The British Trade and Cultural Office (BTCO, 英國貿易文化辦事處) came under fire yesterday when city councilors and business leaders lashed out at it for offering language training courses and recruiting students for language schools without a license.
New Party City Councilor Lee Hsin (李新) proposed at yesterday's press conference to classify the United Kingdom as an "unfriendly" country and to mount a long-term propaganda war against the country if no response was forthcoming to Taiwanese demands that the BTCO obtain a license for the language training classes it conducts.
The BTCO has reportedly been "unfriendly" and even "hostile" in response to inquiries by various agencies concerning its language tuition programs, government documents show.
In a letter dated April 5, 2000, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked the Education Training Center (教育訓練中心) which is under the BTCO, to apply for an operating license for offering language training courses. The letter also informed its Education and Cultural Section (文化組) that it was in violation of national and international laws by using its diplomatic immunity and official status to recruit students for language schools during winter and summer vacations.
But David Coates, director general of the BTCO told the Taipei Times that his office is working with the Ministry of Education to solve the problem.
"We would like to find a way through this with them," Coates said.
"We don't think that the British Council's education and cultural operation of language teaching should be bracketed in the same format as bushibans and we will meet with Ministry of Education people later this week."
According to current laws, businesses offering supplementary education but failing to apply for an operating license face a fine of between NT$50,000 and NT$250,000.
Those who recruit students for overseas language schools without official registration could face a fine of NT$3,000, while second and third offenders face fines of NT$15,000 and NT$30,000 respectively.
Vivien Liu (劉家卉), secretary-general of the Taiwan Overseas Study Association (中華留學服務交流協會), said the trade office has maintained a tough stance when dealing with the association.
"I once asked them whether they should establish a company to undertake their business and to pay taxes; they told me it's impossible for them to do so," she said.
"If they are not allowed to continue their operations, they says they would pull out of the country," Liu said.
New Party city councilor Jeffery Sheu (許淵國) called for related municipal divisions, including education, business management, and tax bureaus to complete the investigations on the alleged illegal operations of the BTCO within two weeks.
"The BTCO has obviously abused the principles of diplomatic immunity, business reciprocity, legality of operation and national dignity," Sheu said.
Thomas Tsoung (叢樹朗), president of the Supplementary Education Development Association (補習教育協會), said the association is after only one thing.
"We just want equality, to be on an equal footing," he said. "It's already hard enough for cram schools to survive, not to mention the anticipated harsher competition after Taiwan's entry into the WTO."
Albert Lee (李紹禮), president of the overseas study association said the trade office's failure to file taxes with the government violated basic economic principles.
"I haven't seen anything substantial done in terms of cooperating with us or the government," Lee said.
Lee claimed to have started working with the British trade office 12 years ago when it first started its three-times-a-year educational fair.
According to the trade office's program literature, a 10-week university preparation scheme program costs about NT$63,000, and winter language school program costs about NT$90,000 per person.
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