Shaka Kariuki: CAK chairman on navigating pushbacks from firms caught in consumer breaches

Chairman of the Competition Authority of Kenya, Shaka Kariuki.

Photo credit: Illustration | Joseph Barasa | Nation Media Group

A well-known investor in Kenya’s capital markets, Shaka Kariuki wears many hats. Mr Kariuki was appointed in February last year as the chairman of the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK).

It is his first job in government and he holds the position alongside several in the private sector including at private equity firm Kuramo Capital where he is the co-chief executive officer.

He spoke to the Business Daily on his role at the competition watchdog, the Authority’s recent regulatory actions and how he juggles the pressures of the government and the private sector.

The CAK has a wide mandate, a key part of which is consumer protection. How important is this role for the CAK especially now when consumers are facing some tough times?

If you don’t have consumers, you don’t have a market. Consumer protection is the lifeblood of our market. Without consumers, we're just spinning our wheels. I have always had a soft spot for consumer-related issues. It's all too easy for the little guy to get trampled by the giants. The CAK's role in safeguarding consumers has been pivotal.

For instance, in banking, before you take a loan today, the bank must provide you with all the costs that are going to be involved. A few years ago, that was not the case. If you protect the consumer, you have a higher probability of having a robust market system and economic growth in the country.

You recently fined steel manufacturers a record Sh339 million for price fixing. How do you deal with pushback from companies that are affected by some of the CAK’s decisions in line with its mandate?

Yes, we do get a lot of pushback and it is good because there needs to be a way for recourse for them. If we issue a judgment, then a third party is entitled to go to the tribunal (Competition Tribunal). At the tribunal, there will be evidence from both the affected party and from the CAK. If the party is not satisfied with the decision of the tribunal, they usually have the option of filing an appeal at the High Court. It's the beauty of checks and balances.

Besides being the chairman of CAK, you also lead or hold influential positions in many private companies. How do you manage to juggle between these roles?

Yes, I wear different hats but I always say that as humans we all have 24 hours a day. It's not about the quantity, but the quality of those hours. Managing time efficiently is the name of the game. If you're passionate about what you do, the hours fly by effortlessly. It's all about finding that sweet spot where your passion meets productivity. If you find yourself doing something that you don’t love, it will be very difficult for you.

You have been in office as CAK chairman for a year. What is your main focus for the remainder of your term?

The focus is to ensure that there is a level playing field for the market participants so that anybody starting a company today is confident that they are in a country and a market where there is a fair and level playing field.

They can be confident that they can lose on other aspects of the business but they are not going to lose on the fact that they were treated unfairly. All the market players have to be treated fairly in line with the Competition Act.

This is your first position in government. How are you able to transfer your skills from the private sector to the public sector?

In my view, everything is transferable from the private sector to the public sector. While the dynamics may differ, the core principles remain the same — efficiency, transparency, and accountability. It's all about adapting and finding common ground. Whether it's the boardroom or the public sector, it's all about delivering results and making a positive impact. Do you have the right Board? Do you have the right structure in place? Do you have the right management that can execute that strategy? If you have those three in place, it does not matter what entity you are running, there should be a successful outcome.

How does your role at CAK compare with your various roles at different private companies?

This is my first role in the public sector. In the government, relative to the private sector, your impact can be way more significant. I looked at my appointment as an opportunity to serve at a more impactful level.

The number of consumer complaints handled by CAK have increased in recent years. Are consumers now more aware about their rights?

We still see some suboptimal knowledge by Kenyans about their consumer rights and how they can hold businesses accountable. To address these gaps, we are investing heavily in awareness creation activities across the country, including sensitisation sessions with the business community. These efforts are bearing fruit. For instance, the number of consumer welfare cases increased by 30 percent in the 12 months to June 2023.

What does the future look like for Kenya in the competition regulation space?

As you have seen in the recent past, the CAK is firmly attending to anti-competitive conduct by businesses, with the ultimate aim of correcting the market, thereby enhancing consumer welfare. Kenyans should expect more announcements regarding measures we have taken to restore competition in various key sectors of the economy, especially those that address the Government’s key priority areas.

What should consumers expect from the CAK in terms of exercising its mandate?

Consumers are the CAK’s ultimate stakeholder. We exist to ensure that Kenyans access a wide variety of goods and services at a competitive price. We are judiciously addressing consumer welfare violations. One of the sectors we are focused on is the digital economy, especially unconscionable practices by e-commerce platforms. You should also expect to see some interventions in the FMCG space, especially against firms appealing to consumers through misleading information.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.