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Are the Competition Authority happy to be merged with the National Consumer Agency?

Probably not is the short answer.

Especially if you read the submission from the Competition Authority to the Consumer Strategy Group back in 2004 (no longer available online since the organisations merged, unsurprisingly). The Consumer Strategy Group was the organisation that recommended the establishment of the National Consumer Agency (NCA). The NCA effectively replaced the Office of Director of Consumer Affairs – they effectively did the same thing – just a different name and more staff and bigger budget.

Anyway, back to the thoughts of the Competition Authority in 2004:

While it might be tempting to see the solution to this problem being to merge The Competition Authority and the Office of Director of Consumer Affairs, this would be attempting too much too soon, in view of the divergences outlined above.

A better strategy would be to revitalise both the consumer protection legislation “package”, and the role of the Director of Consumer Affairs, to begin with. Strengthening consumer policy in this way, coupled with the continuing development of expertise in The Competition Authority, would better enable the complementarities to be exploited in the quickest way possible, leaving the question of institutional changes to be addressed later, if necessary.

Strengthening both policies concurrently would exploit the synergies without attempting to walk before we can run.

The problem mentioned, and the divergences referred to in the quote above relate to the Competition Authority view that the then ODCA (and probably the same case for the NCA today):

While the focus of the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs has been limited by statute to a specific range of public enforcement instruments, a diverse set of other laws, rules and administrative practices affect consumers in a fundamental way throughout their lives – laws whose development the Office is powerless to influence. This, in turn, has stifled the role of that Office.

Essentially they’re saying that the ODCA of the day were useless and powerless to do anything. Which pretty much goes for the NCA today – useless, powerless and even more worrying these days, unwilling to use any of the limited powers that they actually do have.

The laws have been enhanced greatly in favour of the consumer since 2004, yet the National Consumer Agency – as I’m tired pointing out at this stage – are unwilling to enforce them, preferring their pathetic cop out of “working with” people who are breaching consumer legislation.

The statement from the Competition Authority also says:

Competition enforcement and advocacy has become much more focused in the past two years, following the enactment of the Competition Act, 2002. One important element of this is the continuing development of a tightly-focused Competition Authority with strong leadership, and comprising a good mix of skills in the economic, legal and public policy-making areas.

To my mind, an effective summary of the opinion of the Competition Authority at the time was:

We’re brilliant and the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement is useless.

Given that the National Consumer Agency hasn’t done anything to improve on the protection of consumers in the past 4 years, one would have to guess that the Competition Authority would be equally against any merger between the organisations today.

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