The Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) has been one of the few government organisations that has in recent months been visibly proactive in its stated role as a regulator of monopolies and industry cartels. More than just being an institution that the country badly needs, it serves as an example to other government institutions in terms of its professionalism and diligent pursuit of duty.
There is a near-complete consensus amongst economists and technocrats about the need for a regulator that prevents powerful business interest from colluding with each other. Simply put, free market capitalism can only work in an economy if there is a strong regulatory body to prevent the abuses of economic power by the largest players in the market. The economic arguments in favour of having the Competition Ordinance being enacted into law are almost completely undisputed.
Yet it appears that the CCP does not have enough support in the Senate. The law has already lapsed three times and been re-promulgated by the president of Pakistan. It has passed the National Assembly by a reasonably wide margin. So why is the Senate holding it up? The fact of the matter is that the Competition Commission took on a wide variety of cartels during its brief time of operation — such as the powerful sugar and cement cartels.
Even the banks were asked to explain their frequent increase in service charges and their minimum balance requirements on most accounts. This was good for consumers in Pakistan because no one till then had spoken out to safeguard their interests. It made sense also from an economic standpoint because oligarchies and monopolies are by their very method of operation inefficient and anti-competitive. One can only hope that the upper house of parliament will decide on this matter soon and realise that this is something beneficial for the consumers of Pakistan.
If the vote is stalled further, then the perception that corporate and business interests have a stranglehold over our politicians and parliament, will not be an entirely unfounded one. The Competition Commission should be made a statutory body and it should be given the teeth that it needs to carry out its job in a comprehensive and efficient manner.
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