13 March 2012

Open Letter to the Competition Commission of Pakistan

13 February 2012
Ms. Rahat Kaunain Hassan
Competition Commission of Pakistan
7th Floor South
Islamabad Stock Exchange Towers
55-B Jinnah Avenue, Islamabad

Notice of Contravention of Competition Act, 2010 by Lahore Bar Association

Madam Chairperson:

As a lawyer before serving the Competition Commission of Pakistan, I’m sure you spent your share of mid-summer mornings and afternoons sweating in the dust of the civil courts of Lahore.  I once spent my birthday – which is in June – in court, wondering why on earth grown men and women would wear black woollen suits in the heat.  But that the Aiwan-e-Adal for you.  You either love it or leave it.

I’ve had countless mornings spent rushing to ensure attendance and then, later in the day, arguing a full roster of cases.  Of course one has to take breaks.  I’m not a great fan of the Bar Room – it’s dark, hot and full of lawyers.  So I usually take a refreshment outside.  The fellows who operate the canteen are friends, as are the small army of crate-wielding urchins serving up cold water or soda throughout the court complex.

Madam Chairperson, I wish to tell you an open secret: The only antidote for civil court is a cold bottle of lemon barley squash.  It’s my drink of choice.  The elixir of the dewani trade.  I usually ask for it by name.  I’m not a fan of the soda pop.  As I’ve grown older, I’ve developed an intolerance to the carbonated water, caffeine and sugar.  I’m sure the lemon barley has its share of sugar but, god help me, it doesn’t give me the shakes like the fizzy stuff.  No sir, a few sips lemon barley and I’m up for haggling with the likes of rent-controllers and guardian judges.

Except today, Madam Chairperson, I find that the one thing I’d look forward to whilst appearing in the Civil Court is no more.  That is to say, I have it on good authority that the Lahore Bar Association – having taken far too literal an interpretation to their name – have prohibited the sale of Shezan beverages anywhere on the premises of the Aiwan-e-Adal.  Shezan, of course, is the brand that produces lemon barley.  They also produce a mango juice but, if you ask me, the mango juice wallah – Haji Sahib or something – near Data Darbar has perfected this particular type of juice and, well, once you’ve tasted it, Shezan or no Shezan, it’s either the real deal or no deal.


The Lahore Bar Association, I learn, has decided to impose this restriction on sweet beverages in civil court because, they say, Shezan is a company owned by members of the Ahmedi sect.  Of course, I have no idea whether this is so.  Why would I?  Would anyone even care?  But the Lahore Bar Association seems to have a strong point of view on this issue.  The end result, so to speak, is now I don’t have the choice of selecting my favourite beverage when I go about my working day.  This is clearly a preposterous and non-sustainable situation.  I mean, if we let this sort of thinking out of hand, next thing you know people will be asking us to burn the Lahore Resolution of 1940 simply because Sir Zafarullah Khan was one of its authors. 

So why am I writing to you?

I read that section 4(1) of the Competition Act, 2010 prohibits undertakings from making decisions in respect of the supply, distribution or control of goods that has the object or effect of preventing or restricting competition.  I understand that Section 2(1)(q) puts a wide definition on the phrase “undertaking” – wide enough, I think, to include an entity such as the Lahore Bar Association.  If this is so, wouldn’t the Lahore Bar Association’s decision to prohibit the sale of Shezan beverages on the premises of the Civil Court amount to an agreement prohibited by the Competition Act, 2010 and, according to Section 4(3), void?

I have read that the Competition Commission has decided similar issues.  For example, in the Matter of Murree Brewery Company Limited vs. SIZA Foods (Private) Limited (2009), the Commission took notice of the practice of restaurants such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken to have exclusive arrangements with either Coca-Cola or Pepsi Cola.  These exclusivity agreements meant that the Murree Brewery Company was unable to sell its non-alcoholic beverages in these restaurants.  The Commission saw to it that these restrictive trade practices were changed.

Madam Chairperson, I hereby formally complain to you of the prohibited agreement put into effect by the Lahore Bar Association in its decision to prohibit the sale of Shezan within the premises of the Lahore Civil Court.  The law is a dreary enough profession.  Not having small mercies like lemon barley would take whatever colour’s left in it.  It would also expose me to products which, as I said, I simply can’t stomach anymore. I therefore request you to step in and show these jokers that there is law in Pakistan.  That it is sensible.  And that it doesn’t give a hoot about the belief of the person who makes your favourite drink.

With best regards.

Very truly yours,
Ahmad Rafay Alam