Client Updates

GAC Reaches out to Increase Awareness of Enforcement Activities

The General Authority of Competition (GAC) recently intensified their efforts to raise awareness of their enforcement against gun jumping violations.

The General Authority of Competition (GAC) recently intensified their efforts to raise awareness of their enforcement against gun jumping violations. The GAC refrained from disclosing any information on fines and other sanctions issued for violations of the Kingdom’s competition law in their 2023 activity report—in their 2022 report they included at least rudimentary information on enforcement. However, since the 2023 report was published, the GAC initiated a public outreach campaign to promote their enforcement activities.

On 26 February 2024, the GAC issued a circular reiterating when notification is requirement under the Kingdom’s merger control regime and what consequences could be incurred for non-compliance. The circular recapitulates (1) what types of transactions are deemed ‘economic concentrations’ within the meaning of the Saudi merger control regime, (2) what the notification thresholds are following their amendment in early November 2023, and (3) the fines that may be imposed for failure to make a notification.

The GAC followed this up on 17 March 2024 with three circulars addressing their enforcement of the antitrust and merger control regimes. These circulars (1) discussed how enforcement of merger control provisions will benefit consumers and the economy at large, (2) summarized key prohibition under the Saudi competition law, and (3) called for the public to blow the whistle on violations they become aware of.

The last circular addressing whistle blowing is particularly interesting. While a section allowing for whistle blowers to reach out to the GAC exists on their website, the program has so far been little effective. This is primarily due to the public being little aware of the GAC’s whistle blower program, an issue the GAC now appears to address. Their recent circular explicitly calls for the public to bring violations to the attention of the authority. However, other issues remain that may discourage people from reaching out to the GAC. In particular, the whistle blower program is not anonymous. To complete the whistle blower form on the GAC’s website personal information including an email address must be provided.

Of course, there is an interest of competition authorities to have means to contact whistle blowers to discuss the concerns they raised in more detail. Still, experiences from other jurisdictions show that anonymity is a key feature of whistle blower programs. People are often discouraged from coming forward because they fear repercussions for doing so should their identity be disclosed. Therefore, many jurisdictions have provided options for whistle blowers to provide information entirely anonymously or by disclosing their identity or providing contact details only to designated persons within investigative departments.

The GAC in their recent circular encourages people to also contact the GAC by phone to raise concerns or bring potential violations to the attention of the GAC. However, the number provided is the general number of the GAC instead of a designate whistle blower line. As with the whistle blower form on the GAC’s website this raises issues. People may be reluctant to call a general number in fear of their identity becoming public. Providing direct contract to designated investigators would likely make it easier for people to contact the authority.

The recent attempts of the GAC to increase awareness of their enforcement activity is reasonable. Younger authorities in particular struggle with parties ignoring their merger control procedures. First cases of fines or other sanctions being issued tend to increase compliance. Still, it is counter productive that while the GAC is seeking to raise awareness of their enforcement activities, they refrained from disclosing information on their enforcement activities in their 2023 activity report.

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