The Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, the Nugent Commission of Inquiry into SARS and the continuing revelations by the Daily Maverick’s investigative unit Scorpio into the unbridled theft and corruption of state and private resources, has left South Africans wondering what has become of our beloved country.

Will those involved be brought to book? The sheer scale of the theft and corruption, enabled by unethical and dishonest leaders in both government and the private sector, has shown such an arrogant disregard for the rule of law, good corporate governance, professional ethics and being accountable to a higher standard, that one wonders how South Africa is going to claw its way out of this mess.

The enablers of economic crimes often include those responsible for the financial reporting and risk oversight of a business or government department – the internal and external auditors,  audit committees and accountants, who sign off on questionable transactions or turn a blind eye to irregular expenditure and other dubious practices taking place.

These people are sometimes members of professional bodies, whose mandate it is to hold their members accountable for their professional conduct and have the power to revoke their membership and professional designations, should they be found to have acted in contravention of the professional body’s codes of conduct and ethics, and not in the public interest.

This feature takes a look at how professionalism helps to build and maintain an ethical society, one that upholds the values of honesty, integrity and dependability. It explores the role professional bodies play in setting and upholding industry standards, and how professional development assists in the maintenance of those standards. It offers insights into what organisations need to think about when creating ethics and corporate governance strategies with a view to maintaining accountability, trust and transparency. It also looks at the role business schools are playing in professional development, and what skills will be needed in the future world of work.

Profession, professionalisation,  professional body, professional designation  – what does it all mean?

A profession is a career that requires specialist training, knowledge, skills and experience in a particular field, where the knowledge is gained through formal education and practical experience. The individuals in a profession are known as professionals.

A professional industry,  says Dr Ivor Blumenthal, CEO of ArkKonsult, is one that self-governs and self-regulates itself through social partnerships. “These social partnerships between business and labour make policy and self-regulate around conditions of trade, employment and labour relations, among other things.”

Professions such as accounting, law and medicine are usually governed by a professional body. Professionals who are members of a professional body are required to comply with its codes of conduct and ethics as well as requirements such as achieving a certain number of points annually for Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

The professionalisation of industries is aimed at instilling integrity, competence, responsibility, accountability, fairness and transparency in industries.

Professional Bodies

There are 106 recognised professional bodies in South Africa. Only those that are recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), a statutory body set up according to the provisions In the National Qualifications Framework Act 67 of 2008 (NQF Act), are deemed to be professional bodies.

SAQA’s mandate is to oversee the further development and implementation of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) – the system for the classification, registration and publication of articulated and quality-assured national qualifications and part-qualifications.

Part of that mandate is to recognise statutory and non-statutory bodies that meet the relevant criteria. It is also responsible for registering professional designations for the purposes of the NQF.

The NQF Act defines a professional body as ‘any body of expert practitioners in an occupational field, and includes an occupational body and statutory council’.

Stephanie Pillay, Financial Planning Institute of Southern Africa (FPI) COO and Acting CEO, further expands on this definition. “It is an organisation with individual members practising a profession or occupation in which the organisation maintains oversight over the knowledge, skills, conduct and practice of that profession, and is thereby considered to be safeguarding the public interest.”

It is this safeguarding of the public interest, says Dr Claudelle von Eck, CEO of the Institute of Internal Auditors of South Africa (IIA SA), that differentiates a professional body from a professional association. “An association is responsible for serving its members and promoting the profession. A professional body serves its members, promotes the profession, and protects the interests of the public.”

Joe Samuels, CEO of SAQA adds that professional bodies set standards and holds their members accountable to those standards. “If a member does not meet those standards, the professional body must act against the member.”

For Samuels, one of the key benefits of SAQA’s recognition of professional bodies is that it offers a seal of trust. “It tells the public that they can trust the members of that professional body because the body is upholding a standard and acting against people that flout its code of conduct.”

While the law states that only bodies recognised by SAQA are professional bodies, Blumenthal says there are many voluntary bodies not registered with SAQA that call themselves professional bodies because they regulate the professional conduct of their members, either from a competency or behavioural point of view. “It’s a voluntary set of activities between the social partners to regulate the professional conduct of the practitioners in that industry. The body only approaches SAQA when they are mature enough to meet its requirements.”

By holding their members accountable, professional bodies in South Africa play a critical role in the fight against corruption.

Professional designation

The NQF Act defines a professional designation as ‘a title or status conferred by a professional body in recognition of a person’s expertise and/or right to practice in an occupational field’.

According to SAQA a professional designation indicates registration of the individual with the professional body and, where relevant, the right to practice in the particular field of expertise governed by the professional body. Retention of status is dependent upon compliance with the stated requirements of the professional body such as compliance with the code of conduct and meeting Continuing Professional Development (CPD) obligations.

If a professional body loses its SAQA recognition, SAQA will deregister the professional designation.

Samuels says that people often mistake professional designations for qualifications. “A CA(SA), for example, is the designation for a chartered accountant, it’s not a qualification. A qualification is a certificate, diploma, or degree.

Von Eck adds that having a professional designation is not a requirement for practitioners in an industry to operate, unless they belong to a statutory body, because belonging to a professional body is voluntary. “But having a professional designation gives people peace of mind that they are dealing with professionals who have achieved a certain standard,” she says.

Recognition by SAQA

For SAQA to recognise a professional body, it needs to meet eight criteria.

The body must:

  • Be a legally constituted entity with the necessary human and financial resources to undertake its functions, governed either by a statute, charter or a constitution and be compliant with and adhere to good corporate governance practices
  • Protect the public interest in relation to services provided by its members and the associated risks
  • Develop, award, monitor and revoke its professional designations in terms of its own rules, legislation and/or international conventions
  • Submit a list of members in a form acceptable to SAQA
  • Set criteria for, promote and monitor CPD for its members to meet the relevant professional designation requirements
  • Publish a code of conduct and operate a mechanism for the reporting and investigating of members who are alleged to have contravened the code
  • Not apply unfair, exclusionary practices in terms of membership admission to the body or when recognising education or training providers
  • Make career advice-related information available to SAQA

A professional body is recognised by SAQA for five years, renewable for another five years.

The role of the Professional Body

A professional body takes responsibility for professional recognition of an individual’s competency and their behavioural accountability, says Blumenthal.

“Before a practitioner can receive professional recognition from a professional body, they have to show that they have qualifications recognised by the  National Qualifications Framework (NQF), have the right experience and are behaviourally accountable,” he says.

To retain their professional designation, the professional body expects them to participate in a range of Continuing Professional Development opportunities annually.

Willi Coates, Senior Executive: Brand at The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), says the purpose of a professional body is to promote the interests of its members and associates and to support the development of the SA economy and society by promoting and enhancing the value of the profession. “SAICA’s professional interests are always in line with public interest and responsible leadership.”

In its role SAICA contributes to international standard-setting processes through the monitoring of developments of international standard-setting boards and makes submissions to these. It revises its codes of good practice and ethics in response to industry developments and provides technical support and guidance to members in implementing and complying with the profession’s ethical requirements, quality control standards, technical standards and relevant laws and regulations.

SAQA’s Joe Samuels adds that SAQA is working with professional bodies to make sure that all South Africans benefit from the professions. “Redress is a key imperative in the South African policy and regulatory environment and it’s critical that professions do not apply unjust policies and practices in regards to who gains access to a profession.”

The Financial Planning Institute’s (FPI) Stephanie Pillay says the FPI advocates professional financial planning for all, benchmarks standards and quality, highlights the ethical conduct expected of its members and adds value in terms of education, support, tools and resources to aid members to grow and develop continuously.

The FPI is a SAQA-recognised professional body for financial planners in South Africa and the only institution to offer CFP® certification. FPI has been approved by the South African Revenue Service as a Recognised Controlling Body.

“As a non-profit professional body and a founding and affiliate member of Financial Planning Standards Board we exist to improve the level of professionalism. The objective is to positively influence the quality of advice provided by its members.”

Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

To be recognised by SAQA and register a professional designation, a professional body must have a policy on continuing professional development and must implement it.

While its members are required to get a certain number of CPD points annually to retain their professional designation and remain a member of a professional body, a recognised professional body may not be accredited education and training providers themselves. However, they can recognise suitable education and training providers and be involved in curriculum development.

Blumenthal says professional bodies expect members to participate in a range of CPD opportunities annually like reading articles or academic texts on topics in their chosen fields, participating in seminars, workshops or webinars and doing assessments.

FPI’s Pillay says professional members are required to obtain 35 CPD points for every reporting period (usually from January 1 to December 31). A minimum of five CPD points must be on Ethics and Practice Standards.

SAICA members have to submit an …

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Read this Feature on PROFESSIONAL EDUCATION and CAREERS by Max Marx, as well as a host of other topical management articles written by professionals, consultants and academics in the December/January 2018/19 edition of BusinessBrief.

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