File picture: David Ritchie / African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town – Two Robben Island boat operators accused of price-fixing and tender collusion have been cleared of all charges by the Competition Tribunal.

Allegations against companies Ferry Charters and Heritage Charters related to a tender issued by the Robben Island Museum (RIM).

A Competition Commission investigation was launched after RIM lodged a complaint in June 2016, implicating five companies in tender collusion.

Ferry Charters and Heritage Charters denied the allegations and contended that the commission had no case against them.

The commission investigation found that around September 22, 2015, five companies met at the Cape Town Fish Market coffee shop where they allegedly discussed the prices they would charge when responding to a tender that would be issued by RIM.

Subsequent to the meeting, two of the companies increased their prices to R18000 per trip for 140 passengers.

Ferry Charters did not, as it was already charging R18 000 per trip for 140 passengers and this resulted in all three quoting the same price. 

Another company increased its price per trip from R7 750 to R8 775 for a 65-passenger vessel while Heritage Charters raised its price per trip from R11 500 to R12 650 for its 65-passenger vessel.

According to the tribunal: “Ferry Charters argued that it did not increase its prices as alleged by the commission simply because it had been charging the same price of R18000 for the past four years. 

"The price charged by Ferry Charters was generally known in the industry. Heritage Charters’ defence was that prior to the tender it was in negotiations with RIM to increase its price by 10%. The price in the tender reflected the very increase that the museum had agreed to.”

Last June, three of the companies entered into settlement agreements with the commission. The companies paid penalties of R350 000, R249 171 and R422083. 

According to the tribunal, the commission’s only witness was a senior supply chain manager at the museum, who served as the secretariat to the bid evaluation committee.

The commission did not call any witnesses from any of the boat companies that had settled with it.

Ferry Charters led the evidence of its manager and Heritage Charters closed its case without calling any witnesses on the basis that there was no case made out against it.

The tribunal’s order states: “The commission bears the onus to show that the respondents colluded

“We find that the commission has not discharged its onus and has failed to show the existence of an agreement or concerted practice on the part of the respondents in contravention of the Competition Act. The matter is accordingly dismissed.”

RIM spokesperson Morongoa Ramaboa said: “As an institution that believes in good governance and transparency, we informed the Competition Commission about suspected price-fixing collusion by some of our service providers. 

"The case was escalated by the commission to the Competition Tribunal for a hearing that took place on May 21-22.

‘‘We respect the tribunal’s ruling and are of the view that the tribunal exercised its mandate diligently as a functionally independent institution in concluding the matter.”

Cape Times