Despite a rocky start from “zero” beginning eight years ago, Competition Commission chairwoman Ms Anna Wu ended her tenure satisfied with the team she has built.
The Commission announced at the end of April that Mr Samuel Chan would be replacing Ms Anna Wu as the new chair of the Competition Commission. After nearly eight years with the group, Ms Wu, who was at the helm of the organisation from its inception, has stepped down.
The Competition Commission of Hong Kong is a statutory body created to promote a competitive environment by preventing monopolies and cartels outside of those approved by the government. Competition helps to enable better quality, prices, and more choices of goods to services and consumers. Passed by the legislature in 2012 and set to commence in 2015, the objective of the Ordinance is to prohibit conduct that prevents, restricts, or distorts competition, and to prohibit mergers that lessen competition in Hong Kong.
The new boss
Prior to this position, Mr Chan sat as Deputy District Judge in 2006 and has experience as an adjudicator and has sat on statutory tribunals and appeal boards. But Ms Wu is “very confident” that his abilities will enable him to, “rise to the challenges [of the job] as he knows the law, has a strong consumer protection background and is a no-nonsense man. He is also a very sincere and humble person.”
Ms Wu believes one of Mr Chan’s main challenges taking over this position will be to maintain motivation and stability amongst staff as “that will produce tremendous values and results.” Another challenge Mr Chan will face is the broadening of the Commission’s litigation scope into other areas, such as the Second Conduct Rule. The Second Conduct Rule prohibits businesses with a substantial degree of market power from abusing the power by engaging in conduct that has the object or effect of harming competition in Hong Kong.
There were three areas of focus during Ms Wu’s time at the Commission:
Ms Wu’s first focus was to develop a team of professional staff with diverse legal expertise with local and foreign professionals, allowing “cross fertilisation to take place.”
But a high turnover rate in its early years shows that the Commission struggled to create this ideal team that she had envisioned. Many senior-level staff came and went; two chief executives cycled through in the first four years of its operation. Brent Snyder took over in 2017 as the third CEO and remains in the position to this day.
When questioned about the matter of staff turnover Ms Wu chose not to comment.
Ms Wu’s second focus was to establish trust with the public, which was needed for the commission to properly handle complaints, so the public can feel comfortable sharing evidence and providing witness accounts.
“Our education and advocacy work has been most successful and has won us many accolades,” Ms Wu asserts.
“It is our advocacy work that got us in the first few cases. We want the public to be close to us, to work with us, and to identify with us.”
In 2017, the Commission’s “Compete with Integrity” TV Series was one of the 13 winners of the Competition Advocacy Contest organised by the International Competition Network and the World Bank Group. Its “Fighting Bid-rigging Cartels” Campaign also won the contest in the category “Engaging through results: Successful experience in planning, implementing and monitoring advocacy strategies” in 2018.
Her third focus was on building a pipeline of litigation cases, setting precedents, and devising a strategy for active litigation. They had to learn to target the right area of the public’s interest, establish criteria for a new law, and create deterrent effects to help change the society’s culture and promote compliance.
However, Richard Harris, CEO of Port Shelter Investment Management, found the Commission’s effort on combating retail monopolies insufficient and referred to it as the “watchdog-with-no-teeth”. The exemption from the Competition Ordinance also allows government-related organisations and statutory bodies to continue to dominate markets.
Since the Ordinance came into effect in 2015, the Commission has had six court cases related to bid-rigging, market allocation, and price collusion. It has won two cases, and the rest are still in process. Without bringing proceedings to the tribunal, the case against online travel agencies was settled through commitments in 2020.
“Our strategy is to strengthen the deterrent effect by holding individuals liable for violations, imposing director disqualification orders, and holding parent companies liable for the conduct of subsidiaries,” she says.
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