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ISLAMABAD: Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) is reportedly perturbed at accusations of conflict of interest against its own Chairperson, Rahat Kunain, and in a recent case she was not 'allowed" to take part in proceedings, well-informed sources told Business Recorder.

Last week, the Commission's members held an internal meeting to verify the credibility of a formal complaint against her. She was asked not to be part of the proceedings against M/s foodpanda as All Pakistan Restaurant Association (APRA) sent a formal complaint to the CCP against its incumbent top boss, the sources added. On July 1, 2021, the Association wrote a letter to the Chairperson, saying that it recently filed a formal complaint against R-SC Interest Services (Private) Limited (foodpanda Pakistan) for anti-competitive business practices in violation of Section 3 and 4 of the Competition Act, 2010 which is pending before the CCP.

The letter states that it has come to APRA's "attention" that foodpanda has active attorney-client "relationship" with a law firm named Kaunain Nafees (HKN).

The letter claims that she (incumbent Chairperson) was a partner of HKN till the time she assumed charge as Chairperson CCP in July 2020 whereas her husband is currently a "senior partner" at HKN.

According to the Association, despite the fact that HKN are counsels for M/s foodpanda Pakistan, she is "actively involved" in overseeing proceedings pertaining to the complaint including holding two meetings with APRA representatives, once at the CCP head office on June 15, 2021 and the other at the office of the FPCCI head office on June 15, 2021.

However, she has not "once disclosed her conflict of interest" in APRA during the meetings or otherwise, nor has she made any attempt "to recuse and distance herself from the proceedings".

According to CCP's rules, a member having any interest in any matter to be discussed or decided by the Commission shall, prior to any discussion of the matter, disclose or in writing, to the Commission, the fact of his/her interest and the nature thereof.

Section 25 of the Competition act 2010 comprehensively deals with disclosure of interest by the Members of the Commission including Chairperson. It is the responsibility of the other Members of the Commission to ensure that the affairs of the Commission are being run in a transparent manner to save reputation of the Commission as an institution.

The sources said CCP's members held an internal meeting last week and discussed the conduct of the Chairperson.

According to sources, the Commission is internally investigating the role of its Chairperson in this case which is why she was not allowed to sit in the proceedings.

After the meeting, CCP issued a press release that the Commission has started investigation against foodpanda on the complaint of APRA.

When contacted for comments on the letter of APRA, copies of which have also been sent to the members of CCP, a spokesperson sent the following statement.

"All accusations are false and baseless and have been denied by the Chairperson in her statement in relation to the conflict of interest issue. She stated that CCP stands committed to discharge its mandate, which is aligned with this Government's resolve to weed out all elements who curb the due economic growth of the country and CCP shall continue to do so without fear or favour. With respect to Food Panda, the enquiry has already been initiated by the Commission and the enquiry committee has already called all parties concerned namely Careem Now, Cheetay, APRA & Food Panda to appear before the committee in a meeting scheduled for next week (this week) for their submissions."

The spokesperson further stated that upon recommendation of Cartel and Trade Abuse Department enquiry on the complaints filed by Cheetay and APRA has already been initiated. Previously, the complaint was also filed by Careem. Now, the Commission has approved the initiation of an enquiry with the scope to look into any possible violation of Section 3, 4 and also to review and place before the Commission whether the exemption granted in April 2019 for the period of three years is impeding competition due to any material change in market circumstances in light of the concerns highlighted and warrants cancellation of exemption (for loyalty agreement) under section 6 of the Competition Act, 2010. As per the "facts" submitted, Food Panda seems to have a dominant position in the market of online food delivery platforms with an admitted volume of around 100,000 per day orders. The concerns inter alia include the alleged exuberant discounts exploitative commissions and exclusivity through loyalty agreement acting as barrier for new entrants in the market of online food delivery platforms. Upon Conclusion of the Enquiry findings will be placed before the Commission.

The government had removed previous Chairperson Vidya Khalil on charges of conflict of interest at the time when an inquiry was launched against sugar industry.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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