ANOTHER respected figure has been exposed as being something other (and less) than he claimed to be. This time it is Hong Kong Polytechnic University's Head of Mathematics, Antonio Poon Chung-kong, who turns out to have exaggerated his qualifications. The university rightly sacked him on the spot. But he is not the first. Unfortunately, he will not be the last. In the academic world and outside, economy with the truth in professional resumes has been all too common here. It is not so long since a respected lawyer and Legislative Councillor was shorn of office and struck off for practising the same deception. What is that attracts charlatans and imposters to Hong Kong? One obvious draw is money. There are many opportunities in this town for a chancer to earn a healthy salary - and get housing and benefits into the bargain. Another is status, which goes with position - and with the money. A certain laxity in regard to qualifications has even been tacitly accepted by officials. Until now doctors have not even been required to have full specialist qualifications to practise as specialists. So long as they did not advertise their skills to the public but relied on recommendations from others, Government and doctors alike were content to conspire in this confidence trick. The tradition was barely questioned, until the medical profession realised it had to upgrade local training before the end of British rule. It was simply understood that this was the way things were done in Hong Kong. If doctors were doing specialist work they made a fortune and were well-respected. And if doctors could do it legally, fakers from other walks of life might well have seen no reason why they, too, should not benefit from Hong Kong's generous treatment of its professionals. But there was also another attraction: the near certainty of getting away with it. The trend among Hong Kong's academic institutions to require job applicants to furnish documentary proof of the claimed qualifications is relatively recent. Mr Poon's original appointment as a lecturer did not require a doctorate, so his claim to have earned a PhD was never checked - even after his appointment to a post that did demand it. The Polytechnic University has belatedly decided to introduce a mechanism for testing the bona fidesof its existing staff. All universities and professional bodies should follow suit, with random checks on staff qualifications. If cheats know they risk public exposure, they may begin to leave the field before they are caught out. The sooner that happens, the better. Hong Kong's reputation as a centre of integrity and excellence is at stake. It should not be put at risk by tolerating an informal system which allows bad apples to cheat the official system.