THE COMPETITION Commission has proposed the Competition Tribunal impose a fine of 10 percent of turnover, with a possible 30 percent discount and negotiation of staggered payments for the alleged collusion by Elliott Mobility with other furniture removal companies.
The Competition Tribunal yesterday heard closing arguments in a case where Elliott Mobility was alleged to have colluded with other furniture removal companies on tenders to a number of government departments, including the SANDF and Eskom.
The commission accused Elliott having entered into agreements, of or conducted a concerted practice to collude on furniture removal tenders with JH Retief Transport and Cape Express Removals, from about 2008 until at least 2010.
The collusion was alleged to have occurred through the provision of cover quotes between competitors when bidding for furniture removal tenders.
The commission implicated Elliott in 23 charges of cover quoting.
The company admitted to four, but denied the rest, arguing that its employee and agent involved in the conduct had gone rogue and were acting without authority from Elliott .
JH Retief and Cape Express earlier both settled with the commission.
Katlego Monareng, appearing for the commission, argued that the company should pay the penalty because it had done no training in competition law once one of its senior staff had, in 2014, admitted to collusive practices.
In addition, the senior employee concerned was granted a settlement agreement and a “golden handshake” R340 000 settlement payment by the company.
He also said that Elliott had produced no evidence that a women claiming to be the company’s agent, who had allegedly provided cover quotes to other furniture companies on behalf of Elliott, was either employed or was an authorised agent of the firm, this despite the fact that the company had submitted that it kept such records “until perpetuity.”
In addition, while many of the tender quotes were determined in the Cape Town office of the firm, nobody from that office had been brought by the firm to testify to the Competition Commission.
He said Elliott had produced a code of conduct policy document as evidence of the seriousness with which it viewed anti-collusive behaviour, but this document had been drawn up “after the fact” and was no use in the case.
In addition, while the company had proclaimed it would “march them to the door” if an employee was found to be engaging in such activities, why had this not been done with the senior employee who admitted such guilt?
Greta Engelbrecht, SC, speaking on behalf of Elliott, told the hearing that the company should not be held accountable for misdoings of one or two employees acting on their own.
She questioned why the senior employee implicated would have testified that he went into a panic during the period of a Competition Commission raid on Elliott’s offices, why he would have confessed to the company executives, and why would he claim that he acted on his own, if the senior management of the company had been involved in the collusion.
She said the fact that there were some 3 000 cases of cover quotes at JH Retief and 1 600 at Cape Express, while the Commission could only find 23 cases at Elliot, indicated that the practice was not widespread at Elliott.
BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE