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Why mushrooming of professional bodies should be a cause for worry

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Parliament in session.[David Njaaga,Standard]

A Bill currently in Parliament proposes to “establish the Institute of Certified Managers and provide registration and regulation of the standards and practice  of the profession and connected purposes.”  

It is not clear in the Bill who exactly a manager is. The proposed law is clearly a bold attempt to professionalise the highly amorphous management discipline.

The new Bill follows a familiar pattern where professions are using the legal route to exclude “others. “ 

By coming up with an Act of Parliament, if the Bill is passed into law, they seek to ensure a legal monopoly for the profession. We could also argue such legal backing gives the profession an aura of mystery and prestige.

They seem to be taking the cue from human resource managers who are under the banner of the Institute of Human Resource Management (IHRM), while accountants have the Institute of Certified Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK), lawyers the Law Society of Kenya (LSK), doctors the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) and architects the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK). 

Why this trend, and what are the intended and unintended consequences?  

Such associations help practitioners of a profession gain recognition and control of the market. 

The other intended consequence is developing the profession with new knowledge forced through exams and keeping off quacks.

Needless to say, the proponents of the association often become its leaders, enjoying good perks. Self-interest is very human.  

The professional associations also discipline wayward members and ensure the highest standards of professional performance for its members.

But they often protect them as “one of our own.” Such professional associations ought to regulate themselves.

But the Certified Managers Bill talks of consulting the Cabinet Secretary to determine the eligibility to different categories of membership.

My head is still spinning; who is a manager? What are the boundaries of managerial knowledge if any? 

The intentions of the associations are good, but let’s be blunt too; they are likely to suffer from the ravages of any monopoly or better yet, the laws of economics.  

Keep monopoly

Without competition, its members are likely to relax and enjoy the protection. They reduce the supply to raise the price of services even if not commensurate with the level of service.  

I have nothing against lawyers. More schools of law have opened up, and we have more lawyers. Have the cost of legal services gone down?

We have more medical schools. We even have unemployed doctors, have the cost of medical services gone down? We can extend the same argument to the quality of services rendered.  

It’s also likely that once members are admitted to the legally protected association, they have no incentives to improve themselves. 

They are protected and recognised. That is why such legally protected associations might not improve the quality of professions. It is also important to note that the same problems bedevil trade unions.

The recent debate on whether associations should have a say on what’s taught in universities show the extent they will go to control their supply chains or in other words keep their monopoly. 

The reach of such associations is that even graduates have to take diplomas to comply or be accepted.

This has made our education very costly. Add the duplication of knowledge too. Exempting members from taking such diploma programmes would deny the associations income.

By deliberately looking down upon graduates and their knowledge level, legally protected institutes or associations create a market for themselves. 

In the long run, such associations will keep off many professionals who would grow through experience.

Any graduate will tell you that what’s done in the workplace is not rocket science. With automation, it requires even less effort from the employee. Think of the automation of accounting and soon the gal profession. Noted how automation of land registries are being resisted by lawyers? Needless to say, this system resembles the guild systems of artisans in the past. My suggestion is that membership to professional associations or institutes should be voluntary. The high standards of service delivery should attract new members and money thereof.  

Can someone provide empirical evidence that such associations or institutes have improved service delivery?   

Curiously, the legalisation of professions has gone hand in hand with “new schools“ in the public sector.

It started with the Kenya School of Government. We have a judicial training school, prosecution school, foreign service school in addition to Kenya School of Law. This is in addition to “informal schools,“ where students study for professional courses alongside their degrees. 

The legally protected associations are taking place when learning and reading are losing popularity; when the traditional university is under threat from micro-courses targeting specific knowledge areas. 

It raises the question: who will seek legal protection or monopoly next? It might be cool to belong to such association, but they stand in the way of competition that spawns innovations and add dynamism to the economy. Are you a member of any of these associations or institutes?

What do you think?  Be objective, please.

 



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