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In recent years, Britain has been afflicted with one scandal after another, and these have been widely publicised by media everywhere.

  These scandals have far-reaching consequences for its once much-admired public institutions. They reflected the falling standards in education, postal, transport, health care and social welfare services, to name a few key areas.

  Education is a clear example. Reduced government subsidies have led to the deliberate lowering of admission standards and easier attainment of degrees in some universities aimed at attracting more students.

  To bolster the funding of an ancient university, a don there offered college places to offsprings of substantial donors who would not otherwise be eligible for admission.

  Most recently, the A-Level examination marking debacle affecting hundreds of thousands of students shocked the nation.

  British hospitals face an acute shortage of doctors and nurses. Numerous patients with life-threatening ailments, perforce, have to wait a long time before being treated. Some subsidised patients have been sent abroad for operations in order to alleviate this problem.

  Staff negligence at its hospitals costs thousands of lives annually.

  Brain drain of its elites is becoming serious, as many have emigrated elsewhere for a better future. More will follow suit, unless effective solutions are found soon.

  Yet, before World War II, the British Empire was one of the mightiest in history, with colonies worldwide. The sun never sets on our Empire, they boasted. But, by the 1960s, it had virtually disappeared except for a few overseas possessions.

  Singapore was once a British colony. As colonial subjects, we were taught to believe that everything British, be it education, public institutions, system of government or manufactured products, were second to none. It wasn‘t an empty rhetoric. Some of us will recall that, just forty years ago, not many Singaporeans would buy Japanese cars or goods in preference to their British equivalents, but nowadays the reverse is true.

  What has gone wrong with Britain, after the glory days of empire? In a nutshell, complacency set in and, over time, they lost their earlier pioneering fervour and competitive advantages over others.

  On the other hand, their major rivals caught up with them industrially and technologically and eventually left them behind.

  The demise of the British Empire followed the same fate of the other powerful empires throughout the ages. Prominent examples include the Greek, Roman, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish and Ottoman empires.

  In our own time, the sudden liquidation of the Soviet Union in 1991 has ramifications for the rest of the world.

  In this new millennium, the United States is now the sole superpower on earth. Its preeminence looks secured for some years to come, provided it continues to maintain its economic, industrial and technological supremacy over its European, Japanese and Chinese competitors.

  Be that as it may, history is an unerring arbiter of national destinies, with their inevitable ebbs and flows just like tidal waves. Sooner or later, a stronger superpower will emerge to replace the Americans as the new world leader. This cycle will always repeat itself.

  Singapore is too tiny a country to achieve a great power status. However, we are most fortunate that our national leaders are keenly conscious of the lessons of history, and are continually helping its citizenry to enhance their knowledge and skills and to strengthen their competitive edge as theway forward in an ever changing world.

  Hopefully, Singaporeans will have a place under the sun for a long time to come.

  (The writer is a retired lawyer)


















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