Feature Article of Friday, 26 August 2011
Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta
By Kwesi Atta Sakyi 23rd August 2011, Lusaka, Zambia
The word profess means to avow or lay claim to some expertise. Hence, we have professors who are university dons with specialist knowledge in particular fields of academic endeavour. The Concise Oxford Dictionary (11th Edition 2006) defines a professional as a person having impressive competence in a particular activity and a profession is a paid occupation carried out by professionals and not amateurs. From this definition, we can infer that a professional is someone who has undergone a long period of training or rigorous apprenticeship and who has been certified to have acquired enough knowledge and skills as to be deemed competent or proficient to render services in a given vocation. A professional has formal qualifications and has been articled or registered and licensed to practice by his/her professional body or association. Webster’s New World College Dictionary (4th Edition 2001) defines a professional as one who is engaged in an activity for money or as a means of livelihood, and not as a hobby or for amateurish purposes or as a pastime. There are commercial undertones and undercurrents in this definition. We can contrast professionals from quacks, pretenders, charlatans and self-styled practitioners and this latter group have no external supervision or regulation and in most cases, these are those who have awarded themselves high-falutin degrees and titles. Suffice to state that prostitution is said to be the oldest profession in the world and in some countries, prostitutes are registered with licences to practise and they pay tax. They have powerful associations. A profession is a vocation or calling, thus apart from the commercial interest; a professional has an obligation to live up to his/her reputation. Thus, we have pastors, reverends and bishops whose mission is to win souls into the Kingdom of God, doctors and nurses have the mission to save lives, the police to detect crime and apprehend criminals and keep law and order, farmers to grow food to feed the nation, civil and public servants to ensure that through their actions and interventions, they ensure that the wheels of governance do not grind to a halt, teachers to ensure that they impart quality education and that they imbue a sense of proper conduct in tutees and pupils, cleaners to ensure that residences and premises are bristling, neat, and spick and span. Who then is a professional in Ghana? We can categorize them into two broad groups. The distinct group is the corps of practitioners whose duties require extreme care. These are those in the medical services, lawyers, accountants, engineers, surveyors, architects, pharmacists, pilots among others. We then have the second group who are the amorphous, professionalized, un- articled, self-proclaimed practitioners such as carpenters, mechanics, bricklayers, tailors and seamstresses, hairdressers, teachers in private schools, among others. This latter group do not have national or international umbrella bodies and the quality of their services is not standardized, as practice various widely from place to place and from person to person. These may not have formal qualifications, yet there are many who are proficient in what they do. In both groups could lurk quacks and charlatans. These could include some traditional healers, some church leaders and some of our numerous famers, fishermen and marketeers/retailers. Be that as it may, each one contributes to the national kitty by adding value to what they do. However, where practitioners are unregulated by a professional body, they may have no reputation to keep or standards to uphold and they may fleece the public by charging fees which border on exploitation. They may constitute a menace to society as their main aim is not service delivery but to make a quick and easy buck off the sweat of the unsuspecting citizenry. We may state that a true professional is one who is a member of a leadership group in society and as such, they are in control and visible. Membership of a professional group confers status, referent power, prominence and authority. In the same vein, it demands duties such as the ethical responsibility to live up to their professional calling and to be honest with clients. Abut 2500 years ago; Hippocrates drew up the first professional oath – primum non-nocere, “Above all, not knowingly to do harm.” This enjoins professionals, especially doctors, to have duty of utmost care when dealing with patients. Here we may also mention the Hammurabi Code in ancient Babylon which covered a host or raft of topics including professional ethics and duty of care.
Professionals are to give maximum disclosure to help the patient make informed decisions, to deliver their services with courtesy and respect for the privacy of the patient, to deliver services in trust and to go an extra mile beyond pecuniary considerations. Can we say so of our current teachers, bishops, lawyers, journalists, politicians, policemen, civil servants and doctors/nurses? All these professionals ply their professions to earn a living. Yet the bad-eggs among them do not do good by their clients or customers as they deceive them, inflate their own credentials and sometimes go to the extent of intimidating them with fabrications so that they can exploit them. Is this professional? Human as we are, we live by faith and high morals. Without ethics and morality, the society decays and there is retrogression in national development. However, a professional worth his salt can promise that he can be trusted not knowingly to do harm to his clients. A professional is not a novice but a skilled and competent person in the field he professes. He knows his onions. He has high levels of personal integrity and self regulation, such that he will not be swayed by bribes or other gratifications in the discharge of his noble services.
CHARACTERISTICS OF PROFESSIONALS
The professional requires autonomy or self-supervision by virtue of his expertise. However, it is common to have young professional footballers, boxers, actors/actresses and sports people having managers to manage them. Even here, a professional cannot be controlled, supervised or directed by the client or customer. He has to be private, in that his knowledge and judgment have to be entrusted with the decision (Drucker 1973: passim). Since he is entrusted with the public interest as by rationale, he needs autonomy in order to exercise a duty of due care when delivering his service. In this regard, the professional acts as locus parentis and decides independently how to discharge his duties to the public without any political or ideological bias or control. Professionals act like bureaucrats as they are rigid with formalities, documentation, good record-keeping to provide tangible evidence and proof of their actions; they are procedures- and rules-bound. Professionals seek continuity in the performance of their business, predictability, stability of relationships, effective communication through established channels and protocols, transparency, fairness and equity, neutrality in exercising professional judgment, anonymity, cold and calculated steps which promote effectiveness, efficiency and economy. Thus, professionals are self-directed, self-motivated and self-inclined, yet not unmindful of their duty to the public through the unwritten social contract. Some professionals consider themselves as locals or insiders and as such, they pledge allegiance to their employers by seeking goal congruence. They merge their interests with the interest of the organization so that both of them succeed. On the other far end of the spectrum are the cosmopolitans or outsiders who work for the employer, yet their allegiance or loyalty is to their professional bodies. This is so with doctors, engineers and chartered accountants. This is so because their associations or professional bodies are powerful in exercising gate-keeping and oversight functions and they administer the sunshine laws without fear or favour. Most professionals are consultants as they sell their knowledge in the open market to the highest bidder. They act as freelancers. Thus, true professionals are occupationally and geographically mobile. It is not uncommon to find high turnover rate among professionals as they tend to move around to increase their depth, breadth and scope of knowledge. Consultants are highly respected for their specialized knowledge, judgment, insight and opinions. They charge consultation fees which, to the ordinary man, seems exorbitant yet they are maintaining global standards. For professionals to be respected, they have to build around them an aura of self discipline and they should carry themselves with dignity and honour. A professional has a duty of care to scrutinize his deeds, words, utterances and behaviour both in public and in private so that he does not knowingly do harm to clients or would-be clients. Peter Drucker observes that most managers and directors do harm by using ploys like golden fetters or benefit plans to entice exploited workers to stay on. The same ploy may be applied in head-hunting and poaching directors and key professionals.
Some executives (fat cats) award themselves superfluous perks and bonuses, even when profits declared are in the red. This is what the Institute of Directors (IOD) has been fighting to curb through professionalized institutions. All the acts of feathering nests and insider trading are unprofessional, immoral and tantamount to commercial elephantiasis (Dailey 1990; 4; 19-24). In fact, these executives are observed to be behaving like politicians whose actions do not match their words. They conceal healthy reality and misdirect themselves (Drucker 1973; 368-369). Ethics requires self restraint, modesty, altruism and high moral responsibility. In the world of business, managers have to be private in their ethics to the larger society or public by pursuing visible and voluble corporate social responsibility. This might look tokenism, yet the community readily warms up to a caring and good-hearted corporate citizen. Giant multinationals such as Pfizer, BP, Lafarge, Microsoft and others have shown strong commitments to CSR and they have endeared themselves to the global society by their corporate professional behaviours. According to Drucker (1973; passim) the profitability goal is rational and ethical as it lowers the cost of doing business and in the long run, it benefits all (cf. Adam Smith). Without professional behaviour, there will be no profitability, and without profitability, CSR will be minimal. In the long run, individual and corporate professional behaviours increase John Stuart Mills dictum of the pro bono publicio or the greatest good to the greatest number (summum bonum).
IS THERE ONE PRACTICE OF PROFESSIONALISM?
Whether or not in the private, public, for-profit and not-for-profit sectors, professionalism remains the same. While in public administration the emphasis is on Max Weber’s machine or mechanistic bureaucracy, the opposite is the case in the private sector. The private sector operates in a dynamic, fluid, turbulent and competitive environment so professionals act as entrepreneurs and innovators by moving very fast to exploit market opportunities and to minimize risks of external threats. Professionalism in the private sector requires radicals and logicians who are proactive and first-movers, while in the public sector, we need incrementalists, structuralists, generalists, conservatives and inward-looking orientation. While aggressive tactics are welcome in the private sector, professionals in the public sector toe the line and have to worship at the temple of precedence, formality and unbending adherence to the scalar chain of command. While business opportunities in the private sector may be ephemeral, transient and require free-wheeling and emergent approaches (Minzberg), the public sector has the luxury of the platform of state permanency. Thus, it is not unusual that many professionals, on the one hand, who have been seconded to the public sector from the private sector have been frustrated and unnerved by the tedium of grinding and spiraling bureaucracy. On the other hand, professionals from the public sector who found stints in the private sector could not cope with the speed of change and the vortex of complex dilemmatic decisions. Most failed woefully and were returned to sender. In Ghana, career professionals in the public sector include teachers, doctors, nurses, career diplomats, policemen, soldiers, musicians, sports people and civil servants. Others include the Directors and Permanent Secretaries. Woefully enough, since the late 70s, the time-tested career bureaucrats were politicized. Being drawn into the political arena has made our career diplomats and civil servants lose their cherished neutrality. Some political leaders found the going tough and to strengthen their positions in power, they buttressed their crumbling political edifices with props of career civil servants. The politicization of the bureaucracy is one of the saddest events which has happened to Ghana, and to other African countries such as Kenya, Malawi, Zambia and Ethiopia. Bostwana fares better and she is a beacon of hope. The current rot and decay in Ghana’s media, teaching service, legal affairs and the entire health and education systems in Ghana is due to the politicization of the professional and bureaucratic corps. I think we have reached the tipping point whereby the tables have to be turned in order to bureaucratise/professionalise the political arena. This can only come about if all the political parties are funded by the government and the law makes it mandatory for every working Ghanaian to have a practising licence. Until that time is reached, we shall delude ourselves that there are professionals in Ghana. The corrupt dog-eat-dog environment in Ghana does not augur well for professionals. Neither does it bode well for our democracy. In the USA, it took President Woodrow Wilson to initiate the beginnings of modern Public Administration, though earlier on, his distant predecessor, Andrew Jackson had introduced the Spoils System, which in the case of Ghana surfaced under the Second Republican era of Dr K.A. Busia and his infamous purge, dubbed Apollo 569. Much of the interference and politicization of the civil and public services in Ghana, unfortunately happened under the military regime from 1981 to 1991, under the AFRC/PNDC junta. In the UK, it was the efforts of top civil servants and diplomats from Oxford and Cambridge, the likes of Drummond, that helped to professionalise their civil service. In Germany, they had a long tradition starting with Max Weber in 1880 (German Sociologist). The Germans had long had a tradition of top civil servants and politicians emerging from the ranks of lawyers, academicians and elite soldiers. Perhaps GIMPA ( Ghana Institute of Public Administration) in Ghana can help diagnose the malaise in our over-politicised professional classes and offer a remedy. Gone are the days when we read about veteran top Ghanaian civil servants such as D.E. Awotwi, A.L Adu, Kofi Annan, E.M Debrah, Dr Robert Gardiner, Nathan Kwao,Dei Annang, Okoh, F.W. Beecham, J.H.Sackey, George Sackey, Cleland, E.N. Omaboe, Halm, Ashiargbor, Dr Agama Anancy, Justice Annie Jiagge, Justice Arko Korsah, Justice Mills Odoi, Justice Sarkodee, Justice V.C.R.A.C Crabbe, K.Y Amoako, Ms Chinery Hesse, Ken Dadzie, Dr Muhammed Ibn Chambas, Victor Gbeho, E.R.T. Madjitey, Major Seth Anthony, Dr Konuah, J.J. Mensah Kane, Acquaye Baddoe and the like. Perhaps we will need to exchange notes with renowned public administration associations such as RIPA, ASPA, SAIPA and APAM.
BENEFITS OF BEING A MEMBER OF A PROFESSIONAL BODY
• You can append designatory letters after your name for worldwide recognition
• You can bargain for higher remuneration and better conditions of service as set out worldwide by your professional association, though subject to local labour conditions, going market rate etc.
• Recognized as someone who may be subjected to disciplinary code in case of misconduct
• You can work anywhere in the world with your qualifications and credentials
• You enter an elite club of consultants (whose expertise are recognized worldwide and highly remunerated)
• You can set up your own personal practice or consultancy, subject to obtaining a practising certificate or licence from your professional body
• You are likely to win consultancy contracts
• You are always in currency as you are constantly updated by your Association on current best practice, research papers and outcomes of experimentation, trials etc through journals, newsletters and bulletins.
• Members are marketed indirectly when their professional bodies publish members’ list who are in good standing with it.
HOW NOT TO BE A PROFESSIONAL
• Stay put and do not update yourself by reading latest journals in your profession
• Do not attend annual association balls, general meetings and conferences
• Try to be a jack of trades and master of none
• Fail to consult within your association when professionally challenged
• Stop writing or contributing articles in your association journal
• Be in arrears on membership fees
• Stay in one job for eternity and avoid travelling to network and see new places
• Be fettered to your job, knocking off late and don’t create chinks to enjoy pastime
• Enter the game of politics
• Be self-opinionated and closed to new ideas
• Do not recognize merit or be a cog in the wheel of progress of your subordinates
• Talk ill about colleagues or competitors
• Engage in insider-trading
• Get promoted to your highest level of incompetence (Peter’s Principle)
• Fail to obtain sufficient professional experience after passing all your examinations
• Fail to find a godfather/godmother mentor
• Engage in professional tasks for which you do not have experience or expertise
SOME PROFESSIONAL GUIDELINES
• Have a set of personal value clarification to guide your actions
• Adhere to professional code of conduct and ethics
• Do not soldier or loiter on your job (malingering referred to by F.W.Taylor)
• Observe strict confidentiality of employer and client information if not required by legal authorities to disclose them, unless when whistleblowing on a scandalous act
• Do not put yourself in compromising circumstances which can impugn your integrity and the image of your organization
• Do not accept gifts, bribes, and favours which may lead to biased or incorrect actions
• Know about corporate governance requirements and act accordingly
• Know the limit of the disclosures you can make. When in difficulty, consult superiors
• Do not make disparaging remarks of other professionals or do not parade credentials you do not possess
• Always exercise due care and skill to avoid legal action by clients who rely on the results of your work
• Your practice should have quality control procedures (each piece of professional work carried out by a subordinate to be reviewed by more senior and experienced professionals
• Agree on fee and basis of determining fee at the start of assignment or project
• At start of engagement, prepare engagement letter or project initiation document(PID) and detail resources needed, scope and duration, milestones and gates, work breakdown, limitations and challenges, documentation and periodic communication to be provided.
• You cannot judge a case in which you are a party. Always declare interest to avoid conflict of interest
• Always listen to the other side of the argument before you draw conclusions. Listen to both sides (audi alterem partem).
• For auditors and accountants, they are required to be professionally detached, neutral, independent, and above all, to act professionally without fear or favour and to avoid activities which border on promoting self interest.
• In ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq), under King Hammurabi, if a builder did a bad job of erecting a house and it collapsed by killing someone, the builder was equally put to death for incompetence. (Be scrupulous with your work)
• Be absolutely conversant (au fait/savvy) with the current professional code of conduct so that you do not err on the side of caution.
SUMMARY OF PROFESSIONALISM
• A profession is an easily identifiable and highly specialized occupation, requiring at least four years of college education which offers a lifetime career to the persons in it (CIMA, ACCA, CIPS, CIM, ICSA, CFA, AIB, ABE, NCC, IMIS, CISCO)
• The professional seeks public status and visibility by accomplishing his task with dignity and distinction
• He engages in refinement of knowledge, skills and expertise through exchanges at conferences and contributing seminal papers
• They publish acceptable codes of conduct which members must conform to
• They prefer autonomy to do their own thing, though regulated by organizational structures
• They dislike politics and bureaucratization ( though not strictly applicable to the public sector)
• They pursue a standardized body of knowledge, devoid of detrimental influences which are non-scientific, emotional and based on ignorance, superstition and illogicality
• Professional bodies ensure self-regulation of members
• Professionals earn a livelihood for their services
• In the public service, professionals serve any government of the day as their allegiance is to the state and not to the government in power. Thus, they are apolitical, diligent, honest, autonomous and they impart permanence and continuity to the establishment. They are also reliable.
• The more scarce and recognized and established a professional body, the more its real impact on public affairs
• Professionalism means a core of commonly shared and recognized knowledge and expertise, held by members of a group which enables it to be recognized. This is done by obtaining a charter or statutory recognition through an Act of Parliament e.g. ACCA, CIMA, CIPS, IMIS, RSA, ICSA, CFA, GFA, GJA, MAG
• Professional bodies protect and promote the interests of their members and in the long run, the interests of the public.
• Because of their rare talent, they earn mostly economic rent or supernormal profit as opposed to transfer earnings. Their demand is inelastic.
CONCISE OXFORD DICTIONARY (2ND ED) 2006
ACCA Paper 1 2008. Professional Accountant London: BPP Learning Media
BPP ACCA Paper 1 2011 Government, Risk and Ethics
London: BPP Learning Media Ltd
Dailey, R 2000 Knowledge (Eds). Organisatinal Behaviour London: FT Module 4
(pp 19-24) Edinburg Business School
Drucker, P.F 1955. The Practice of Management London: Butterworth Heineman Ltd
Dye,T.R 1975 Understanding Public Policy. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice
Henry, N. 1980. Public Administraiton and Public Affairs. Englewood Cliffs.N.J
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Robert Robert’s Rules of Meetings
UN 1997 (May) Ethics, Professionalism and the Image of the Public Service.
New York: UN Secretariat
Webster’s New Millenium College Dictionary
4th Edition New Delhi
Compiled and written by Kwesi Atta Sakyi