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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

The CLP fiasco was one waiting to happen

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 proof.

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 unusual.

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 nothing.

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.

M.G.G. Pillai