The time has come to form guilds

The ANC Minister of Public Works proposed legislation to summarily take control of the construction related professional councils such as engineers, architects and quantity surveyors and to place the functions in a single, politically controlled council.

In her “Policy Document on the Proposed Amendments of the Statutory Regulatory Framework of the Built Environment Professions” of March 2008, she makes it clear in paragraph 1.4 tjat political and even revolutionary goals are crucial: “Eight years later, we have learnt from our experiences over the years. We have had to grapple with issues of access to professions, the shortcomings in the present regulatory model, as well as the need for organized professions to serve the imperatives of the national democratic revolution” (my emphasis).

This smacks of no education before liberation: bridges may fall down, power supply could fail, buildings may be designed disfunctionally and government contracts may be managed poorly, provided the revolution is achieved.

The councils and professional associations have reacted strongly against the proposed legislation, as well as the way in which it was managed, by allowing only weeks for comment, and that representatives on the existing central body of the minister, were not even informed of her plans.

Revolutions does not maintain infrastructure and does not grow an economy.

The minister will exert her steely grip on the councils some time or another, and it is futile to think that reason and negotiation will help. Her proposals do not give ultimatums. It simply states the fact that faster transformation is required. It follows logically that with mr Jacob Zuma as ANC-leader, populist thinking would now accelerate, resulting in frustration and eventual destruction of professional integrity.

The solution is in professional pride: let the profession determine and maintain its own standards, and show its necessity to the market and to the government of the day. Let engineers decide who are good engineers.

It was already in the time of minister Kader Asmal that a quiet revolution took place on the universities and other tertiary institutions, by which South Africa was landed with effectively one large government controlled university with numerous campuses, in which populist pressure is continuously applied by the government itself and standards drop. Academic integrity and academic autonomy goes together. The tertiary institutions’ autonomy is dwindling fast under political pressure, thus academic integrity follows suit. Legislation can not change gravity, but in South Africa it is unfortunately becoming evident that legislation could cause a lack of understanding of gravity.

The minister’s exorbitant actions renders it imperative for the professional to organise themselves, sidestepping the irrational legislation and control mania of the government. It is time for the professional bodies to start functioning as guilds in which the eldest and wisest and those who truly demonstrate that they are forerunners in there profession form committees that determines who and how registration takes place and how status is rendered upon professionals. Only academic and professional standards rule here: no discrimination as discrimination is defined in terms of the constitution: purely a clinical assurance that somebody the calls himself e g an engineer of the Civil Engineers’ Guild, can do it only if he has complied with the guild’s purposeful but strict requirements. Civil engineers make civil engineers available and so on.

It does not require a law for a profession to arrange its affairs. It requires only the will to do so, and the will to make academic-professional standards the highest priority for this purpose. The minister may operate her own council or councils: it must now be made abundantly clear that politicians and Robben Island credentials shall not determine who is professionally competent and who is not. The minister leaves professionals no option. The professions must take their stand if they want to survive. Not only with regard to registration, grading and internal discipline, but also with regard to accreditation of training. The profession must say how the training must look and which standards are to be set, not politicians, failing which we might as well close down South Africa (Pty) Ltd.

Leonard van der Dussen

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