Competition watchdog mustn't be blamed for not acting ahead of Grab-Uber merger

I understand the sentiments expressed by Mr Gabriel Cheng Kian Tiong in that the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) should not have waited until the Grab and Uber deal was done to take action (Competition watchdog shouldn't wait till deal is done to react; April 17).

However, the commission should not be blamed for not acting ahead of the Grab-Uber merger.

On any given day, anti-competitive behaviours take place throughout the consumer market in Singapore and across international boundaries.

CCCS would deplete its limited resources by responding to all of these, many of which may be false alarms.

Thus, the current practice of the involved parties having to seek their own legal advice as the first recourse is a prudent one.

Why should taxpayers' money be used to facilitate private business transactions?

One has to bear in mind that CCCS is essentially a regulatory body that can act only if certain triggers are activated.

As in the Grab-Uber merger case, the need for affected parties to file a merger notification with CCCS is on a voluntary basis.

This means that the commission cannot act until it has been notified of a merger, or until a merger has been completed.

At best, CCCS could request a notification if it got wind of the merger, but what is there to motivate or compel businesses to do so and end up delaying their corporate ambitions?

I would imagine that making the submission of all merger notifications compulsory would seriously hinder the work of CCCS in genuine cases more deserving of its attention and resources. Many of such cases would probably not even have an anti-competition element.

This is the current practice in the European Union, but it has resulted in huge backlogs. And, when it comes to anti-competitive behaviour, this is not something we want to experience as delays directly affect consumers.

Perhaps, the amended Competition Act could be crafted in such a way as to allow its commissioner to intervene at his discretion under the current voluntary notification regime rather than introduce a compulsory regime.

Indeed, CCCS should be applauded for expanding its role earlier this month by taking on the consumer protection function that was previously under Spring Singapore (Competition watchdog gets new name, bigger role; April 7).

Together with public education and outreach sessions, over time, we too as consumers can assist in the fight against unfair competition.

Sunny Goh (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2018, with the headline 'Competition watchdog mustn't be blamed for not acting ahead of Grab-Uber merger'. Print Edition | Subscribe