Ninette Mwarania-min.jpg

Every Project Is an Opportunity to Learn, Unlearn, and Relearn: My Take On The 2024 ICN Advocacy Workshop

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  • 01 . June . 2024
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Ninette Mwarania, Manager, Policy and Research, Competition Authority of Kenya

On February 3rd, 2020, the ICN Advocacy Working Group co-chairs from Singapore, Norway, and Hong Kong sent an expression of interest (EOI) request for agencies willing to host ICN Advocacy Workshop. As the liaison between the Competition Authority of Kenya (‘the Authority’) and other agencies, I received the request. It was exciting to see the Authority's long-held aspiration to host an international conference come one step closer to reality. I immediately began thinking of ways to respond to the EOI in time. With the approval of the Director, Policy and Research, I put together a team consisting of the Competition and Consumer Protection Director, the Head of Finance, the Communications Manager, and myself as the person in charge of Advocacy.

In response to the EOI requirements, we showcased the resources at our disposal, both human and capital, to host the upcoming Workshop. Additionally, we highlighted the advocacy activities the Authority had undertaken over the past two years, the extent of our participation in ICN activities, our preferred dates to host the Workshop, and the ideal venue. The Authority submitted its EOI response on February 4th, 2020. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and everything got suspended.

On May 15th, 2020, the Authority received a request for an oral interview with the co-chairs to clarify some issues in our submission. The interview took place on June 30th, 2020 at 4:30pm EAT. Unfortunately, I missed the call, but fortunately, Dr. Adano, the Authority’s Director, Policy and Research, joined in. That evening, the Authority received the good news that our submission had been accepted. The prevailing health conditions at the time meant that the Workshop was scheduled for 2022. At that point, it was hoped the circumstances would have improved to allow an in-person event. However, there was no further communication about the Workshop until October 1st, 2021, when we reached out to the co-chairs for clarity on hosting the workshop, which was scheduled for August 2022. We were informed that the 2021 Workshop had been postponed to 2022 due to the prevailing health situation. This meant that the 2022 workshop would also be pushed forward. We did not mind the delay. If anything, it would give the Authority more time to prepare.

In March 2023, I shared my ideas on how to organize and host the Workshop with the Authority’s Acting Director-General, Dr. Adano. We set the date for the Workshop as 22nd and 23rd February 2024, which meant we had approximately one year to prepare. Considering the numerous other activities running concurrently at the Authority, the period seemed short.

To begin with, we developed a concept note enumerating the Workshop’s objectives, general areas of discussion, theme, budget, and delivery committee. The Workshop theme was determined as: "Bouncing Back: Competition Advocacy and Resilience to Global Shocks". The consideration of picking this theme was to provide a platform for members to engage and understand how competition advocacy can facilitate the achievement of competitive markets during periods of disruption or crisis. The committee consisted of officers from all departments. We outlined the terms of reference for each sub-committee based on the carefully selected tasks. Once the Acting Director-General approved the proposed plan, the inter-departmental committee commenced planning in earnest. Monthly update sessions to monitor the implementation progress were held.

In May 2023, we reached out to the members of the ICN Advocacy Working Group and requested their input on the discussion areas. Our objective was to ensure the incorporation of their opinions into developing topics and that the workshop represented the spirit of collaboration within the group. Once their input had been solicited and the topics prioritized based on the theme, as well as the capacity needs of the working group members, we re-engaged the members in July 2023 with the finalized topics, requesting an EOI for speaking and moderating opportunities. Due to the summer break, the process took some time to complete, but we wrapped it up in September 2023. Lastly, we prepared a speakers' chart outlining the workshop's topics, speakers, and moderators.

By the end of October 2023, we had completed the program development. Concurrently, the event microsite was been developed and activated. The microsite had all the necessary information about the event, including the topics of discussion, accommodation options, registration modalities, and social activities. It was a one-stop shop for prospective attendees of the workshop. The Workshop registration opened on November 7th, 2023. Initially, the progress was slow, but by January 2024, the numbers were picking up. There were a few instances where stakeholders’ access to the microsite was denied due to security restrictions by certain jurisdictions. These participants were manually registered. However, these hiccups were few, and the registration process was, on the balance, seamless.

By February 2024, we had over 200 registered delegates for the event and began the final preparations for delivery. This included tasks such as cleaning up the registration list, dispatching logistical information to attendees, finalizing the event programme, and making necessary changes to the list of speakers and moderators, among others. Adequate time was also dedicated to the planning for branding of the event, as well as procuring the giveaways and other event collateral for the attendees.

On 22nd February,2024, the D-Day arrived. Of the 210 registered delegates, 177 turned up. This represented an impressive 84% attendance. Representatives from 46 jurisdictions attended the Workshop, including participants from National and Regional Competition agencies, law firms, academia, media, consumer lobby groups, development partners, and corporations.

The Workshop highlighted several key takeaways based on its themes. Firstly, advocacy should be given equal priority as enforcement since it promotes competitive markets. Advocacy appeals to the behavioral side of businesses and requires consistency to achieve its goals. Therefore, budgetary allocation toward advocacy programs should prioritized. Early interventions in policy and law should be sought as a preventive approach. Competition agencies should proactively provide input to draft laws to influence the final legislation and ensure it promotes competition in markets. Collaboration among stakeholders, including the public, policymakers, and media, be encouraged to ensure compliance. The Media plays a crucial role in disseminating advocacy information, and an incentive system to encourage journalists to publish positive, accurate advocacy stories is imperative. This could include capacity-building sessions, or invitations to the agency’s events, among others. Through this, the public can understand how competitive markets work for them.

Secondly, advocacy plays a crucial role in advancing regional integration. This portends various benefits, including employment promotion, introduction of new markets, lower commodity prices due to increased competition, supply of goods and services, wider consumer choice, quality, and innovation. Some of the ingredients to achieving effective cooperation between national competition agencies and regional economic communities are policy harmonization, information sharing, joint advocacy programs, dispute resolution mechanisms, technical assistance, cross-sectoral collaboration, and regular forums and conferences.

Thirdly, one of the main challenges facing MSMEs is their wide geographical spread and poor organization, which makes it difficult to mobilize them for advocacy efforts. This results in low awareness of competition laws among MSMEs, who consequently do not benefit from focused advocacy interventions as much as regulated sectors. National competition agencies should issue guidelines that enable MSMEs to participate fairly in the market against their established counterparts. Large corporations need to understand the importance of embracing fair market practices to ensure that they do not foreclose MSMEs.

Fourthly, it is important to consolidate gains from collaboration with sector regulators. When there are differing opinions between sector regulators and competition agencies, it is crucial to explain the competition concerns and have a clear protocol to handle the differences through the existing competition law. Moreover, there is a need for a cooperation network between the national competition agencies and the sector regulators to ensure coherent decisions.

In addition, competitive neutrality is a principle that states that state agencies should compete on merit and not benefit from undue advantages occasioned by the nature of their ownership. It aims to ensure that Government-owned enterprises are held to the same standards as private businesses. There are three aspects of competitive neutrality; access to markets, distorted players, and distorted market rules. To ensure ownership and buy-in approaches to competitive neutrality should include both government and private sector stakeholders. In particular, in merger control, issues of competitive neutrality must be applied.

Lastly, the agriculture market faces several challenges such as squeezing of producer prices and high consumer prices. To address these challenges, it is crucial to track policies that might detriment the market and evaluate the impact of policy interventions like subsidies on supplier prices. The effectiveness of recommendations of competition authorities may also be hindered by public policies, such as import and export policies in the common market. Due to its informal nature, the agriculture market is mainly focused on dealing with structural issues. Informal producers are squeezed on the input side, and partnerships are essential to increase efficiencies. Further, proactively involving sub-level governments, the research community, the private sector, and industry associations in policy-making can facilitate addressing of inefficiencies in this key sector and promote competition. A value chain approach is necessary to understand the entire market and address anti-competitive conduct at all levels, including production, collection, and marketing levels. Standards are also crucial in addressing food waste.

Advocating for requisite standards for farmers and working with other regulators can significantly reduce waste and enhance quality. Access to funds has been a significant challenge for most players in the agriculture sector and should be addressed to facilitate more investments in this critical sector of the economy. Agriculture accounts for about 40% of GDP making this issue even more critical. Finally, the lack of proper storage facilities is another significant challenge and contributor to food wastage. Investment in storage facilities is necessary to reduce food waste.

Once the Workshop evaluation had been conducted, the attendee approval score was 85%. The one area that was recommended for improvement was the time allocated to each session, which was inadequate as per the workshop evaluation. In addition, participants proposed several topics for discussion in future workshops, including the role of competition policy in gender, labor, and equitable growth; sustainability issues such as climate change, green collaborations, and industrial policy; competition law in agriculture, food markets, and food security; using behavioral economics to enhance antitrust enforcement and promote competitive outcomes in markets; the AfCFTA Protocol on Competition Policy; guidelines for conducting market studies with sector regulators; and how to conduct impactful market studies and policy reviews. These will be forwarded to the next Workshop host for consideration.

As the Workshop project lead, I gained valuable insights worth sharing. It is essential to think on your feet and quickly adapt to situations as they arise. For instance, the Workshop was held at Emara Ole Sereni, particularly in the Mara Ballroom, which was used for both plenary and breakout sessions. However, partitioning the ballroom for the breakout sessions would take over 20 minutes. So, I made a prompt decision to modify the programme slightly to have the breakout sessions sequentially, as opposed to the initial plan of having a plenary session in between, which saved time. I discussed this change with all the relevant parties and ensured that everyone was content and ready to implement it. Another example was when one of the moderators canceled their participation just five days before the event. This was a very short notice period to find a replacement. So, I contacted the speakers and asked them to decide amongst themselves who would lead as the moderator. A solution was found within no time; thanks to their cooperation.

The delivery committee was made up of members with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and opinions. To ensure that the team spirit was enhanced, I accommodated each member's views and adopted those that would bring us closer to achieving our goals. This approach allowed us to leverage the collective strengths of the team. Despite some members having more experience, I ensured that their ideas were considered to find a balance that everyone was comfortable with. This was not always an easy task since some opinions were divergent. However, I encouraged respectful dialogue to enable the team to arrive at a common ground. A case in point was when we had to decide on various branding items. The branding team had a view that differed from mine, but I respectfully explained my reasons for differing from what they had chosen. Ultimately, we found an agreeable middle ground for everyone, delivering a successful event.

It is important to communicate your vision clearly. I had a clear vision and communicated it to the committee. I specifically conveyed that I envisioned an international-class workshop with a diverse participation, and outlined what needed to be done to achieve this goal. Doing so inspired my colleagues to work towards this vision and gave them a sense of ownership to make it a reality. As a result, we ended up with a world-class event that exceeded the expectations of many attendees. One delegate remarked “The Conference was a top-notch, thought-provoking, and intellectually stimulating event. The quality, breadth, and depth of the presentations, and networking opportunities not only lived up to but exceeded expectations”. Another attendee noted: “This has been the most well-organized ICN workshop with contemporary topics and a range of experts”. Therefore, it is important to visualize the results you want and communicate to the team early and clearly.

I understood the importance of making decisions rather than procrastinating. I consulted with my team members to ensure that the decisions we made were in the best interest of the Authority. I had a trusted inner circle with whom I brainstormed my ideas, which helped me make the right decisions, quickly. I also learned that it was useful to sleep on and revisit ideas, which often gave me a clearer perspective. Through this approach, I made well-informed decisions without being rash or indecisive.

I expressed my deep appreciation to all team members for their hard work and efforts in delivering the workshop. To acknowledge their contribution towards the success of the event, I requested the Human Resources Manager to issue commendation letters to team members, highlighting their key roles played during the workshop.

Leading the delivery of the workshop was an incredible honor! It was an opportunity to share my knowledge and expertise in project management (which I immensely enjoy) with others and help them grow.

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