Parliament: Mindef pays for language lessons of some foreign military officers attending staff courses here

SINGAPORE - The Defence Ministry pays for language lessons of some foreign military officers who attend staff college courses in Singapore, if they need a better command of the English language.

This is to ensure they benefit fully from the military courses here and is "part and parcel of our relationship building", said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on Wednesday.

He made the point when explaining why $25,900 was spent recently on English language lessons for a People's Liberation Army officer from China.

The money was for a personalised, 360-hour, one-on-one course conducted by a qualified English language instructor.

Dr Ng also said Singapore's officers likewise benefit from such native language courses - some of which are paid for by the host country - when they attend staff college courses at other militaries.

He was replying to Singapore People's Party Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam, who had asked for details about his ministry's recent tender for the English language course for the Chinese officer.

The matter appeared on social media last month, with netizens questioning the amount of money being spent on a foreign officer.

In Parliament on Wednesday, Dr Ng said the armed forces regularly hold exchange programmes, where officers attend courses of other militaries, to bolster ties.

But he noted that a problem officers from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) face when attending courses abroad is the language of instruction, citing Bahasa Indonesia, Thai and Japanese as examples.

"Language proficiency is important for them to be able to benefit from the course," he said. SAF officers can spend months learning the native language when they go to other countries.

"Vice versa, for some foreign officers who attend SAF's military courses, we've to help them gain language proficiency so that they can benefit from their time here."

While there is a level of reciprocity that other countries provide for SAF officers, not all countries are able to do so, depending on their resources, Dr Ng said.

About five companies replied to the ministry's tender on government procurement website GeBIZ, said Dr Ng.

It was awarded to the lowest bid that met the requirements, in accordance with government procedures, he added.

waltsim@sph.com.sg