By Kwazi Dlamini
Characteristics of a profession:
• The offering of a service to the public;
• The possession of a special skill;
• Having undergone specified training and education;
• The possession of privilege or state recognition;
• Membership to a self-disciplined group, with a “community of interest in theory and in fact among the members of the calling”; and
• “A measure of unselfishness or freedom from purely personal considerations”.
Peter Wright: “What is a Profession?” Canadian Bar Review 1951 Vol 29 page 748.
In the wake of state capture and the mind-boggling revelations coming out of the commission set up to investigate it, South Africans are learning how companies and other stakeholders enabled this phenomenon – include those which, in the public view, would appear to have to conduct themselves in a professional manner.
In a recent series of briefs, the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) has analysed four professional services industries and the role they play in enabling corruption – these industries are law, accounting, auditing and management consulting. Among their members are names we have become used to hearing about, and not always in a good way – Trillian Management Consulting, Hogan Lovells, KPMG, Bain, Bell Pottinger, McKinsey, and more.
Our new mini-series delves into the foundation’s findings. Part one looks at the professions under scrutiny and the laws and regulatory bodies – if any – to which they are subject. Part two will examine the role of the professions in enabling state capture and malfeasance.
The HSF brief discusses the lack of proper regulations, especially in the management consulting profession. It looks into global consulting companies like McKinsey who had done work for the South African government and, being linked to the Estina dairy farm and the Gupta wedding scandals, were heavily criticised for their role in state capture – although McKinsey later apologised for its involvement and acknowledged the damage it caused to the South African economy and to the morale of the nation. That company’s involvement will be discussed in the second part of this series.
According to HSF, management consultants are often highly skilled, but those skills are not necessarily specialised. It is also noted that there are no standardised tests that must be completed before someone can practise as a management consultant; this field further requires no internships or articles to be completed before practising – this sets it apart from professions like chartered accountants and lawyers. Most importantly, there is no set of rules in place to regulate the conduct of management consultants, making this profession vulnerable to malfeasance. Also unlike auditors, lawyers and chartered accountants, management consultants do not have a professional organisation or body with which they are required to register and which would set standards on who can practise and who cannot.
Guidelines for management consultants are solely based on consulting firms’ ethics. While there is the Institute of Management Consultants and Master Coaches South Africa (IMCSA), which seeks to fulfil the role of the professional association for management consultants, its membership is voluntary. Therefore, it has no oversight of people practising in this field and it cannot enforce its rules and guidelines on those who are not members.
HSF cites a problem in that according to the IMCSA, its mission includes the “maintenance of a code of conduct and the required disciplinary procedures”, but no information is publicly available regarding such procedures. “Given this dearth of information, it is difficult to ascertain whether any sanctions applied are effective in preventing misconduct among management consultants. The IMCSA was asked to elucidate on its role for the purposes of this brief, but did not do so.”
Another controversial global management consulting firm mentioned in the brief is Bain and Company, who told HSF that its objective is to create outstanding results for its clients, achieving this according to “the highest ethical standards”, to ensure the organisation does the right thing for its company, clients and communities. However its response failed to “critically engage” with resolving or dealing with conflicts in the interests of client, community, and/or company. Supposedly this problem is dealt with in the company’s Operating Principles and Code of Conduct, which is not a public document, notes HSF.
The brief further reveals that even the umbrella organisation International Council of Management Consulting Institute, of which IMCSA is a member, in its values and mission simply puts forward “the best interests of the client” without any overt consideration of other persons involved. HSF concluded: “It would appear, then, there is no broader public interest served by management consultants.”
This very situation, HSF argues, means that management consulting cannot be classified as a professional service, especially in terms of Wright’s definition above.
Such lack of regulations and strict regulation bodies overseeing the profession is a big part of the reason companies like McKinsey and Bain got involved in state capture and could have carried on without consequences.
The other three professions under scrutiny – lawyers, auditors and accountants – have regulatory bodies that members are required to register with to ensure ethical conduct within these respected professions. The regulatory bodies further make sure that professionals practising in these listed professions are held accountable for their conduct.
Just like management consultants, lawyers put the best interest of their clients first; the actions of lawyers, however, are bounded by law. They must conduct their work in accordance with, among others, the Legal Practice Act, and are subject to rules and codes of conduct promulgated by the regulatory body that governs them, the Legal Practice Council.
The public is also protected from unethical practices by lawyers through the Legal Services Ombudsman, to which anyone can report.
The public can also report legal practitioners through their nearest council branch, where the complaint will be investigated for any misconduct. These are some of the ways the law profession tries to regulate its members from engaging in irregular conduct.
The profession of auditing is also regulated by law in South Africa; the Auditing Professions Act seeks to protect the public by regulating audits performed by qualified and registered auditors. The Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (IRBA) also regulates and is tasked with overseeing the conduct of auditors and the conduct of auditing firms.
With all these regulations and regulation bodies in place, the profession is still tainted with corruption and irregular practices, with global auditing firms like KPMG making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Chartered accounting is one of the many branches of the accounting field and probably the most well-known. It is regulated by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA). Unlike the management consulting sphere, chartered accountants are required to complete an undergraduate degree and certain post-graduate options, in addition to passing SAICA-administered qualifying exams. Qualified chartered accountants must register with SAICA and submit themselves to its code of conduct.
Accountants, meanwhile, must obtain a B.Com degree, complete a certain period of training, and pass the professional evaluation examination administered by the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA).
Allegations arising from state capture have led SAIPA to highlight the importance of all professionals practising under the accounting profession to be registered with one of the professional associations, to avoid issues of clients dealing with unregulated accountants who can bend the rules without fear of being reprimanded or suffering consequences.
Don’t miss part two, which will examine the role of these particular professions in enabling state capture and malfeasance.