By Terry Xu
The Singapore Armed Forces is paying $48,990.50 for personnel from the Indonesian Air Force to take up a four-week English language course with accommodation and meals paid for.
Online reaction had been largely negative towards the revelation that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) paid $25,900 for an English Language course for one People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officer from China. This was highlighted by the question posed in parliament to the Ministry of Defence by Non-Constituency Member of Parliament, Mrs Lina Chiam last week.
Minister of Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen had noted in his reply to Mrs Chiam that the language of instruction can pose a problem for officers who attend courses run by other militaries, and language proficiency is important if the officers are to benefit from the course.
“For some foreign officers who attend SAF’s military courses, we have to help them gain language proficiency so that they can benefit from their time here,” said Dr Ng, adding that Singapore’s military officers spend time gaining language proficiency when they go to other countries for the same purpose.
While Dr Ng's reply of the winning bid going to the lowest bidder who met the requirements is questionable, he was correct in saying that the SAF helps foreign officers to gain language proficiency so that they can benefit from their time here in Singapore.
In July 2014, SAF called for an invitation to quote in GeBiz, Singapore's government procurement portal to cater for an English communication course in December 2014 for six personnel from the Indonesian Air Force to improve on their level of communication skills and spoken English.
The document provided by the ministry states,
"The objective of the English Communications Skills Course is to impart written communication skills which are pertinent to officers in the staff positions.
The English Communications Skills are geared towards equipping:
a. Personnel from the TNI AU (Indonesian Air Force) to improve on their level of communication skills and spoken English in typical face-to-face meetings. This will enable them to project their thoughts and organise their speech in a concise and easily understood manner.
b. The Foreign Officers in improving writing of simple constructive and grammatically correct English and are able to comprehend minutes of meetings at official level. As the officers mature and hold position of higher appointment, it is hoped that their interaction with RSAF Officers at Official meeting will enable these officers to project an air of confidence in written and spoken English and that both sides will be able to understand the position put forth during such meetings."
The invitation to quote was responded to by two companies, Green Olive Tree Pte Ltd and Seameo Regional Language Centre.
Full packaged language course
According to the price format given, the service provider is also required to provide accommodation for the trainees for the language course, in addition to course material, facilities, medical insurance, daily meals and student pass application.
The two companies, Green Olive Tree Pte Ltd and Seameo Regional Language Centre quoted $36,048.00 and $48,990.50 respectively and the bid was won by Seameo Regional Language Centre at $48,990.50 on 8 Aug this year.
The reason why Seaomeo Language Centre won despite having a higher price is likely because Green Olive Tree Pte Ltd indicated that their quotation did not include the accommodation in their pricing.
The said course will commence from 1 December to 26 December this year.
Earlier this year in February, in response to the Indonesian Navy's naming of two ships after the two Indonesian terrorist who bombed MacDonald House in 1965, Dr Ng said this in Parliament,
"As Deputy Prime Minister Teo, Minister for Foreign Affairs and I have said to our counterparts, the naming of the ship will have consequences on bilateral relations. Already suspicions and resentments have heightened on both sides, setting back many decades of relationship building in defence ties.
We want good bilateral defence ties and close military-to-military relationships with Indonesia. But strong defence ties can only be built on mutual trust and respect, expressed through appropriate acts that underscore friendship and amity."
Apparently, Singapore is indeed taking an active role in building closer ties with our neighbouring country by offering English courses to its soldiers along with paid for accommodation.
Editor's note - Is there any other language courses provided by MINDEF apart from the mentioned two instances? It is hard to say, because GeBiz only show records up to 6 months from date of enquiry. This is a question that can only be answered through the parliament.