Parliamentary Speeches

Committee of Supply Debate 2022 on “Singapore’s Approach to Criminal Justice” - Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 03 March 2022


1.   I thank the Honourable Members for their comments.

Court Judgment on s377A

2.   I will first address Mr Derrick Goh’s question about the recent Court of Appeal judgment on the constitutional challenge to Section 377A (s377A) of the Penal Code.

3.   AGC is looking at the judgment carefully.

4.   The Government has explained its stand. Prime Minister Lee said in Parliament in 2007, when the Penal Code was amended but s377A was left unchanged, that we want to be “a stable society with traditional heterosexual family values, but with space for homosexuals to live their lives and to contribute to society”. He added: “among them are some of our friends, our relatives, our colleagues, our brothers and sisters, or some of our children”. “Our kith and kin”. This remains our stand today.

5.   These are deeply divisive issues; that is why we take a live and let live approach. We seek to be an inclusive society, where mutual respect and tolerance for different views and practices are paramount. Government has thus taken the approach that while s377A remains on the books, there will be no proactive enforcement. And, AGC takes a similar approach. We expressly included in the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) that any attack on LGBT+ groups, or on persons because they are LGBT+, will be an offence, and will not be tolerated. LGBT+ individuals are entitled to live peacefully, without being attacked or threatened. Likewise, any attack on any other group, based on their religion, or religious beliefs, even if those beliefs run counter to values held by LGBT+ groups will not be acceptable. 

6.   Our emphases on gradual evolution and on traditional families remain constant. However, since this issue was last discussed in Parliament in 2007, social attitudes towards homosexuality have gradually shifted. One of the things that upsets the LGBT+ community is that many feel that their experience of being hurt or rejected by their families, friends, schools and companies – is not recognised indeed, often denied. At the same time, a large majority want to preserve the overall tone of our society – in particular, the traditional view of marriage as being between a man and a woman, and that children should be raised within such a family structure. Their concern is not s377A per se, but the broader issues of marriage and family. Many amongst this group, also support decriminalising homosexual sex between men. Both these viewpoints are valid and important.

7.   Policies need to evolve to keep abreast of such changes in views. And legislation needs to evolve to support updated policies. The Government is considering the best way forward. We must respect the different viewpoints, consider them carefully, talk to the different groups. And, if and when we decide to move, we will do so in a way that continues to balance between these different viewpoints, and avoids causing a sudden, destabilising change in social norms and public expectations.

8.   If you look at successive Court judgments over the years, the Courts have consistently taken the position that these are highly contentious social issues, and within the province of Parliament. The heterosexual stable family remains the social norm. And the current legal position reflects our society’s norms, values and attitudes. That’s what the Courts have said.

9.   In this latest judgment, the Court noted that the compromise which Singapore has struck, in respect of s377A, is unique. Our approach strikes a balance between preserving the legislative status quo, whilst accommodating the concerns of those directly affected by the legislation. The Court recognised that the Government did this in order to avoid driving a deeper wedge within our society. It also noted that Singapore’s approach seeks to keep what to do with s377A within the democratic space. Socially charged issues, such as s377A, call for continued discussion and open-ended resolution within the political domain, where we can forge consensus, rather than in win-lose outcomes in Court. In this way, we can accommodate divergent interests, avoid polarisation, facilitate incremental change. Furthermore, the Court highlighted the importance of creating space for peaceful co-existence among the various groups, especially since the balance between the various interests around s377A has grown more delicate.

10.   These opinions align with the approach that the government has taken in dealing with s377A, and that it intends to take as it considers the changes in our social landscape since 2007.

11.   I will now move on to the rest of my COS speech.

12.   I will focus on two issues: (i) the death penalty (DP) and (ii) our approach on rehabilitation.

13.   My colleagues from MHA will talk about MHA’s plans, new capabilities, use of technology, tackling drug abuse, and the fight against scams.

14.   Madam Deputy Speaker, Madam Chairman, with your permission, may I distribute the Annexes to the Members of the House? Members can also access these materials through the SG Parl MP mobile app.

Criminal Justice in Singapore

15.   Criminal justice systems have various objectives. I have spoken before about this. I will mention four today. First, to deter crimes; second, to provide proportionate punishment for offenders; third, to protect public safety; and fourth, to rehabilitate ex-offenders.

16.   How a government balances these objectives depends on a country’s needs and values.

Capital Punishment in Singapore

17.   In that context, I want to talk about the death penalty. Annex A sets out the list of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed.

18.   Mr Murali Pillai asked if the death penalty remains relevant.

19.   I will answer by making the following points:

(a)   First, does the death penalty have deterrent effect?
(b)   Second, what is its effect on the behaviour of drug traffickers?
(c)   Third, Singaporeans’ attitude towards the death penalty.
(d)   Fourth, specifically what are the wider harms imposed on society by drug traffickers.
(e)   And fifth, our outcomes in Singapore, as a result of the approach we have taken.

Deterrent Effect of the Death Penalty

20.   First, the deterrent effect of the death penalty. In our view, it has had a clear, strong impact; deterrent impact, based on past behaviour, as well as current trends.

21.   With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I display slides on the screen, please?

22.   Let me deal with the past first. In 1961, death penalty for kidnapping was introduced. Three years before, the average was 29 cases per year. Three years after, the average became one case per year. It has remained very low since.

Cases of kidnapping fell and remained low

23.   Slide 2. Firearms robbery – it was on the rise in the 1970s. In 1973, there were 174 cases. Government introduced the death penalty in November 1973. The number of firearms offences immediately fell by 39% in 1974, to 106 cases, and continued to decline in the subsequent years, ever-lower. Firearms offences remain very rare today in Singapore.

Picture - graph

24.   So, that’s the historical perspective. The charts speak for themselves.

25.   Now, let me talk about current situation. I could go on a little bit about it, but let me just deal with a few short points. It appears to us, specifically in relation to drugs, by reference to drugs, that our position on drugs, including imposing the death penalty is well-known in some of our neighbouring regions. And that has contributed to a strong deterrent effect.

26.   MHA specifically commissioned a study on persons from parts of the region outside Singapore. These are places from where most of our arrested drug traffickers have come from, in recent years. We wanted to get a sense of what people in these places knew and thought.

27.   And this is what we found. 82% of respondents believed the death penalty makes people not want to commit serious crimes in Singapore. These are not Singaporeans. These are people in the region. 69% believed that the death penalty is more effective in discouraging people from committing serious crimes, compared to life imprisonment. 69%. There are many around the world, some in Singapore who say, “well, why don’t you replace it with life imprisonment?” 69% in the region believe that the death penalty is more effective in discouraging people from committing serious crimes compared to life imprisonment. 83% believed that the death penalty makes people not want to traffic substantial amounts of drugs into Singapore. 83%.

28.   I emphasise this. These are the places from which many of our traffickers come from. If you remove the death penalty, that number - 83% - will surely be reduced because there is money to be made. Just go back to the second question – 69% believed that the death penalty is more effective than life imprisonment. It’s a fair assumption to say that more people will traffic drugs into Singapore, more drugs will enter into Singapore, there will be more drug abusers in Singapore, and more Singaporean families and individuals will be harmed. If we remove the death penalty, in particular the mandatory death penalty, it’s a stark choice for Singaporeans. So, those who campaign against the death penalty ought to answer these questions. These are debates we can have in society, but they ought to answer these questions, and deal with them and face up to them squarely, and then debate on that basis.

29.   Public policy requires making choices. My view is that Singaporean lives and livelihoods – a large number of that will be at risk. That is why we have taken a tough line on this. 

Effect of the DP on Behaviour of Drug Traffickers

30.   Second, the introduction of the death penalty has also changed the behaviour of drug traffickers. In 1990, the Government introduced the mandatory death penalty for trafficking more than 1.2kg of opium. Comparing the four years before and after, there was a 66% reduction in the average net weight trafficked.

31.   In a 2018 study conducted by MHA, we found a very high level of awareness of the death penalty among convicted drug traffickers. This had influenced their drug trafficking behaviour, and it is consistent with the survey I spoke about earlier, in the region.

32.   One of the traffickers in this study said the following – he knew very clearly that if he were caught for trafficking a small amount, he would just go to jail for trafficking. But if he were caught with a larger amount, he would be at risk of the death penalty[1].  And so, he trafficked below the threshold amount.

Support of Singaporeans

33.   Mr Murali Pillai also asked if Singaporeans continue to support the use of the death penalty.

34.   That’s my third point. Majority of Singapore residents support the use of the death penalty, and agree that the death penalty deters serious crimes.

35.   In 2019, our MHA survey showed very strong support for the death penalty. We conducted a follow-up survey in 2021, with a segment specifically on the mandatory death penalty.

36.   The results are still being analysed, so my statements on that are preliminary. On the question on whether the mandatory death penalty is appropriate, 81% said it was appropriate for intentional murder, 71% said it was appropriate for firearm offences, 66% said that it was appropriate for drug trafficking. And more than 80% also believed that the death penalty had deterred the commission of these offences in Singapore.

37.   But it is not just a question of survey results, whether more people agree, or less people agree. If, as policy makers, having studied the issues and the facts, we believe it to be right thing to do, then it is our duty, both mine and Members if you are convinced, to try and persuade people on what is the right course of action. In the end, we also have to lead by persuading, explaining, and if we are wrong, then the counter-arguments prevail.

Wider Harm of Drugs

38.   I will now move to my fourth point, on the wider harm of drugs, and why we take a firm stance.

39.   Mr Vikram Nair and Mr Raj Joshua Thomas asked how Singapore compared with countries that did not have the death penalty for drug offences. Well, let me answer it in a broader way.

40.   Let’s take a look at other cities around the world, some of which have taken a softer stance on drugs, and some that are going, or have already gone down the path of legalisation. See the examples from the US and UK, in Annex B1 and Annex B2. 

41.   A CDC report estimates that more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths in the US took place in the one-year period ending April 2021.

42.   In Delaware, one of the places most affected by drug abuse in the US, more than 2,300 people have died of drug overdoses since 2016. That’s about the number of people who have also died of COVID-19 in Delaware since the beginning of the pandemic until end-2021.

43.   In Baltimore, spending on drugs is estimated at an incredible US$165 million, with over 19,000 heroin users. That’s just heroin. People are caught in brutal, vicious cycles. Criminal records and poor job prospects push them into the drug trade, and violence is part and parcel of their lives. Either they use violence, or it is used on them.

44.   And, the impact of drugs on innocent children and babies is rarely ever discussed. 

45.   With your permission, Mdm Deputy Speaker, may I display a video on the screen? I think it is useful for Members to watch this video.

[Video is played in Parliament]

46.   In many countries, including in Singapore, there’s a small group who will bring out sob stories on the drug traffickers and their parents, and how they should not face the penalties that the laws provide. Their parents would be put on display crying. What about these babies? What about the innocent children? Who speaks for them?

47.   Huge numbers of babies are born in withdrawal and addiction, and these drug traffickers profit from destroying these children and their families. Where should our sympathies be placed? Based on 2017 data, nearly 80 newborns are diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome every day. [What you saw] is a snapshot of what it looks like. We have largely not had this in Singapore. It’s news to us. So, those who ask us to abolish the death penalty should answer these questions.

48.   Madam, may I seek your permission to play a second video now? This is the situation in San Francisco. If it gets to that situation, it will be too late.

[Video is played in Parliament]

49.   There are some who will say we are not talking about decriminalisation in Singapore. They will say our laws are already adequate. We are talking only about removing the death penalty or mandatory death penalty, keep all the other tough laws.

50.   My response is this. First of all, I gave you the survey results. Removing the death penalty and what impact it will have psychologically. Second, we have never said that the death penalty or mandatory death penalty alone is sufficient. It is, however, a key part of our system and approach to deal with drug trafficking. You need many different things to keep Singapore relatively free of drugs – Good intelligence, strong enforcement, stiff punishments, rehabilitation for offenders, and deterrence.

51.   And, you heard earlier what people in the region say, what convicted drug traffickers say, about the death penalty being a very strong deterrent.

52.   I am telling Members we have to think carefully about this, before removing any part of this framework, or going soft.

53.   Those who advise for removal often compare us with countries that have already lost the drug war. And I am not sure if they understand the consequences, or choose not to understand them. Because the consequences are plain for everyone to see. It’s not rocket science.

54.   Madam Deputy Speaker, with your permission can I have another video played, on the situation in San Francisco – from a former abuser.

[Video is played in Parliament]

55.   In the 1990s, CNB arrested about 6,000 abusers per year. Now, it arrests about 3,000 to 3,500 abusers per year. It hasn’t become less effective, it’s just that we have managed to reduce the number of people who engage in drug abuse. It’s a large number of people, potential abusers whose lives have been saved. And, it’s not just them. If you consider their families, many more have been saved. And, crime has been kept low in Singapore because the drugs abuse situation has been kept low.

56.   Singapore does well in measures on safe cities, such as the Gallup survey and the Safe Cities Index. But if we change the laws, we cannot expect crime to remain low.

57.   The drug problem has also contributed to the homelessness situation in many major US cities. The tents that were in Skid Row in LA now covers many blocks. This is what it looks like. Mr Speaker Sir, Chairman, can I have your permission to play video 3 please?

[Video is played in Parliament]

58.   I am not seeking to draw a direct comparison. There are many other reasons for homelessness in these places. But, just note the homeless also have addiction and drug abuse problems, and some of that will spill over when people can’t live with others because of drug abuse problems. They will spill out onto the streets and crime will go up.  

59.   If you look at UK, we see similar problems.

60.   In Sheffield for example, the drug problem has led to an increase in violent and armed crime. Innocent children get killed. The number of people dying of drug-related deaths in Sheffield has tripled between 2010 and 2020.

Outcomes in Singapore

61.   Now, let me turn to the outcomes in Singapore. Mr Murali Pillai asked whether there was a worsening of the drug situation. My answer is the number of drug abusers in Singapore remains low, though there are some worrying trends. The number of new drug abusers is higher than we would like it to be.

62.   I had earlier shared how the number of abusers arrested in Singapore has, over the years gone down, and how that is linked to low crime.

63.   Drugs are not the sole cause of murders, violence, or crime. When we look at overseas examples, a variety of other factors shape safety in cities, including the availability of guns, how effective the criminal justice system and the police are, and many other factors. But in my view, drug abuse and the prevalence of drug gangs is an important contributing factor, and it links up to quite a lot of other factors.

64.   So, by being tough on drug offences, we minimise the harms of drugs on our society.

65.   If we removed the death penalty, I have no doubt, more drug syndicates and traffickers will bring larger amounts of drugs into Singapore, and Singaporeans and their families will suffer.

66.   We prefer not to have to impose the death penalty on anyone. But we have to continue to do what is best for us, as a matter of policy.

67.   Mr Murali also asked whether we would consider allowing issuance of Certificates of Substantive Assistance (CSA) to offenders when the case is before the Court of Appeal, instead of before their trial.

68.   The purpose of the CSA is to encourage offenders to come clean, and provide assistance before trial, provide assistance to CNB in breaking down criminal gangs, drug gangs. This purpose will be undermined if we allow offenders to fight a case, put up a defence based on other legal arguments first, and then offer the information later and ask for a CSA. So, we do not intend to make that move.

69.   That’s what I have to say on the death penalty, given the time available. I have not said everything I would like to have said.

Rehabilitation Approach

70.   Let me now move on to the second part of my speech which is rehabilitation.

71.   There is a tendency to think of the Singapore system as being tough. I don’t blame Members because I have just spent, I think the last 20 minutes or so, explaining why we need to be tough on drug offenders.

72.   But to describe it simply as tough, is not a complete and accurate descriptor. We have to be tough on drugs, but the complete picture, even on drugs, is not about just being tough. We are tough on those that we need to be tough on. That’s the drug traffickers. But for example, drug abusers, we try to not even treat them as criminals. We instead treat their drug dependency through a variety of means. Without a criminal record, if their situation is that they are only drug abusers and haven’t committed any other crimes. And, our criminal justice system has also evolved substantially, to help those who have gotten onto the wrong side. One key aspect of that is rehabilitation. Let me talk about the different aspects of it.

Community Sentencing Options

73.   As part of rehab, we have moved to alternate types of sentencing. Annex C lists some types of orders which our Courts can make for minor offences. The Courts can consider these in appropriate cases, instead of traditional sentences such as imprisonment or fine. They are the Mandatory Treatment Order (MTO), Day Reporting Order (DRO), Community Work Order (CWO), Community Service Order (CSO), and Short Detention Order (SDO).

Rehabilitation Programmes in Prisons

74.   A second aspect is rehab within prison. Mr Murali Pillai and Mr Raj Joshua Thomas asked about our efforts to improve the employability of inmates, and our work with the community in bringing down recidivism rates.

75.   Our two-year recidivism rate is the lowest it has been – 20% for the most recent release cohort. And, it is one of the lowest for comparable cities around the world.

76.   But, there is more to be done. The five-year recidivism rate for the 2016 release cohort is higher, at 41%. It has gone down a little bit over recent years, but we want to try and bring it down further.

77.   There are some factors that can lead to successful reintegration in the longer term. These include stable employment, positive pro-social networks, and personal motivation to seek help and contribute to society.

78.   When inmates are admitted to prison, they have their risks and needs identified, and undergo appropriate programmes to address them. There are four broad areas:

(a)   Psychology-based Correctional Programmes
(b)   Family Programmes
(c)   Skills Training and Employment Assistance
(d)   Community Corrections.

(a) Psychology-based Correctional Programmes

79.   Under Psychology-based Correctional Programmes, correctional rehab specialists and psychologists do intervention programmes for inmates. Inmates may have rehab needs, including or relating to substance abuse, antisocial attitudes, interpersonal violence, sexual violence, or other mental health needs. Our experts will look at these issues.

(b) Family Programmes

80.   The second aspect is working with the family. 

81.   Strong family support is essential in the rehab and reintegration journey.

82.   Prisons conducts programmes – Social Skills Training Programme and Family Reintegration Programme (FRP). The aim is to help the inmates link up, bond with their family, strengthen their bonds with their family and loved ones.

83.   Prisons also works with community partners, for example Centre for Fathering, The Salvation Army, and New Life Stories, to facilitate family bonding programmes for inmates and their children.

84.   Some families may also face difficulties during the inmates’ incarceration.

85.   Prisons proactively refers families of inmates who require assistance to Family Service Centres.

86.   In the broader community, grassroots volunteers are roped in to support families impacted by incarceration. Today, there are over 1,200 grassroots volunteers under the Yellow Ribbon Community Project, involving all 93 divisions across Singapore.

(c) Skills Training and Employment Assistance

87.   Third is the Skills Training and Employment Assistance.

88.   This is a key focus. Having a stable job upon release reduces risk of re-offending.

89.   Mr Mark Chay asked about the success of the Train and Place & Grow Initiative, or TAP & Grow initiative, which works on equipping inmates with skills to secure and sustain jobs. He also asked if there are plans to expand this initiative.

90.   The Prison School deals with inmates. They can go for academic programmes while in prison, ranging from the GCE programmes to diploma and degree programmes.

91.   Last year, Prisons and YRSG worked with the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) to introduce the NITEC in Services – Business Services Programme. The first batch of 29 graduated in February this year.

92.   Under the TAP & Grow initiative, training academies in prison have been set up in partnership with the Media, the Precision Engineering sector, and the Logistics sectors. Inmates will be offered jobs by partner employers upon release.

93.   28 inmates completed the training and graduated with diplomas in Media courses. Some of them have since been released, and are working in media-related jobs, others are waiting for job interviews. 

94.   There were 30 inmates from the first batch of training programmes for precision engineering and logistics.

95.   About 650 inmates will benefit from the TAP & Grow initiative in these three sectors every year.

96.   This year, YRSG does aim to make the initiative bigger, and go into the Food Services sector.

97.   YRSG has also developed a Digital Literacy Masterplan for inmates to gain basic digital skills in prison, so that they are better prepared for the job market upon release. An estimated 750 inmates will be trained in basic digital skills each year.

98.   YRSG has also partnered IMDA to roll out digital skills training for older residents at the Selarang Halfway House. This training helps with digital services, including Government services, and financial services.

(d) Community Corrections

99.   Fourth aspect I want to mention – community corrections.

100.   Research has shown that there are better rehabilitation outcomes when rehabilitation in prison is complemented by community-based programmes.

101.   And Prisons has been expanding community corrections.

102.   As at end 2021, there were about 3,400 supervisees undergoing rehabilitation in the community. Double the number from five years ago.

103.   Results from community corrections continue to be encouraging.

104.   In 2021, close to 90% of the inmates who were emplaced on community-based programmes completed them successfully. Inmates who have completed these programmes have a lower risk of reoffending.

105.   Prisons is also developing a Digitalised Learning and Support Package for inmates. The aim is to better prepare inmates for their emplacement in the community.

Reintegration Efforts

106.   The efforts I’ve described will not be effective if the community is not willing to give ex-offenders a second chance.

107.   Yellow Ribbon SG helps with our reintegration efforts. And, my colleague, Prof Faishal, will speak about this later.

Response to Other Cuts

108.   Mr Leon Perera, I think, reprised a part of the FICA debate. At that time, I had pointed out to him that in Singapore, we take investigations very seriously and I explained how the system works, and the Prime Minister can be the subject of independent investigations. He didn’t respond then, but he’s come back to it today.

109.   Now, what is our structure? If there is wrongdoing by anyone, whether a Minister or civil servant or private sector person, there will be investigations. Very few people doubt that. And over the years, we added on the checks. This Government has added on checks on itself, which are very rare elsewhere.

110.   We institutionalised it such that the CPIB can go straight to the Prime Minister. But where the Prime Minister himself is the possible subject of investigations, or if the Prime Minister doesn’t want to do something, the CPIB can go to the President. Not many countries have done this, as I’ve said, and I'll come back to this point.

111.   And therefore, if there is any wrongdoing or suspected wrongdoing known to anyone, including suspicion of foreign interference or influence, you can let CPIB know. CPIB has the resources to carry out the investigations and it has the ability to tap on other agencies for the appropriate additional help or work that needs to be done, and FICA put in place a framework where interactions will cross the line and you become the subject of foreign influence. So, there's a legal basis to that.

112.   Mr Perera’s suggestion, if I understood him correctly, is that why not we set up a separate ombudsman with the resources to carry out all these investigations, because he had a question about whether the CPIB was adequately resourced, trained, does it have the ability to handle these matters? My inference from that way of phrasing the question is therefore the agency, whichever agency is set up, must replicate, I suppose, many parts of law enforcement agencies, including our intel agencies, so that they can do this on a standalone basis. If that is the suggestion, if I understood him correctly, I would suggest it doesn't make much sense. Because – how do you replicate, and at what cost, an entire investigative mechanism outside the Government?

113.   And, let me make three points. If you only have the ombudsman, without this apparatus that I described, then he or she will go to the law enforcement agencies. Now, here, in such a situation, the law enforcement agencies can go to the President. That's a check – there’s an independent person who can give the directions, and who can authorise. Second, Mr Perera referred to New Zealand, and I have often found that we make these references, they sound sexy, but when you actually look at what's happening, I find that the debates get very academic without any grounding in reality, without perhaps either understanding or acknowledging what really happens in Singapore, what is our situation, how well we have managed to handle and keep corruption and official wrongdoing low, and how other countries are in this context.

114.   Let me just read something from The Guardian, which is I think, from January 2020, about New Zealand and foreign influence. New Zealand’s international reputation for political integrity has taken a battering recently. The country's Minister for Justice Andrew Little admitted last month: “Like many democracies around the world, ours is vulnerable to those abroad who would seek to interfere in our democratic processes and influence the outcome.” I'm not going to read the whole article. I will make it available to Members, I’ll give the reference in a while. A Financial Times article this month said that New Zealand was “on the edge of viability as a member” of its allied relationships because of its “supine” attitude towards China, and “compromised political system”. New Zealand's National Party MP Todd McClay was featured in a report by Freedom House as an example of how – they say which foreign government – forges relationships with foreign politicians who promote a certain view in local media. McClay is infamous for receiving NZ$150,000 from a China-based businessman Lang Lin. New Zealand allows donations from New Zealand registered companies even if they are foreign-owned. The country's new legislation on electoral funding did not include changes to this massive loophole. In 2016, New Zealand was described as “at the heart” of global money laundering. The ease for foreigners to set up a company in the country is one of the reasons why money launderers have been attracted to do business there. You would think New Zealand’s other political parties will be making hay with all these materials, but they have been mute. Now, I would ask Members to perhaps do their research before they cite various countries and their institutions as models.

115.   Second, here we have an elected Government which has to govern, and I'll come back to this point and explain it later.

116.   Third, let me ask – you set up an ombudsman with or without the full suite of resources, and without any oversight from Government. Who then deals with misconduct by the ombudsman or the officers within that office? Mr Perera said during the FICA debate, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”, if I recall correctly. For some reason, I think that phrase seems to have lost favour now. Who guards the guards? Now, take a hypothetical situation. Say you have an organisation, where the top leaders engage in wrongdoing, or for example, they set up a disciplinary committee to cover up what they did, rather than actually investigate. I think you can ask “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” And, Mr Perera, I suppose, if he was part of any such organisation, will be the first one to make such a point.

117.   But for the Government, with the systems in place, and the variety of people who can lodge complaints and investigate – AGO, Attorney General, CPIB, the Police. Civil servants are obliged, if they think that their Minister is doing wrong, to take it up to a higher authority. And if they believe that the higher authority is not acting properly, they can take it up all the way. And, civil servants are protected through the structure of the Public Service Commission, which in turn is protected through the fact that appointment cannot be interfered with willy-nilly by the Government. So, if you take the senior appointments, including the Chief of CPIB, Chief Justice, Attorney-General, all these, there are carefully constructed structures on these appointments. So, I would say, look at all that first, and look at the ground situation before we start talking about replicating more and more institutions outside.

118.   In contrast, look at countries with a longer runway of democracy. Australia, I stand corrected, but in the short time I had, since Mr Perera spoke, the example I found is the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), a state level agency that reports to the Premier, in this case, the case that was highlighted to me, the Prime Minister of New South Wales. If you look at the situation in the UK – I’m reading from something that is the Institute for Government’s Ministerial Code, what does the code say? All of the codes, meaning the codes for Wales, Scotland and UK, give the final authority for decisions about action to be taken to the Prime Minister or First Minister or in Northern Ireland, the relevant ‘nominating officer’ for a particular Minister’s party, so it’s a Prime Minister. Since 2006, UK Government ministerial code breaches have been investigated through an independent advisor of ministerial interest or by the Cabinet Secretary, but there's no requirement to follow any particular process. That's the UK situation. I think the Member will be well aware of the situation in the UK more recently, and for some period in the recent past.

119.   The second question on caning, whether there was a requirement for those who have been caned to thank the officers after the caning. There is no such requirement. And he suggested there should be – no surprises – an outside commission to decide on institutional caning.

120.   Over the years, I've listened to the speeches. Mr Perera in particular, there seems to be a typical solution that is suggested for many different aspects of government – set up an independent mechanism outside. Reading from his speech on 4 November 2020: “An ombudsman would function as an independent office to investigate complaints about administrative decisions or actions of a public agency including delay, rudeness, negligence, arbitrariness, inconsistency, oppressive behaviour, unlawfulness”. Every aspect of government, anyone who is unhappy – go to an ombudsman. You've got to then set up an entire huge structure at the taxpayers’ expense to investigate this. Rather than having a proper legal process, including a complaint system, an independent investigation set up say by the Police, with some outside people sitting on it, or judicial review. And, in FICA, there was a suggestion of ombudsman. Prisons and other agencies, essentially, we can subcontract many aspects of government if we go down this route. And, you won't solve the problems, because who guards the guards?

121.   I would suggest we start with what is working well, what is not working, how do we better do things? I think these are things on which there can be positive contributions. My Ministry will always be open to positive contributions, regardless of who it comes from, whether people in this chamber, whether from the Government or Opposition, or members of the public. If the suggestion is good and valid, we will study it, and if it is possible to implement it, we will implement it.


122.   Thank you.

[1] “Because for what I know, I take this size, 50g, just go for trafficking not go to hang. For what I know, if 250g or 500g or 1 to 2 kilo, that one hang one.”