Professionals, Professionalism and Politicians : The Similarities, if Any.

About four years ago, I was invited to deliver an evening talk by Vincent Moreira, the then general manager of Penang Indian Entrepreneurs ( PIE ). This is an active and energised body of keen Malaysian Indian entrepreneurs who also see themselves as professionals.

In fact, some of their active members are engineers, accountants and doctors and a few of them hold post graduate degrees. The event was held at the Sunway Hotel in Seberang Jaya and about sixty five members were present for the programme. The topic I chose to touch on was ‘ Professionals and Professionalism.’

Older More Established Professions

I began my presentation by explaining just who qualifies as a professional. I stated that there are those in the older, more established professions who are readily considered as professionals.

These individuals come from professions that are recognised by an Act of Parliament. Some of these professions are: medicine; dentistry; law; engineering; company secretary; accounting; and architecture just to name a few of the more prominent ones.

New Emerging Professions

Then there is also another new and emerging category of professionals. These individuals come from the new, in demand, professions of say, marketing, public relations, information technology etc.

These occupations are not governed by an Act of Parliament like in the case of the more established professions. Anyone can print a calling card and proclaim himself such a professional. However, whether he will be regarded as a professional will depend on a few factors.

Nobody can, for instance, claim to be a doctor, open a clinic, examine patients and prescribe medications for these people if he is not registered with the relevant medical board in that country. If the individual is caught doing so, the person is likely to be charged in court and probably fined and even jailed for such impersonation.

Likewise too, the penalties are severe in the case of someone claiming to be an accountant if he is not holding a qualification recognised under the relevant schedule in the Accountant’s Act 1967 in Malaysia. There are valid reasons for this drastic action.

Professionals Are Held In High Esteem

The public, in general, hold professionals in high regard. This is for a number of sound reasons.

In the past, only very few qualified as professionals. College and university education was only available to very few individuals. There was only one university in Malaya at the time of independence in 1957.

For example, if one wanted to be a chartered accountant in those times, one had to go to England, Wales or Scotland to pursue that ambition. Only very few Malaysians could afford that luxury during that period.

Today, the situation is vastly different.

We have more than thirty universities, both public as well as private. In addition, you do not need to go to England, Wales or Scotland to be a chartered accountant. You can pursue that dream here in Malaysia.

You can also choose to be an internationally recognised chartered certified accountant, chartered management accountant or even a certified public accountant.

Distinguishing Characteristics of Professionals

Mastery of a particular intellectual skill which is acquired by rigorous training and education is the first characteristic.

Next is the acceptance of duties to society as a whole in addition to duties to the client or employer. This is an onerous responsibility which a number of delinquent professionals have failed to recognise.

The third characteristic is that a professional has an outlook which is essentially objective. And finally, the individual renders personal services to a high standard of conduct and performance on a regular and continuing basis.

One can see that it is not an easy proposition to be a professional because the expectations are very high. Too often these days, we hear and read of cases of professionals who fail to live up to these high standards. Part of the reason for this is because these individuals very often mistakenly think that they have only a highly sought after qualification. They make the huge mistake of forgetting that they are also professionals and that the high esteem they enjoy carries heavy responsibilities.

Credibility, Confidence and Quality of Service

Serious problems arise, therefore, when the professional forgets, for instance, about the need for continuing professional education on a regular basis. In addition, there must be a ready willingness to act and perform ethically regardless of the temptations and pressures.

In today’s high pressure, wheeling and dealing business world, this is a real challenge. In a worst case scenario, the professional must even be prepared to resign his job rather than be a willing party to unethical conduct.

As such, a true professional willingly subscribes to the Ethical Guidelines of his profession. This is primarily because employers and clients need four basic needs to be met: credibility; professionalism; quality of services; and confidence. It is a package deal and there is no way one can dispense with any one or two of these basic needs.

Question and Answer Session

After my forty five minute presentation, the emcee invited feedback and questions.

There were a few relevant comments and some observations, but in general, everyone seemed to be in agreement regarding the topic ‘ Professionals and Professionalism ‘.

Towards the end of the fifteen minute Q & A Session, a curious question was posed to me. I was asked if we could also regard politicians as professionals!

I thought for a while and then responded in the following manner: Politicians, in general, do not have permanent principles, values and policies.

Nelson Mandela, the iconic South African president and world leader was the exception to the rule. He chose to rise above pettiness, bitterness and hatred despite the cruelties that he suffered at the hands of the Apartheid government. He also chose to forgive his former enemies and include them in the new nation. Mandela also chose to step down from high office after a brief spell and pass the baton of leadership to the next leader.

In Malaysia, like in a few other countries, we also have the phenomenon of ‘ political frogs ‘ who join and leave political parties quite easily because their needs are not met. Some politicians are quite notorious in this regard having leaped across a number of times.

They are also oftentimes individuals seeking cheap publicity and these politicians do not hesitate to issue provocative statements. The statements are devoid of logic or reasonableness but that does not matter because what they are seeking is fifteen minutes of notoriety! They freely and often recklessly make promises to the masses and think nothing about doing exactly the opposite once elected.

Promises and Then the Reality

Think for a moment about president Barack Obama’s famous slogan when he was campaigning for the presidency of the United States: ‘ Change We Can Believe In ‘.

Did he deliver such change?

Think about Nick Clegg, former Liberal Party leader and deputy prime minister in the United Kingdom who went back on one of his key promises during the last general election and whose party was severely punished in the recent general elections.

Think about the number of promises made, repeated and then not honoured by politicians in Malaysia.

These politicians have no sense of personal honour. They casually dishonour their word and commitment and then think nothing of it. There is, however, a price to be paid for such deception!

Thomas Jefferson once said: ” Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel… not patriotism in general, only false patriotism.”

Someone else took some liberty and much later paraphrased Jefferson’s quote: ‘ Politics is the last refugee of the scoundrel.’ The short answer to that question is therefore no, politicians cannot be considered as professionals.

The session ended on that sober note.


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