The number of public universities in Ethiopia has increased from two in 1991 to 35 in 2015. With ten more planned to be established during the second phase of the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II). Not only that, the universities have also increased admission capacity in several folds, making it possible for the country to produce more than one hundred thousand graduates per annum. Private institutions of higher education also produce several thousand graduates annually.Despite the rapid development of higher education institutions, the culture of forming professional associations (PAs) is a neglected concern. Once graduates leave their campuses, they don’t have opportunities to engage in professional forums. This limits their abilities to meaningfully contribute to the development of the nation.
There are many benefits to develop strong associations. They enhance professionalism, promote research and encourage industry-academic linkages. Ethiopia faces a low level of professionalism, lack of quality education and weak academic industry linkages that can play mutually reinforcing role for the enhancement of development.
The experience of developed nations confirms that one of the ideal local partners for the government in identifying and solving these problems is PAs. Their systematic involvement in at least major government projects starting from policy inception and formulation to implementation is central. If they are treated as any ordinary association established to promote the interest of their members only, however, they can’t contribute.
PAs are the best forums to nurture a democratic political culture, engendering a culture of discussions in policy issues and research findings. They also organise periodic conferences, workshops, seminars and similar professional gatherings, which bring together likeminded professionals, academicians and policymakers for civilised discussions and debates.
Research and Publications
One of the prominent roles of PAs is their knowledge contribution to the profession and the society through research and publication of peer-reviewed journals. Journal of the American Bar Association and Journal of the American Medical Association are well known for such kind of contributions in reflecting authoritative expert opinions, showing trends in the thoughts of the profession and expressing views and news on topical professional issues in a way positively influencing the academics and the public policy formulation process which will finally help to have practical, problem solving and research based policies and laws.
While there are a few professional associations in the country, their full potential isn’t being utilised. Lack of collaborative engagements between universities and PAs is also another problem which incapacitates the possible contributions of PAs for the enhancement of quality education in each discipline. In addition to formal professional support, government can also get research based solutions for problems on the ground through research partnership with PAs as opposed to purely academic researches which are usually too theoretical to address practical problems and usually having funder driven purposes.
Continuing Professional Development
One of the basic roles of PAs is the provision of continuing professional development trainings, usually called (CPD) for their members. For bar associations this activity is called continuing legal education (CLE) and for medical associations it is called continuing medical education (CME). The purpose of CPD is to upgrade professional competence by updating the professionals with the latest knowledge and quality of service delivery based on new findings and developments in the science of the profession.
Unless professionals are updated with the new thoughts and methods they may fail to be competent and provide efficient professional service to the public. Professional associations decide the type and content of the course and the credit hours to be taken and the schedules of the training. These organisations should have a conducive legal and policy environment to solicit funds to effectively run their CPE programmes which will finally benefit the society by mitigating the professional service quality problems.
Another notable contribution of PAs is service delivery. The outstanding contribution of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) in supporting marginalised women by providing pro bono legal services in advisory and legal representation in most parts of Ethiopia is one good example. The pro bono legal service contribution of ELA and the reproductive health service of the ESOG are also additional testimony to the contribution of PAs to service delivery to beneficiaries. Such contributions are what is naturally expected from professionals as the very essence of a profession is contribution to the general economic and social welfare of a society.
Government may want to issue policies, rules and regulations which may affect professional practices and a certain sector of the economy. In some instances there may be a need for amendment of existing laws, which may have similar effect on professional practices. In such cases it is a common practice that PAs will serve as lobbyists to convince policy makers and legislators not to adopt laws or policies that may have any kind of negative effect on the professionals, professional practices and the PAs themselves in their existence and operation as an institution.
Such kind of lobbying will help the government to consider the negative sides of its policy proposal and come up with zero or minimal complaints from the professional community and from the public and this will give assurance for the laws and policies to remain stable and practicable for reasonably long period of time.
Participation in the Regulatory Process
The regulatory process generally consists of three stages: creating regulations, monitoring for compliance, and enforcing regulations. There are a variety of options for government and PAs involvement in the regulatory process, the options ranges from non-state regulation to co-regulation to state-based regulation. PAs, for instance, may collectively set practice standards or code of Ethics governing their operational behaviour.
Co-regulation happens when PAs with other relevant industry stakeholders and government jointly administer the regulatory process. Examples include government watchdog organisations that provide oversight of industry standards or self-regulatory organisations, government agencies that enforce penalties for violations of self-regulation, and various forms of “soft law” such as government-issued recommendations, principles or codes of conduct that create a non-binding regulatory framework.
The participation of some professional associations including the ELA and Association of Certified Auditors in drafting the new tax laws was immense. For PAs to effectively discharge these roles there has to be a defined policy endorsement given for PAs in terms of their participation in the public policy formulation and implementation process with the genuine belief and commitment by the government that PAs have a meaningful role to play in regulatory processes.
The Need for Government Support
The establishment of strong PAs and their solid affiliation with their members, government institutions and other partners is also an important factor to cement their effective and sustainable contribution.
In recognition of the roles of PAs, this time some government institutions are supporting them with finance and work in partnership in certain projects of common concern. Recently the Ministry of Science and Technology has given around ETB450,000 for 11 PAs. The Human Rights Commission had projects supporting the ELA and EWLA on legal aid and this kind collaboration and support should continue and flourish.
Government institutions should support PAs in various ways for the realisation of their complementary purposes and roles and to have a concerted impact on healthy operation of the political economy. These associations have to be given more operational space by identifying and limiting core prohibition areas such as the limit on source of fund for PAs registered as charities and societies in order to take advantage of their possible potential contribution to the national development. Accordingly, there has to be a policy concern towards legislating a legal framework governing the establishment and operation of PAs as this problem is impeding the associations from discharging their natural role in full capacity.
5th Year • February 16 2017 – March 15 2017 • No. 48