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MGG: The CLP fiasco was one waiting to happen
By M.G.G. Pillai
28/11/2001 11:08 pm Wed
01-15 December 2001
By M.G.G. Pillai
The official disinterest in the Certificate of Legal Practice
(CLP) scandal put that in perspective: the only surprise is that
this time, it became public. For it is an open secret that in
every public examination conducted by the government and
statutory bodies like the Legal Profession Qualifying Board over
the years, the question papers can be bought.
The CLP is in the public eye because the Malay Mail bought
the question papers before the examination and made it public.
The LPQB lost its cool, in haste and fright nullified the results
and stonewalled queries from anxious students. It refused, in
earlier years, to investigate complaints from students without
Police reports had been lodged in previous years, but it was
only this year, with the stink unbearable, did it swing into
action, and promptly produced the clerks and a few who sat for
the CLP this year who they sat sold the papers. One thought
wrong if one thought these bodies would protect its integrity
tooth and nail.
It is only after the scandal broke that more than resitting
an examination is at stake. The LPQB ran around like a headless
chicken, met on Sunday (25 Nov 2001) and was deadlocked 12 hours
later, in sharp contrast to the speed with which it created the
crisis. Its integrity questioned, it must now address the
corruption in the system which it would not in years past. The
CLP was first introduced in 1995. That year itself, there were
reports of question papers on sale.
Some law firms hold informal classes for the CLP in which
little is taught but the students pass without difficulty; touts
in the LPQB office point potential advocates and solicitors to
them. Who they are is known, as no doubt the LPQB. But they
continue because, on anecdotal evidence, they have acess to the
final papers. It does not matter, in the circumstances, if their
charges learn the law. When the tutorial colleges must have a
high percentage of passes to stay in businesses, this is not
The corruption did not stop there. It went all the way up
the chain to the director's office. Money and sex was the
currency; female, especially Malay, students promised higher
ranking in return for sex. The LPQB is embarrassed that it got
caught out, not that the CLP examination is nullified. It has
not come up with any explanation for what happened, the high
ranking officials headed by the Attorney-General herself, in
other societies proof of integrity, disappear into the woodwork.
Only one -- the Bar Council chairman, Mr Mah Weng Kai -- is
in the hot soup: even he tried to wriggle out of the mess, but
he faced a near revolt from the young lawyers, and is forced to
account. He has, in the circumstances, no option but to resign
both his posts. The LPQB has since moved to remark the question
papers, and announce a new list of those who passed in the July
paper, and put the blame on the Director for what went wrong.
While this is welcome, it also lay the Board open to law
suits from the disaffected. It is possible now for someone who
had passed, taken the Short Call, to find to have failed when the
new results of the July examination are posted.
There is mud on every one's face. As there would, when
every link in the chain is corrupt. What better proof than that
the government has just ignored the scandal. Yet, the deputy
prime minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, is quick to
comment on the 5,000 SPM answer papers stolen from a motor
vehicle in Kuantan recently.
Why has he not on this, surely a greater blot on the
Malaysian character than the missing answer papers? He responds
because it threatens to be a political problem. It affects
potential voters who can cause unnecessary trouble for UMNO and
the National Front if it is not dealt with promptly. So he
orders an investigation.
Why has he not for the CLP scandal? Why has the minister
directly involved, Dato' Rais Yatim, not been forthcoming as he
has been in other issues concerning the law and the judiciary?
Why did he, and his cabinet colleague and UMNO youth chief, Dato'
Hishamuddin Hussein, sent a few affected Malay graduates packing
when they sought their help?
Every public examination is suspect, has been awhile. The
cabinet condones it. The vice chancellors of Malaysian
universities with medical faculties close a blind eye when a few
weeks before the examinations, special revision courses are held
for bumiputra undergraduates. It is an open secret that the
subjects discussed are based on, if not, the question papers.
In the 1980s, the university lecturers and officials were
helping students with their SPM and STPM, based on the actual
question papers they would sit. But it has become more
sophisticated and far reaching. This is not new: Malaysian
medical degrees are not what it was; the frightening cases of
doctors, men and women, who use a pencil instead of their fingers
to take the pulse of a patient of the opposite sex are not rare.
As of lawyers who do not know that "plaintiff" and "defendant"
are not synonyms. How many die, or are hanged, because doctors
and lawyers bought their way?
When standards are fudged, deliberately and calculatedly,
every one gets into the game. It is a frightening indictment of
us, as a nation, that few candidates sitting for professional
examinations worry about the ethics of buying examination papers;
they complain when they cannot afford it or others have got it.
Malaysia is a nation which has evolved into one where anything is
available for a price: when that is official policy, why are we
surprised that scandals like these surface time and time again.
When the government does not care, and side deals are made
at every stage of the paper chain, why are we surprised that
professionals who buy their way into society? When it costs
hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire a professional
degree, failure is too great for many to be too finicky about
morality and integrity. This would not go away so long as
society is worried about the cost of everything and the value of
Public outrage without an attempt to put matters right is
useless. As now. If the government is serious about integrity
in public and professional life, there would not be enough places
in Malaysian jails to contain the Malaysian elite who should be
put there. The Attorney-General no less heads the LPQB; yet it
would not meet the CLP scandal head on, and gives up the ghost
when it is found delinquent. Every professional body is headed
by an officer or similar or higher rank. If we cannot trust them
to do what it must, who else can we trust? One would have
thought that with the dereliction so serious, the LPQB would have
resigned en bloc.
The LPQB met over two days for nearly 20 hours to untangle
the mess it created. It has distanced itself from its director
for the mess. It issues a fresh list of those who passed, and
opens itself to more pressures. To put a quick end to this sorry
mess, it must put the blame squarely on who it thinks is
responsible, and invite the government to act against him. And
prepare for the inevitable court actions that would come from
those who passed in July, for instance, who is found to have
failed by the new list.
For it is not only the results that are at stake. It is the
integrity of the system which is turned on its head. This must
be brought back. It would not make a difference to right the rot
that exists. But a start must be made, and a small corner of
integrity and morality must be created. It is that small corner
that in the years to come would keep its head when everyone else
is losing theirs.
The integrity of the legal profession, like that of the
judiciary, is in question. The judiciary valiantly attempts to
right itself. The legal profession must too. At the end of the
day, it is this integrity and morality that carries the day.
So, it does not matter if more schools got more A1s in the SPM
and STPM examinations, and how hard work and toil made that
possible, when beneath it all is a cynicism that the results are
possible only with more than a little help. Can we now expect
the government to tell us how it intends to right this mess?
Somehow I doubt if it could.