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The Sanction Of Cheating In A Public Professional Exam

Around four days ago, the legal fraternity in Singapore got a nasty shock when the news broke that there were six law students were caught for cheating in their bar exams. This new has been a shock for Singapore.

We are proudly “non-corrupt” (we are officially the fourth least corrupt nation on the planet – the only Asian nation in the top five, ranking with New Zealand and the Nordics) and we revel in the reputation of being the best exam takers in the world. Why would any of our kids’ “cheat” when they had everything at their disposal to ensure they passed fair and square?

This incident has put the powers that be in a peculiar position. The government, which normally has a lot to say about incidents of “cheating” has been silent and left most of the talking to the judiciary. The Attorney-General’s chamber has recommended that five of the candidates have their admission to the bar delayed whilst one of them be delayed for a year. The Law Society has said that it would object their admission. The judge at the centre of the case, Mr. Choo Han Teck has stated that “something has gone wrong,” but at the same time has kept the names of the young offenders out of the public eye so as not to “prejudice” their futures. More of the story can be found at: [LINK] and [LINK]

This incident and the way that it’s been handled does raise several questions about one of the key points about Singapore’s entire system – namely the question of integrity and rule of law.

As mentioned earlier, Singapore is famously “anti-corruption,” and in fairness, the example was set by the top. Lee Kuan Yew, our first Prime Minister, held his ministers to such a high standard of integrity that suicide was actually the better option than being exposed to a hint of scandal and in way, you could say this has been institutionalised. My former Battery Commander, once told me that when he took the post of “Chief Supply Officer” of the Army, the anti-corruption people told him that they would be keeping an eye on him because he was in a “corruption prone” office.”

Our methods of keeping people on the straight and narrow also involves carrots as well as sticks. The best example is seen by our Ministerial Salaries, which are the world’s best. Whilst everyone knows about our ministerial salaries, the salaries of officials down the food chain are not to be sniffed at too.

So, how did six young people from “good” families get involved in a “cheating” scandal particularly for a profession that places ethnical practice as one of its main requirements? How is it such that the proposed sanctions sound more like a “slap on the wrist” or a “go stand in a corner” rather than a punitive sanction?

Well, let’s start with the definition of what counts as corruption. The corruption that Singapore fights so hard against, is inevitably the money variety. Public officials for example, are paid well, so that they don’t need to shake people down for bribes. People who get government contracts are actually supposed to deliver something of a reasonable quality rather than pocket the money and leave the nation with unusable infrastructure.

Tackling money corruption has made Singapore a shinning beacon. As a prominent Emirati businesswoman once said to me – “Singapore washes the face of the Oriental.”

However, as Professor Mushtaq Khan from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS – which as a matter of full disclosure was my first-choice university) argues, there are different forms of corruption. In an interview with “Hard Copy” of Nigeria, Professor Khan points out that in some states, corruption doe not need to involve money and provided the example of how a state can take your property by merely passing laws to do so without demanding a bribe. The state has the power to make what is illegal – legal. More on Professor Khan’s interview can be seen at: [LINK]

Professor Khan also argued that the problem that many developing countries had was the fact that corruption drives tended to focus on grandstanding or the arrest of several prominent figures without addressing the rout cause of the problem – namely the fact that its not in the interest of the powerful and elite to follow the rules and that in the more advanced economies people followed the rules because it was in their interest not to.

Professor Khan, who is British-Bangladeshi, argued that in the UK for example, people followed the laws and stayed on the narrow because what they were afraid of was being shunned by their peers rather than the state. By contrast, in less developed economies, the elite used “informal” ways of enforcing contracts and nobody really told on anyone because everyone had “dirty laundry.”

In way this bar exam cheating scandal does put this under the spotlight. It’s not corruption in the sense that no money has changed hands and that the young people in question are not joining the civil service.

However, one has to ask several questions. Why, for example, did they feel that they could get away with cheating in an exam? Is there a culture of cheating in our judiciary? Then, there is the fact that whilst the Judge had stated that cheating in a professional public exam, dishonesty and lack of propriety were not the only vices on display, the sanction against the six was sought not as a punishment but as a form of reflection.

Sure, I get that we should allow young people a chance to redeem themselves. The crime in question is not like that of Brock Turner, who raped a woman in 2015 and was let off because the judge didn’t want to ruin his future. I also get the fact that the young people in question are not peddling drugs, which can be harmful to those they sell to.

However, why do we feel the need to protect them by keeping their names out of the public domain? We’ve argued that we need to hang drug couriers because regardless of the circumstances (whether they are medically slow or not) because they damage the fabric of society. We have no problem giving each drug courier a name and when activist like M. Ravi or Kristin Han try to humanise them, they get labelled as being less than patriotic or in Mr. Ravi’s case less than sane.

Well, these young people have damaged the integrity of the judiciary and for that, they need to be punished so that no one else gets the idea that they can cheat their way onto the bar. Nobody is calling for them to be jailed or hanged but at the very least, their acts need to known to the wider world. We need to create a system where people who cheat get shunned by their peers rather than waiting for the state and the judiciary to slap them on the wrist.

We need to be serious about maintaining our judicial integrity. We should understand that that the children of middle-class families, who are more often than not of lighter complexion, can do damage to the fabric of our society and we need to have the same zeal in holding them to account the same way we are so eager to hold the children of poorer people, who are more often than not from ethnicities of a dark complexion, to account for their actions.

 

Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.

 

 

yyy
READER COMMENTS BELOW

20 Responses to “The Sanction Of Cheating In A Public Professional Exam”

  • xoxo:

    Show us the detailed stats.
    Are there FT-lawyers involved like from Asean countries,etc.

    The Bar Exam shud not be too difficult for LOCAL GRADS.
    If so,something is very fishy here.

    Like i say,furnish us the stats .

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  • Absurdity:

    Letting the offenders off easily is a strong signal that they can get away with cheating while being in the profession in future.

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  • Naked Truth:

    Thought somewhere in a report said the system on sharing practice was normal? Too early to judge without looking at the system.

    The stupidity on them was copy & paste wholesale, that was how they were caught. On sharing, if one is smarter, present it differently will not get caught.

    If the system is at fault, cannot put all the blames on them.

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  • MarBowling:

    Like Lee Kayu or his protege and Bluest-Eyed Boy Marbok Tan has once said: It’s an HONEST MISTAKE, let’s MOVE ON!

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  • Harder Truths:

    In Sparta a long time ago, the rule was “Do what you want, but don’t get caught”.

    This is the motto of the $inkie kingdom of paper leaders. How many more have done this and escaped being caught? Or if caught, punished? Obviously they are being let off since all these positions are given to those who serve the Regime interests.

    Just like the Parthy case, there must have been one (local) invigilator who would not let this slide. He/She may never be able to invigilate again. As for those caught, they are not punished for cheating, but for being caught.

    To be at the top, you must be better at hiding your criminal activities than this. This shows they are still unable to meet those ‘high’ standards.

    What do you think?

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  • Billy ma:

    If it is some other courses or ever lesser examinations, the students would most probably be kick out altogether.

    But in this case, these cheaters will just have to retake, almost at the fastest opportunity, & with just a whisper of a pretentious scolding.

    Wonderful life if you’re a cheater in this case.

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  • Mother of all cheats:

    In side is not with in.

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  • Sebeiho:

    Not sure if some of the names can be very embarrassing to “some” people.
    If they are just any Tom, Dick or Harry, you can be sure that their names will be flashed out in BOLD in the Shit Times.
    Just a thought?

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  • more BIG serious things:

    //This incident has put the powers that be in a peculiar position. The government, which normally has a lot to say about incidents of “cheating” has been silent and left most of the talking to the judiciary. //

    aiyoh. maybe hor (just maybe maybe ??), with open-leg policy and ALL the accompanying chat-ba-lang behaviors PLUS implications from post-convit99 & the war faraway, they may know that they have more serious things to ‘worry’ about and handle than over some exam cheats (who are only just starting their careers ?) ????

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  • xoxo:

    Cheating in exam is a matter of ETHICS?
    Sure,it is!
    But even smarter n more hardworking ones who dont need to cheat in exams but pass with flying colours MAY NOT BE ETHICAL???

    Take the other HONOURABLE PROFESSIONS like DOCTORS N ACCOUNTANTS.
    HOW RAMPANT THE *ONGOING CHEATING*,THE MANY UNETHICAL PRACTICES like OVER-CHARGING,OVER ORDERING OF TESTS ,ETC.
    Or,even UNDER-EXAMINING N OVERCHARGING OF PATIENTS by some doctors that led to eventual dangerous or even fatal outcomes?

    So,ETHICS DOES NOT N MUST NOT STOP AT BAR EXAMS OR PROFESSIONAL ADMISSION EXAMS BUT BE UPHELD THROUGHOUT ONE’S VOCATION.
    Even journalists n politicians?

    ETHICS N INTEGRITY ARE FAST DISAPPEARING HERE IN $IN CITY.
    The worst are GREEDY BUSINESSMEN!

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  • xoxo:

    Even honoured BANKERS who pushed complex financial products to deceive customers.
    That LEHMAN MINIBOND was a glaring example of the most unETHICAL kind of professional
    Practices,is it not?

    So,bar exam cheating is *PEANUTS*,a mere *starter* before the *MAIN COUR$E* gets served?

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  • illiterate pap voters:

    Mother of all cheats:
    In side is not with in.

    Bravo, bro.

    Very well said.

    Agree.

    Another one, mistress of all cheats, is INDIAN is malay for the purpose of selecting a pap president.

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  • No blame culture again?:

    Could it be these 6 are from rich or influential backgrounds?
    Conspired to cheat together …knowing not much punishment/ publicity would come their way when caught?
    What nonsense is that ” not to prejudice their futures”.
    How many hardworking persons get such a 2nd chance after making a mistake even…but this is plain cheating.
    Is the PAP’s ” No Blame Culture ” only reserved for a select few ?
    Our laws are a joke these days.

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  • LKY gets up from grave:

    Straits Times article dated 25 Oct 1986 contains very serious allegations involving Lucien Wong, now the Attorney General .He was a senior partner of one of Singapore’s leading law firms and was alleged for wrongful removal of company files.The article also mentions Lee Kuan Yew’s criticism of the legal fraternity for being lax in disciplining its members and warning about the need to uphold the profession’s integrity.

    According to LHL there is no conflict of interest in the appointment of Lucien Wong his personal lawyer as Attorney General. However the appointment of Lucien Wong had been cite by Lee Hsien Yang as an example of abuse of power in relation to the the dispute over 38,Oxley Road.

    Now the integrity of the law fraternity is tarnished by six law students cheating in the exams. This six were UNLUCKY TO GET CAUGHT, how many before them escaped? The law have been VERY FAVORABLE to these cheats by not publishing their names. If is was someone else their names will be drag through the mud by now.

    The FUTURE PEOTECTORS OF THE LAW BREAK THE LAW and have SUCH POOR MORAL STANDING AND TARNISH THE NAME OF THE LEGAL FRATERNITY.

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  • LKY gets up from grave:

    The rot has started. It will soon spread to all levels of society. Lets see if the law society or the legal fraternity has the iron in them to nip the rot in the bud.
    A bad tree can only bring forth bad fruits, like a bad leader can only surround himself with ballless yes man.

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  • Smart Nation:

    In those days when students cheat on the exam, they were liable to be expelled from school. A more stringent discipline is to be expected of professional exams. Cheating on professional exams should not be tolerated at all. If they start cheating before they even enter the profession, imagine what they could do the rest of their professional career. One wonders if this happens not only on the Bar Exams, but also on the law school exams, but everyone is slient about it? Which university is it that graduated these students? Are they among the scholarship recipients?

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  • KNN - Ai Hum Lah:

    No wonder cotton come from sheeps. It’s all add up now.

    Smart Nation:
    In those days when students cheat on the exam, they were liable to be expelled from school. A more stringent discipline is to be expected of professional exams. Cheating on professional exams should not be tolerated at all. If they start cheating before they even enter the profession, imagine what they could do the rest of their professional career. One wonders if this happens not only on the Bar Exams, but also on the law school exams, but everyone is slient about it? Which university is it that graduated these students? Are they among the scholarship recipients?

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  • Smart Nation:

    Is there really a need to publish their names? What’s the purpose? To shame them? To satisfy public curiosity? 1-2 years suspension would have been severe enough if the purpose is for correction and to put them back on the right path. It would be different if they were public servants and elected officers who are held to a higher level of public accountability. With their names out in the open, it would be a stigma on their character and career prospects.

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  • P Against People:

    Why no?
    There was this law student who had sex with her professor, and her name/face was all over the newsin a court case. In the end, the courts could not prove anything illegal.
    Did she get compensated by the system? No!

    Smart Nation:
    Is there really a need to publish their names? What’s the purpose? To shame them? To satisfy public curiosity? 1-2 years suspension would have been severe enough if the purpose is for correction and to put them back on the right path. It would be different if they were public servants and elected officers who are held to a higher level of public accountability. With their names out in the open, it would be a stigma on their character and career prospects.

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  • Smart Nation:

    P Against People:
    Why no?
    There was this law student who had sex with her professor, and her name/face was all over the newsin a court case. In the end, the courts could not prove anything illegal.
    Did she get compensated by the system? No!

    That was a high profile case involving a law professor who defended himself in court. Not sure of all the details, but quite similar to the Clinton-Lewinsky case – something the tabloid likes to publish; the juicier the better. “Student and professor in intimate relationship” makes good tabloid sales. But still, the student’s identity could have been protected. What compensation? She was fortunate to have graduated. Anyway, few rememeber their names, except maybe among close acquaintances. If these law trainees were some VVIP’s kids, the situation might have been handled differently, some would think.

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