The recent debate regarding membership in professional associations on the island has led to the introduction of a bill in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives that would make membership in professional associations optional. The arguments made by some representatives against mandatory membership are based on constitutional concerns regarding laws that require licensed professionals to join one of the 29 regulated professional associations on the island. On the other hand, associations claim that mandatory membership is needed because they are the first and most effective line of defense in ensuring that the people of Puerto Rico receive appropriate service from its members.
Professional associations are relevant, useful and benefit professionals while safeguarding the public interest. They provide counsel and support for its members while overseeing companies and individuals who provide services.
Benefits received by members of professional organizations include access to education programs, administration of the certification process, access to resources, networking opportunities and the continued pursuit of excellence.
Networking and the opportunity to exert influence over issues concerning a profession are two of the main reasons to belong to professional associations. The latter, has, in turn, politicized the issue of mandatory membership. Discomfort by some members participating in associations led to the argument that the dues paid for membership are burdensome. This point is what some politicians use as an excuse to counter the highly debatable argument that voluntary membership will weaken and eventually silence some of these associations.
As a CPA, I can speak to our association’s role in safeguarding the public interest as well as the ethical and moral integrity of our services. Because of the confidence the government places on Puerto Rico's Colegio de Contadores Públicos Autorizados (Colegio de CPA), we not only provide counsel in the preparation of our tax code, but also, and most importantly, certify financial statements that sometimes accompany tax returns.The lack of resources in the government has not allowed audit activity to be effectively carried out thus resulting in a decline of fiscal revenues and the implementation of multiple new taxes to address the reductions in much needed income for the government. Without certified public accountants, the government would likely receive much less than it is currently accounting for.
The Colegio de CPA is essential because without it, the oversight of these professionals would likely become the government's responsibility. In Puerto Rico, unlike most states, the Board of Accountancy does not have the resources to take on the administrative burden of regulating, licensing and monitoring those within the profession. Due to the fact that the budget of most government entities is being reduced, it's highly unlikely that the Puerto Rico Board of Accountancy could take on the duties that the Colegio de CPA carries out. The same holds true for all other professions that would be impacted by voluntary membership. Voluntary membership would not promote excellence in the services provided, undermines transparency and may negatively affect the common citizen.
If the government wants to streamline its services, and ensure that its pro-business policies are effective while complying with oversight board mandates, the benefit of professional associations cannot be undermined by laws that may hinder the the process.These laws, when properly implemented, and with the appropriate oversight of our legislative and judicial branches, lessen the load from the executive branch while allowing for administrative action when needed.