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The bill, which deals with mergers, prohibits agreements or practices by business persons that prevent, restrict or distort competition. The only exception is if the gains from such agreements or practices outweigh the harms.
The new bill proclaims the right of the consumer to get satisfaction and accurate information or explanation on the quality and type of goods and services offered for sale and to be compensated for damages suffered because of such transactions.
Acts of the abuse of market dominance like limiting production, hoarding, concealing, or withholding or diverting goods from being sold in regular channels of trade is punishable with fine of 15pc of one's annual income and where it is impossible to determine annual income with fine of 500,000 to one million Br and rigorous imprisonment for five to 15 years.
Preparing or selling goods or services that are poisoned, expired or been adulterated is punishable with fine from 100,000 to 300,000 Br and with rigorous imprisonment of 10 to 20 years. Where the criminal act results in death or physiological disability, a regular court shall conduct the adjudication.
The ministry wants the agency to have the power to adjudicate cases involving criminal matters, according to Nuredin Mohammed, director of the Trade Registration and Licensing Directorate at the MoTI. The regular courts are not only overloaded with other cases but also lack depth of knowledge to handle trade and consumer related issues, he said.
The bill overdoes the punishment of those who are allegedly in violation of the law, according to Yayehyirad Abate, deputy secretary general and Advocacy Department manager at the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Association.
The very purpose of punishment should be teaching a lesson not to do it again, he said. However, the bill prescribes severe penalties on those who did not even violate the law deliberately, forcing them out of the business track.
"The bill is biased in favour of consumers," according to him, because the drafters of the bill are themselves civil servant buyers.