Give competition watchdog power to act pre-emptively

Ride-hailing operator Grab, by intentionally proceeding to irreversibly acquire Uber despite a pre-emptive warning by the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS), has exposed the inadequacy of the pre-emption framework in Singapore's Competition Act.

No amount of fines or post-infringement directions can now reverse the damage the merger has inflicted upon the interest of Singaporeans.

To prevent a recurrence, the Competition Act must be strengthened by giving teeth to the CCCS' pre-emptive powers.

Instead of merely sending out letters when it senses that an anti-competitive merger or acquisition is in the making, the CCCS should be empowered to seek an emergency interim injunction from the court, preferably without having to hear arguments from the merging parties, to put the proposed merger or acquisition on hold. With the prospect of contempt of court and its dire consequences, the merging parties will be incentivised to take the CCCS more seriously than if they were to receive a mere letter from the competition watchdog.

The involvement of the court in examining whether the CCCS has reasonable grounds for such an injunction will ensure that private business transactions are not lightly interfered with.

This will then give the CCCS time to study the proposed merger or acquisition in detail and decide whether it will compromise public interest.

Cheng Shoong Tat

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2018, with the headline 'Give competition watchdog power to act pre-emptively'. Print Edition | Subscribe