Professional bodies provide a key public interest function in setting ethical standards and holding members to these standards.

There’s no question the accounting profession is in crisis. Acres of press coverage have been dedicated to documenting cases of corruption and neglect by accountants. Think KPMG, VBS Bank, Bosasa, Eskom, to name just a few.

A timely piece of research from the SA Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) looks at the state of professional bodies in SA and, more importantly, their sustainability and internal practices for disciplining members.

The research, entitled Do professional bodies have the capacity to truly protect the interest of the public while remaining sustainable?, also explores how these bodies are fulfilling their mandate to protect the public interest.

Some of the key takeaways:

  • The research was prompted by an increase in reports of unethical behaviour highlighted in the media involving members of professional bodies, particularly in the governance sphere such as the field of auditing and accounting.
  • This poses a financial risk to professional bodies. A key concern of the IIA SA, therefore, was the capacity of professional bodies to handle the costs associated with disciplinary cases involving their members (either in their internal processes or in terms of legal fees where members may challenge their decisions in court), in a climate of unethical professional behaviour where legal battles appear to be on the rise.
  • SAQA says it needs “to engage with the question of whether it should recognise a professional body that does not have any reserve funds and a clear ability to implement the required processes to protect the interest of the public, particularly given that SAQA wants to recognise sustainable professional bodies who protect the public interest, whilst acknowledging that some professional bodies do experience financial constraints”. SAQA takes into account the role of professional bodies in holding members to account when extending recognition to the body. Click here to read more.