On Assignment
Vienna Calling: Sharing Our Anti-Drug Approach on the World Stage
Three Home Team officers explain how they are sharing Singapore’s anti-drug story with other countries, in order to secure Singapore’s policy space in the global arena.

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All together now: The Home Team delegation to the 62nd Session of the CND was led by Second Minister for Home Affairs Mrs Josephine Teo. PHOTOS: MHA, UNODC

Global threats require global solutions and a common resolve – this was the theme of the 62nd Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). Held in Vienna, Austria, in March 2019, the event saw world leaders coming together to pledge their commitment to fighting drug abuse and the risks that it poses to public safety and health. 

Representing Singapore at the Session was Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Home Affairs Mrs Josephine Teo, who led the Home Team delegation to Vienna. Together, they shared Singapore’s comprehensive approach to combating drugs. We spoke to three Home Team officers about their experiences at the Session.  

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At the 62nd Session, Second Minister for Home Affairs Mrs Josephine Teo delivered Singapore's National Statement, which outlines our comprehensive approach to keeping Singapore drug-free. PHOTOS: MHA

SHARING OUR APPROACH AND FINDING COMMON GROUND 

Sivaraman Letchumanan
Senior Manager, International Advocacy against Drugs and Crime, International Cooperation and Partnerships Division (ICPD), Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)

Tell us about the 62nd Session of the CND. 
The CND meets every year to discuss the global drug situation and develop strategies on drug control. This year was particularly important as CND endorsed a Ministerial Declaration that charts the direction of the international community in addressing the world drug problem for the next 10 years. This was the culmination of international efforts since the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) was held. 

So the 62nd Session was really about international cooperation. Countries agreed that we needed to work with one another to solve the world drug problem, with a focus on reducing demand and supply. The Declaration was endorsed by Second Minister for Home Affairs Mrs Josephine Teo, who also delivered our National Statement

Sounds like a major Home Team effort. 
This year, we had 11 Home Team officers from MHA, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) and Singapore Prison Service (SPS) to form the delegation. 

As the technical experts on drug-related matters, our CNB colleagues provided policy views from a domestic perspective. MHA’s ICPD provided policy views from an international perspective, so that both sides of the house, so to speak, are well-covered. Meanwhile, our SPS colleagues provided input on policies related to rehabilitation. 

CND typically organises side events to showcase different aspects of the global fight against drugs. The Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association was part of our side event in 2018, and again this year, to showcase how civil society groups work with public agencies to support the reintegration of ex-offenders. 

Share with us the challenges of telling Singapore’s zero-tolerance stance at these international platforms.
There are multiple issues involved when it comes to drug matters, and we try to find common ground with other countries, even if their drug control policies are different from ours. 

For example, one area that we’ve been able to talk about with other countries is Preventive Drug Education. All countries are aligned when it comes to this issue – our first line of defence against drug abuse is prevention, especially among youths. So there are opportunities for us to work together, in different areas.

Over the years, there has been a change in how countries respond to us, at different levels. Before 2016, for example, people might have known more about our strict anti-drug legislation. 

But we are more than that. Now, more and more countries understand that our anti-drug laws and enforcement measures are complemented by an equally strong commitment to Preventive Drug Education, evidence-based rehabilitation and community-supported reintegration efforts.

What’s been your best experience in sharing our anti-drug story? 
You gain the most from challenging assignments. I’ve had this portfolio for almost three years and my best experience has been explaining to other people why our approach has worked for Singapore, and why we won’t expose our population, especially our youths, to drugs. 

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Melvina (left) and her fellow CNB officers at the 62nd Session of the CND. PHOTO: CNB

SAFEGUARDING SINGAPORE'S INTERESTS 

Melvina Niroshini Andrew
Senior Executive, International Affairs, Policy Planning and Research Division, CNB

What was your role as a member of CNB’s contingent to Vienna? 
We supported Second Minister Josephine Teo’s participation in the Ministerial segment of the 62nd Session, as well as negotiated key resolutions to be passed at the Session. We also took the opportunity to strengthen relationships that we’d built up over the years with like-minded countries, key partners and law enforcement counterparts. 
 
Why is it important for us to share our anti-drug story at the 62nd Session and other similar platforms? 
Drug control is a shared global responsibility, and the documents endorsed by the CND and UNGASS oblige countries to comply with international drug control conventions and adopted UN documents, bearing in mind the safety, health and welfare of all communities. 

As this system evolves along with the changing operational landscape, we need to continue to safeguard our interests by sharing our views at CND and working closely with like-minded countries. Having a strong international voice enables us to maintain our effective anti-drug policies and keep the domestic drug situation under control. 

What was the highlight of your time at Vienna? 
We were very glad that after long hours of concurrent negotiations, spread over eight different resolutions, we managed to achieve a favourable outcome for all of them. The team also received compliments from other delegations for our constructive input and contributions during the negotiations.

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Second Minister for Home Affairs Mrs Josephine Teo also participated in the High-Level Thematic Roundtable on the subject of "Safeguarding the Future." PHOTOS: MHA/UNODC

A SCIENCE- AND EVIDENCE-BASED APPROACH TO REHABILITATION 

Timothy Leo
Director, Psychological and Correctional Rehabilitation Division, SPS

Tell us about your role at the 62nd Session of the CND.
As a Home Team psychologist with SPS and a trained mental health professional, I shared how Singapore uses science- and evidence-based approaches to provide rehabilitation and reintegration support to drug abusers.

Why do you feel it’s necessary for us to share our anti-drug and rehabilitation approach with other countries?
The threat and damage arising from drug abuse is worsening every year. We know that it will be detrimental for Singapore if we take a more permissive stance to drugs. Hence, it’s important for us to share our story internationally, and advocate for a position where it is possible to keep drug abuse levels low. 

Another reason to share our story is to keep international counterparts accurately informed about our approach, and to stand together with like-minded countries that believe in advocating for a drug-free society.

What were your interactions like with representatives from other countries?
Friendly and helpful. Having a respectful, open attitude is very important when we engage with representatives from other countries. I took the opportunity to explain Singapore’s approach to drug demand and supply, and why our approach works within our specific context. This allows for those who are unfamiliar with Singapore to gain an accurate and balanced picture of our approach. I found that other delegates were willing to listen to us, even if their policies differ from ours.  
 

62nd Session of the CND
Read Singapore’s National Statement delivered by Second Minister Josephine Teo. 

Read Second Minister Josephine Teo’s speech at the High-level Thematic Roundtable on the topic of “Safeguarding the Future.”

Cannabis and Cannabinoids: A Global Threat
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is an independent expert body that monitors the implementation of international drug control treaties. In March 2019, the INCB released its 2018 Report which warned against the dangers posed by pharmaceutical products containing cannabinoids and the danger of legalising cannabis for recreational use. Check out the Report here.

  1. by Janani Sivalingam and Mike Tan
  2. 12 April 2019
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