The Authority on July 1, 2021 commenced implementing its 3rd Strategic Plan which spells out the agency’s priority areas for the four years to June 2025. The Plan marks the Authority’s entry into the second decade of competition law and policy enforcement. Director-General Mr. Wang’ombe Kariuki spoke to the Editorial Committee about the new Plan. Here are excerpts from that conversation.
Before we discuss the recently launched Plan, kindly unpack the past two blueprints, especially regarding their focus areas.
The Competition Act commenced on 1st August 2011 leading to the formation of the Competition Authority of Kenya. To build the organization’s pillars, we conducted a comprehensive audit which informed our new organizational structure and determined the optimal number of employees and skills required over time.
This review fed into our maiden Strategic Plan which had the overarching objective of growing the Authority into an organization that espouses efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility in its decision-making.
Firstly, the Plan set out to develop our staff’s skills, in terms of technical capacity and inculcating a performance culture. We also focused on soft enforcement (advocacy and awareness creation) in order to build a competition culture. During this period, our core mandate focus was the statutory enforcement of mergers. To facilitate implementation of the Act and conserve public funds, we developed tens of supporting frameworks, including policies guiding recruitment and placement, financial and performance management.
During the next Plan, whose implementation ended on 30th June 2021, we flexed our muscles through hard enforcement tools such as dawn raids, fines and penalties, among others. Our caseload with regard to our core mandate areas increased by over 60% from the previous strategic period. However, we still reinforced the ‘adversarial’ approach with advocacy initiatives based on our conviction that wilful behaviour change greatly influences compliance.
In order to improve the efficiency of our services, we automated all our core mandate functions, facilitating lodging of applications remotely, thereby lowering costs for all parties and at improved case turnaround times. To facilitate the ease of doing business, locally and regionally, we reviewed our Guidelines and Regulations to ensure that our decision-making process is more transparent and predictable and accountable to stakeholders.
In addition, the 2nd Plan laid emphasis on Risk Management and Business Continuity, two essential administrative tools that served the Authority well when the Covid-19 pandemic struck in March 2020. We also invested in our employees through trainings and personal welfare programmes like mortgage facilities, while emphasising on increasing productivity.
Lastly, the Act’s veracity was tested over the lifetime of the two Plans. We are grateful that Parliament saw it fit to donate extra powers to the Authority, through amendments, affording us more enforcement latitude and flexibility to address emerging issues in our economy.
So, what are some of the key lessons you drew from executing these Plans?
First of all, advocacy works. Whereas hard enforcement has its place in regulation, enforcers must also focus on facilitating behavioural change. Secondly, research remains a key input in our line of work. The Authority’s decisions impact markets and can influence investment decisions. Therefore, our interventions must always be guided by verifiable data and research, and anchored on the law. With regard to employee management, I am convinced that academic papers should not be relied on blindly. Work attitude, personal motivation, and receptiveness to change are critical attributes that leaders should discern and foster within their teams. I also appreciate the importance of leaders communicating their organizational vision, mission and expected culture to those below them to ensure the Team is aligned. However, it is more important to lead by example by espousing the same attributes and stretched ambitions demanded of others.
How does all these then feed into the new Plan?
Our 3rd Plan is themed Expanding Enforcement Frontiers for Increased Consumer Welfare and Sustainable Economy.
One of the issues we have focused on in the new Plan is our dynamic business environment with regard to, among others, the digital economy and concepts like Big Data, Platform Marketing and Artificial Intelligence. Whereas immeasurable benefits are drawn from the digital economy, the potential downside is reduced competition in markets.
We have asked ourselves questions like: how can businesses use data to distort markets, accumulate market power and diminish consumer welfare, and how can we execute our mandate apace with these advancements? Toward this, the new Plan has highlighted research, through market studies and inquiries, as a key contributor to successful enforcement of our mandate in new and traditional markets.
Additionally, the Authority has prioritized enhancing its alliances and collaborations with local and international partners with regard to capacity building, increasing the audience scope of our awareness creation initiatives, and acquiring tools that further enhance our service delivery.
Admittedly, the Covid-19 pandemic has diminished available resources. It is therefore incumbent on us to expand our resource mobilization through engaging development partners and increasing our cooperation with sector-specific regulators.
Lastly, available jurisprudence since August 2011 places us at a good point to take our place as a centre for competition and consumer protection law. We shall actualize this ambition by, among others, publishing comprehensive digests elucidating our interventions, establishing a local competition and consumer protection network, and supporting regional agencies implement their competition laws.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact the Authority’s activities and how did you adjust operationally? In addition, what lessons drawn from this experience will inform execution of the new Plan?
Over the last 15 months of executing the previous Plan, the Authority and its stakeholders have all been working under unprecedented circumstances. Luckily, the Authority’s operations remained unaffected since we had automated all our core mandate processes since July 2019. Thereafter, on 1st September 2020, we ceased receiving physical applications with regard to our core mandate functions. Some key lessons drawn from this experience is the importance of risk management, fostering a process-driven organization and entrenching business continuity in an organization.
Agility and responsiveness is also a desired quality for members of the management and staff. When developing the new Plan, we conducted a robust SWOT analysis in order to appreciate the environmental circumstances under which we are operating. Additionally, we shall continue implementing our institutional risk management strategies and tracking the implementation of the Plan through a robust monitoring and evaluation framework.
DG, we are cognizant of the fact that you will exit the Authority mid-way through this new Plan. Will you have achieved what you set out to in August 2011?
Only offices are permanent; office holders are transient. I will be exiting knowing that the medium-term vision I had for this young agency has been achieved, albeit with some areas of improvement. With regard to our core mandate areas and support functions, we have laid a solid foundation for growth. I will be leaving behind a team with diverse experience and knowledge to adequately progress the Authority, locally and internationally. When my time to exit comes, I should be judged on the parameter of whether I left an organization that can progress in
What advice do you have for your successor, specifically with regard to implementing the Plan?
First of all, it is critical that my successor continues with the spirit of teamwork. My successor should also entrench the culture of performance management as well as robustly implement the monitoring and evaluation frameworks. Lastly, they should strive to reward excellence, but also have the mettle to administer corrective action where the values and culture of the Authority are not adhered to.