Competition Office lacks will to investigate

At the beginning of October, the Office of Competition of the MCCAA published its decision regarding an investigation on the distribution of diesel. The investigation started after a petrol station in Rabat reduced the price of diesel but had to revert back to the set price after being pressured to do so by the supplier.

The Association in its request to the Competition Office to investigate this incident also asked for an investigation on the distribution of both diesel and petrol since we believe that the incident reported is not an exceptional incident but the current situation. However, in spite of this request and the fact that the Office took more than one and a half year to investigate this incident, the Office did not pronounce itself on this issue.

In our press statement on the decision, we commented that we were disappointed that the Office did not investigate this market. In its comments on our press release to the Times of Malta, the Competition Office spokesman, however, said that “parallel behaviour alone between competitors is normally not sufficient to prove the existence of unlawful anti­competitive behaviour”.  Moreover, the spokesman quoted the legislation to try to justify their lack of action.

The Association believes that the law is there to give authorities direction and not to inhibit them from investigating. Unfortunately, many a time the law is used as an excuse to justify inaction. This is not the first time that Offices within the MCCAA used this tactic. One example was when the Consumers’ Appeal Tribunal decided in favour of the Association when it took action against the Consumers’ Affairs Office because it did not investigate the Association complaints against ARRIVA.   On that occasion, this MCCAA’s Office also used the legislation to justify their inaction.

It seems that the Office for Competition wanted to take us for a ride. Parallel behaviour does not prove the existence of unlawful anti-competitive behaviour. But it does give ground for an investigation. The investigation would not have taken many resources as all it needed to do was to inspect the contracts that the petrol stations have with their suppliers. All it takes is the will to ensure that competition is the order of the day and that its benefits are transferred to consumers – something that this Office does not have.

The seriousness of this decision of not taking any action is not a light one. It should be noted that diesel is the fuel most used by industry and businesses especially to transport goods.   Thus in order not to disturb a few operators and the organisation behind them, this Office is depriving the whole economy, including most businesses, of the benefits that could be reaped if this important market were truly competitive.

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