers’ Association of Malta, said:

“The EU law that will make everyday consumer protects safer and strengthen market surveillance has been inexplicably stalled for the past three years. The risks of exploding tumble dryers and toxic toys are real. We are counting on the Maltese government to break the gridlock.”

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One can view the document prepared for the Malta Presidency here.

Press Release – Illegal Diesel contracts

The Consumers’ Association – Malta published a press release (see below for Maltese version) on the decision which was published by the Office of Competition regarding diesel service contracts between supplier and petrol station.

The case erupted in Jan 2015 when a petrol station reduced the price of diesel but had to revert to the set price after being pressured to do so by the supplier.  The Consumers’ Association had been pestering the Office to issue its decision for ages as this has a direct impact on both consumer benefit and the economy in general.  The Association in its original request to investigate this case also asked the Office to look into the market in general as we believed that this case was just the tip of an iceberg.

This week the Office of Competition published its decision mainly saying that

  • San Lucian Oil Company Ltd, member of Falzon Group Holdings Limited infringed Article 5(1)(a) of the Act by participating in an agreement with M&N Camilleri Petrol Station that had as its object the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition.
  • The Director General has no intention of imposing any administrative fines on M&N Camilleri Petrol Station, since the Office considers that this reduction  was benefitting consumers by selling diesel at a lower price than the maximum retail price.
  • With regard to Falzon Group, the Office had the intention to impose an administrative fine but in light of the judgement given by the Constitutional Court in the names of Federation of Estate Agents v Direttur Generali (Kompetizzjoni) et dated 3rd May 2016, the Office decided not to impose an administrative fine taking also into account the interpretation given by courts

In view of this the Association issued a press release saying that:

The Consumers’ Association is worried that effectively due to the court decision the Office of Competition is ineffective as it cannot impose any administrative fines as this is unconstitutional to impose fines under the present administrative setup.  It is consequently urging government to make the necessary legislative changes to enable the Office to impose fines.  The present situation is such that a company may infringe competition law with impunity.

– That this Office should have taken interim measures to ensure that the petrol station involved would be able to continue to offer the reduced prices to consumers.

– That this Office limited itself to investigate the case alone.  We noted that in our initial request we asked the Office to investigate all the contracts that are presently effective between petrol stations and their supplies.

The Consumers’ Association is perturbed with the situation especially in this sector as we are sure that this situation is present, for example, in other forms of fuels to the detriment not only to consumers’ interests but also to the whole economy.

10.10.16

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Gas Cylinder Distribution in Malta

On the 4th October the Competition and Consumer Appeals Tribunal issued a decision on the distribution of gas cylinders in Malta which had been pending since January 2013. It should be noted that the Office for Competition within the MCCAA instead of issuing the decision sent it to the Tribunal to decide instead of deciding itself. Probably this was done so as the government would not be pressed to take action on the eve of a general election – an action which would have put it in confrontation with the GRTU.

The Tribunal in its decision agreed to the findings of the Office of Competition namely:

That the standard agreement made between the bulk provider and the distributors were ipso iure null and void as they go against Art 101(2) of Trattat dwar il-funzjonament tal-Unjoni Ewropea and Art 5(2) of the Competition Act as they included a clause which gives exclusive geographical distribution rights with the aim of preventing, restricting or distort the internal market;

During the period between 2004 and 2009 Enemalta was in breach of the above mentioned articles as it was party to these standard agreements; and

That between the period of 2010 and 2013 the GRTU acted in breach of the said articles through its actions which had the intention to prevent, restrict or distort the internal market particularly Malta.

 

This was a very important decision as it showed how the internal Maltese market was and is being manipulated to restrict and distort competition. In 2015, there was a decision taken by government to reward the 31 distributors who were in breach of the law by giving them a subsidy in order to start competing. The positive things that came out of the 2013 decision were that the market was opened to other competitors and that the service to consumers was supposed to drastically improve.

Yet, the Association noted that the service did not improve one iota and thus requested the new Energy and Water Authority to oblige these 31 distributors to improve the service according to the 2015 decision. The Association held a meeting with the Authority but noted the lack of willingness to have the decision implemented. As a result we wrote to the new Authority (vide). The chain of correspondence to date is being attached to this article.

14.10.16

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Distribuzzjoni cilindri tal-gass

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Ir-Reazzjoni tal-Ghaqda tal-Konsumaturi dwar id-dokument tal-MRA fuq il-bejgh tac-Cilindri tal-Gass

L-Ghaqda tal-Konsumaturi llum qed tippubblika r-reazzjoni taghha dwar id-dokument ‘Reform of the LPG market structure – the Door-to-Door Distribution and Retail of LPG Cylinders” li l-Awtorita’ ta’ Malta ghar- Rizorsi harget ghal konsultazzjoni pubblika aktar kmieni dan ix-xahar.

Dawn ir-rakkomandazzjonijiet huma bbazati fuq ilmenti maghmula minn konsumaturi u mibnija fuq l-esperjenza ezistenti migjuba bhala rizultat tal-eskluzivita’ geografika ga moghtija lid-distributuri tac-cilindri tal-gass. L-Ghaqda ssostni li din is-sistema bazikament gabet deterjorament tal-kwalita’ fis-servizz moghti lill-konsumaturi.

L-opinjoni tal-Ghaqda hi li:

  • s-suq ghandu jkun liberalizzat u ghalhekk ma taqbilx li operatur jinghata ekluzivita’ geografika biex jopera fuq territorju predefinit mill-Awtorita’ ghaliex tkun qed taghti monoplju lil dan l-operatur;
  • kull min jikkwalifika ma’ standards ta’ sahha, sigurta’ u kwalita’ ghandu jinghata licenzja u joffri servizz lil dawk il-konsumaturi kollha li jkunu jirrikjeduh;
  • l-prezz ghandu jkun wiehed u regolat ma’ Malta u Ghawdex kollu u l-konsumaturi jkollhom l-ghazla li jixtru ccilindru tal-gass ta’ liema kumpanija li jridu;
  • l-kompetizzjoni ghandha pero’ ssahhah is-servizz provdut lill-konsumaturi;
  • hemm bzonn li jkun hemm aktar standards gholjin mid-distributuri fosthom call centre minn fejn konsumatur jista’ jigbor it-taghrif bhal prezzjijet u jordna cilindru tad-ditta u anki jaghzel id-distributur li jrid u theggeg li f’dan il-qasam tiddahhal l-informatika fejn konsumatur ikun jista’ jordna u jhallas ghas-servizz b’mod awtomatizzat;
  • fixed points m’ghandhomx jissostitwixxu t-tqassim bieb b’bieb, izda jkunu komplimentari;
  • jkun hemm tabella fuq kull truck u li konsumaturi jinghataw ircevuta.

Sfortunatament id-dokument tal-Awtorita’ m'hu jipproponi xejn gdid u ma jghid xejn kif ser itejjeb l-infurzar tal-ligijiet u tharis ta’ standards, xi haga li kienet assenti tul dawn l-ahhar snin.

-[camalta/GH_reaction_to_consultation.pdf]==[GH_reaction_to_consultation.pdf]~

29 ta' Novembru 2013

Allegazzjonijiet ta' mili illegali ta' cilindri tal-gass

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L-allegazzjoni mressqa mill-kumpanija Liquigas hija serja. Is-sahha u s-sigurta’ tal-konsumaturi tigi l-ewwel u qabel kollox – dan huwa principju fundamentali.

L-Ghaqda tistenna li l-Awtorita’ ta’ Malta ghar-Rizorsi flimkien mal-Awtorita ta’ Malta ghall-Kompetizzjoni u ghall-Affarijiet tal-Konsumatur jinvestigaw jekk humiex qed jigu mpoggija fis-suq cilindri li huma perikoluzi ghall-konsumatur u kienx hemm lok ta’ prattici kummercjali mhux gusti.

L-Ghaqda tfakkar li dawn iz-zewg Awtoritajiet ghandhom il-poteri legali kollha mehtiega sabiex jaghmlu investigazzjoni dettaljata. L-Ghaqda fuq kollox tistenna li din l-investigazzjoni
tigi konkluza f’qasir zmien u tkun ippubblikata ghas-serhan tal-mohh tal-konsumaturi Maltin u Ghawdxin.

Il-Konsumaturi Maltin u Ghawdxin ghandhom ikollhom rashom mistrieha, l-ewwel u qabel kollox, li c-cilindri mibjugha fis-suq huma sikuri u minghajr ebda periklu u li mhux qed isehhu prattici kummercjali mhux gusti kif allegat.

Din l-allegazzjoni li qed issir tkompli ssahhah il-fehma tal-Ghaqda li hemm bzonn ta’ aktar infurzar tal-ligijiet u l-htiega li l-Awtoritajiet li ghandna jkunu aktar pro-attivi biex jassiguraw
id-drittijiet tal-konsumaturi.

28 ta' Novembru 2013

UPDATED – Liberalise the gas distribution market

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The Consumers’ Association has called for the liberalisation of the gas distribution market.

In a statement this morning, it said it believed that the interests of consumers should always come before those of operators and pique.

The association was referring to a document for consultation issued by the Malta Resources Authority, which is the regulator.

It said that wherever there was monopoly, even because of exclusivity, there was arrogance and breach of consumer rights. This was because the operators controlled the market in whichever way suited them best because of the lack of competition.

This was the situation in the gas distribution market.

The association also did not agree with a system where someone dominated the market either in provision or distribution as although such a system might seem beneficial at first, other competitors were usually eliminated and consumers would end up once again dependent on one or two operators and the situation would repeat itself.

The association believed exclusivity in distribution should be removed and the service should be offered by anyone who was well equipped to offer a good and safe service.

It was only in this way that the system could improve as operators would have to work to retain their clients and keep them satisfied with the service and the prices offered.

On the other hand, the regulator should ensure that those who entered the market did not dominate through unfair market practices.

The Times of Malta 26th October 2013 read here

UPDATE

The Association has just drawn up a set of comprehensive proposals in reaction to the consultation document issued by the Malta Resources Authority regarding the door-to-door distribution of gas cylinders to consumers.  The document may be accessed below:

-[camalta/GH_reaction_to_consultation.pdf]==[GH_reaction_to_consultation.pdf]~

29 November 2013

Xiri taz-zejt mill-Libja – Konsumaturi jistennew rohs

Għandhom jiġu assigurati li l-vantaġġi tax-xiri ta’ żejt u gass LPG bl-irħis mil-Libja jgħaddu għand il-konsumatur.

L-Għaqda tal-Konsumaturi tilqa’ b’sodisfazzjon il-memorandum of understanding milħuq bejn il-Gvern Malti u dak Libjan għal xiri ta’ żejt mhux raffinat, fjuwil, dijżil, petrol u LPG b’rati favorevoli ħafna għal Malta. Dan jassigura li l-konsumaturi Maltin u Għawdxin ma jkunux affetwati kontinwament miċ-ċaqliq eċċessiv tal-prezz taż-żejt kaġunat mis-suq internazzjonali.

Issa l-Għaqda qed tistenna li l-vantaġġ akkwistat permezz ta’ dan il-ftehim jgħaddi għand ilkonsumaturi fil-forma ta’ prezzijiet irħas f’diversi swieq lokali li dawn l-aħħar snin gew affettwati b’mod ħażin minħabba żidied fil-fuels (bħal petrol u diesel) u anke fil-prezz tal-gass LPG li jintuża għat-tisjir mill-maġġoranza tal-familji Maltin.

L-Għaqda tfakkar ukoll li bħalissa qiegħda tistenna iktar roħs fil-prezzijiet taċ-ċilindri tal-gass jekk it-Tribunal għall-Kompetizzjoni u tal-Konsumatur jiftaħ għall-kompetizzjoni l-qasam taddistribuzzjoni taċ-ċilindri tal-gass.

L-Għaqda tfakkar li sa issa la l-Awtorita’ ta’ Malta għall-Kompetizzjoni u għall-Affarijiet tal- Konsumatur (MCCAA) u lanqas l-Awtorita’ ta’ Malta tar-Riżorsi (MRA) ma ppubblikaw impact assessment ta’ kif mistennija jorħsu l-prezzijiet f’dan is-settur u allura kemm hu mistenni jkun ir-roħs fid-distribuzzjoni taċ-ċilindri tal-gass. L-Għaqda tfakkar ukoll illi l-Awtoritajiet għandhom jassiguraw li l-kompetizzjoni għandha twassal ukoll għal titjib fis-servizz ipprovdut, xi ħaġa li wkoll l-ebda mill-Awtoritajiet imsemmija ma pprovdew xi forma ta’ assigurazzjoni lill-konsumaturi ta’ kif is-servizz ser jigi affettwat.

L-Għaqda ttenni li l-Gvern għandu d-dover, permezz tal-policies tiegħu mħaddm minn dawn l-Awtoritajiet, li jassigura li l-vantaġġ miksub jgħaddi għand il-konsumaturi u jħalli l-effett
mixtieq fid-diversi swieq oħra li sofrew minħabba zidied fil-prezz tal-fjuwel.

4 ta' Settembru 2013

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Oil Procurment Scandal: Consumer Authorities asked to investigate

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L-Għaqda tal-Konsumaturi titlob lill-Awtorita’ ta’ Malta għall-Kompetizzjoni u għall-Affarijiet tal-Konsumatur (MCCAA) u l-Awtorita’ ta’ Malta għar-Riżorsi (MRA) sabiex jiġi investigat l-aġir tal-Enemalta għad-danni sofferti mill-konsumaturi fid-dawl tar-rapport tal- Awditur Ġenerali.

L-Għaqda tal-Konsumaturi hija mħassba bil-kontenut tad-diversi rapporti kemm fuq il-media kif ukoll wara r-rapport maħruġ mill-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika fil-qasam tal-enerġija partikolarment f’dak li għandu x’jaqsam mal-prattiċi għal xiri ta’ żejt għall-ġenerazzjoni talelettriku. L-Għaqda hija konċernata minħabba l-fatt li kwalunkwe prattika f’dan il-qasam ikollha effett dirett fuq il-konsumaturi Maltin u Għawdxin ‘il għaliex finalment ikunu huma li jispiċċaw iħallsu l-kontijiet li kienu eżorbitanti għal dawn l-aħħar snin.

L-Għaqda tinnota li aspett tad-detriment li seta’ b’xi mod sofra l-konsumatur Malti u Għawdxi mhux jingħata l-attenzjoni xierqa mill-Awtoritajiet konċernati. Anzi huwa preokkupanti l-fatt li l-ebda awtorita’ li suppost qegħda hemm biex tħares l-interessi talkonsumaturi Maltin u Għawdxin ma esprimiet ruħha fuq din il-materja u lanqas biss aċċennaw li ser jiftħu xi investigazzjoni fuq inizjattiva tagħhom kif għandhom il-poter li jagħmlu mogħti lilhom skont il-liġi.

Għalhekk l-Għaqda ħadet l-inkarigu hija stess u talbet l-Awtorita’ ta’ Malta għall-Kompetizzjoni u għall-Affarijiet tal-Konsumatur u dik għar-Riżorsi sabiex tinvestiga l-aġir tal- Enemalta fis-snin imgħoddija u flimkien jevalwaw x’kien id-dannu li sofrew il-konsumaturi Maltin u Għawdxin u jekk l-aġir tal-Enemalta wassalx għal tariffi għolja bla bżonn. Qed nitolbu li din l-investigazzjoni ssir minn dawn l-Awtoritajiet in vista tal-fatt li huma dawn iż-żewġ regolaturi li flimkien għandhom ir-responsabbilita’ li japprovaw il-prezz finali għallkonsumatur, li jassiguraw li jkun hawn prattiċi kummerċjali ġusti u jsegwu l-liġi talkompetizzjoni.

L-Għaqda tistenna li l-Awtoritajiet ikkonċernati jaslu għall-konklużjoni ta’ din l-investigazzjoni f’qasir żmien. Fuq kollox l-Għaqda tistenna li dawn iż-żewġ awtoritajiet jaħdmu flimkien u mhux joqogħdu jilagħbu ping pong bl-iskuża li m’għandhomx poteri skont il-liġi rispettivi tagħhom bħal ma ġieli għamlu fil-passat.

L-Għaqda tfakkar li l-liġijiet intiżi biex jipproteġu l-interessi tal-konsumatur inbidlu diversi drabi tul dawn l-aħħar sentejn bl-iskuża li l-Awtoritajiet ser ikunu jistgħu jaħdmu aħjar u allura issa ma tistenniex li jkun hemm problemi biex din il-kwistjoni tkun indirizzata f’qasir żmien.

30 ta' Lulju 2013

EU takes baby step towards collective consumer court actions

{nl}{nl}{nl}Ghaqdabasket_logo.jpgEU takes baby step towards collective consumer court actions

Today, the European Commission is recommending that all EU countries adopt laws allowing victims to go to court as a group if harmed or suffering loss from the same commercial source.  When victims of defective products, it is often too difficult for them to individually defend their rights and they are left uncompensated.

It should be noted that Maltese consumers already have this facility in the area of consumer affairs.  The Consumers’ Association wished to refer to one of the recommendations which was recently made by the Kummissjoni għal Riforma Ħolistika fil-Qasam tal-Ġustizzja where it was proposed that the right towards collective court actions be extended to all other areas. 

The Consumers’ Association agrees to this recommendation as it had recommended the same approach during the consultation process when the Collective Proceeding Act was being drafted.

BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation, also published a press statement with the same title.  The Director General of BEUC, Monique Goyens, made the following comments:. 

 “It is a pity the European Commission has dragged its feet on this burning issue. The absence of a uniform collective redress mechanism has been a glaring omission of the Single Market for decades. 79% of European consumers have called for it, lamenting the fact their rights remain on paper. This is a basic question of access to justice.
 “The system recommended by the Commission disappointingly asks each person to sign up – automatic inclusion of all victims should be the norm.
“We need to see all EU countries now pick up the ball and run with it by including in national law without delay. After a generation, the Commission has taken this baby step and European consumers expect them to closely monitor the progress and at least fill the gaps where necessary.”

The Consumers’ Association – Malta joins BEUC in its recommendation that such a system should automatically include all victims while leaving the option to consumers not to participate if they do not wish. 

The Consumers’ Association – Malta encourages the Malta government to extend this right and also to amend the law to include automatic inclusion. 

Evelyn Chetcuti
Secretary General
11  June 2013