Parliamentary Speeches

Committee of Supply Debate 2024 on “United and Secure – Safeguarding Singapore’s Future” by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 29 February 2024

1. Madam Deputy Chairman, 

2. MHA’s budget has grown over the years and that has allowed us to build up the Home Team’s capabilities, so that we can deal with the security challenges more effectively. I thank members who have spoken up, raised a number of questions. 

3. We have many challenges, and those challenges evolve.  I will touch on three issues:

(a) The Scam situation in Singapore;

(b) Drug abuse amongst youths, especially cannabis; and

(c) the Resourcing of the Home Team. 

4. And my fellow officer holders will deal with the other points raised by MPs.

Safety and Security Situation, Scams

5. In terms of overall safety and security: Singapore continues to rank well in international assessments. 

6. In the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2023, we were ranked one of the top three countries in the ‘Order and Security’ category for the 7th time in a row. 

7. Our physical crime and drug situation has remained relatively stable, and under control. 

8. However, similar to 2022, scams were the main driver of crime in 2023. There were more than 46,000 reported scam cases, which is a nearly 50% increase from 2022. And the total amount lost to scams was more than $650 million.

9. Several MPs have asked about the Ministry’s efforts to combat scams. We face two major challenges in this.

10. First: the speed and convenience of online transactions. Scammers can: 

(a) reach out to potential victims easily, 

(b) move stolen funds quickly, and

(c) hide behind the anonymity of the internet.  

11. And the second major challenge, is that most scammers operate from overseas, beyond our jurisdiction. 

12. So once the monies leave Singapore, it is very difficult, if at all possible, to recover them. 

13. The most effective way to tackle scams, is really to prevent them from taking place at all. 

14. In this regard, the Government works with stakeholders to strengthen our communications and banking channels, our digital systems, and our online platforms. 

15. For instance: 

(a) Telcos now block likely scam calls and SMSes from reaching victims in Singapore.

(b) Banks have introduced new banking features to secure monies in bank accounts, such as the “Kill Switch” and the “Money Lock”.

(c) Government agencies and banks have upgraded our e-services, to protect users from malware scams.

16. MHA is also progressively operationalising the Online Criminal Harms Act, or OCHA. OCHA will allow the Government to require designated online platforms to put in place stronger safeguards against scams and other criminal activities.

17. Prevention is one limb. We have also strengthened what we can do, post-incident.  

18. The Police Anti-Scam Command or ASCom works with more than 100 partners, including financial institutions and online platforms, to combat scams. 

19. Staff from financial institutions are co-located with the ASCom. That allows us to trace and freeze funds, and trace and freeze accounts quickly, before they are gone. 

20. Last year, we also amended the CDSA, which is the Corruption, Drug Trafficking, and other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act, and the CMA, which is the Computer Misuse Act, to make it easier to punish money mules and those who abuse Singpass. 

21. MHA will also be introducing new laws next month to punish the abuse of local SIM cards for scams.

22. The Government has done what it can do, it continues to explore other measures, to protect the public from scams. But there is a limit to what we can do. 

23. There isn’t a single magic bullet, an ironclad shield against scams, unless we roll back digitalisation – which means: no more internet shopping, no smart phones and social media, no internet banking - and that is obviously not possible. 

24. The key line of defence, the critical line of defence, has got to be every individual, who has to guard himself or herself, or friends, families from scams. And together with all the other efforts by the Government, banks, and other partners, it may be possible to put up a better barrier. 

25. The Government has also been conducting extensive public awareness campaigns.  MOS Sun Xueling will elaborate that in her speech. 


26. Next, on drugs. 

27. In the last decade, there has been an increase in the global push to decriminalise and legalise drugs consumption. A number of MPs spoke about it. 

28. I will be delivering a Ministerial Statement later this year, where I will speak in more detail on the drug situation around the world and our approach.

29. Today, I will focus on our response to the youth drug problem. MOS Faishal will be elaborating on our other measures to combat drugs. 

IMC on Drug Prevention for Youths

30. Dr Tan Wu Meng, Mr Christopher de Souza, Mr Syed Harun, Mr Keith Chua, Mr Derrick Goh, as well as Assoc Prof Razwana Begum have raised concerns about the rising number of young drug abusers. They asked about our plans to deal this problem. 

31. Our drug situation remains generally under control. But in 2023, there was an 18% increase in the number of new drug abusers arrested in Singapore, and more than half of them were under the age of 30. The youngest were 14-year-olds.

32. And just earlier this month, three Singaporean girls, aged 13 and 14, were arrested for taking drugs. 

33. An IMH survey published last year also found that many Singaporeans start abusing drugs before the age of 16. 

34. Also, as Mr Christopher de Souza highlighted, cannabis is of particular concern. 

35. Cannabis abuser arrests in Singapore was at a 10-year high last year in 2023. It was the third most commonly abused drug overall and the second most commonly abused drug amongst new drug abusers

36. Of the new cannabis abusers arrested last year, more than 60% were young people under 30

37. There is a slightly more permissive attitude amongst our younger people towards drugs. They are sometimes influenced by what they read and see online, the lifestyles promoted by permissive cultures and societies, and the falsehoods that are peddled. 

38. Globally, cannabis is the most commonly abused drug. Arguments for cannabis legalisation are often driven by parties with commercial interests. They say that cannabis is a harmless ‘soft’ drug. They even suggest that it can benefit those who consume it.

39. These are all untruths, blatant untruths. Much like what tobacco companies used to claim, that smoking tobaccos, smoking cigarettes, was harmless. You have it on TV and videos. But the scientific evidence is that, cannabis abuse causes harm to the abuser’s health. 

40. Studies show quite clearly that cannabis can cause irreversible brain damage, brain shrinkage, and serious mental and psychiatric illnesses.

41. Research from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has shown that in places where cannabis has been legalised, the proportion of people with (a) psychiatric disorders, and (b) suicides associated with regular cannabis use, has increased – together with the number of hospitalisations. 

42. Cannabis not only harms the individual, but also those around them. We have seen this for ourselves. 

43. In January this year, a man slashed a victim after consuming cannabis. The media reported that the man was suffering from cannabis-induced psychotic disorder at the time of the offence. 

44. After a drug-fuelled session, the man became paranoid. He thought that the victim wanted to harm him, so he grabbed a chopper from his kitchen, and slashed the victim on the wrist, hand, and knee. 

45. We will see many more such cases if we go softer on cannabis.  

46. These are all instructive examples. There are also good examples outside of Singapore and we do not have to look very far.

47. Thailand decriminalised cannabis in June 2022. Since then, thousands of cannabis dispensaries, cafes and street vendors offering cannabis or cannabis-infused food have come up. 

48. Within six months of changing the law, the number of people considered by the health authorities to be addicted to cannabis increased four-fold, from 72 cases per month to 282 cases per month

49. And the Thai media reported a few weeks ago, that estimates on the number of cannabis users in Thailand has gone up 10 times, to about 10 million, or around one in seven Thais.

50. Now, one and a half years later, having seen the consequences of decriminalisation, the Thai government is now deliberating a Bill to ban the recreational use of cannabis. 

51. But it will not be easy because the genie is out of the bottle. There may be strong pushback from businesses who have invested large sums of monies in the industry. 

52. Those already addicted to cannabis will struggle to cope if supply is suddenly restricted. The healthcare system will feel this burden for many years to come.

53. So we really have to be very careful about this. To deal with this youth drug problem, last year, we formed an Inter-Ministry Committee (IMC) which I chair. 

54. And let me share three of the IMC’s planned initiatives. 

55. From this year, every third Friday of May will be designated as ‘Drug Victims Remembrance Day’, so that we remember the victims of drug abuse. 

56. Activism usually focuses on drug traffickers and the penalties they face. But there are thousands of others whom we should think about. 

57. These others are the victims of the drug traffickers and the lucrative drug trade – the abusers who suffer, their families, their loved ones. They are forgotten in activism. 

58. But we must remember them; we must remember the suffering that they have gone through, and the harm that drugs have done to them and their families. 

59. The Government, schools, and institutes of higher learning will all be organising various activities on this Remembrance Day. More details will be given in due course.

60. Second, to encourage students to think critically about drugs: schools will cover this in their school curricula, by extending it to other subjects, such as General Paper.

61. This builds on an initiative announced at COS last year, when we said CNB would expand preventive drug education, or PDE, efforts in schools. All secondary schools have completed at least one PDE engagement session in the last two years. At the primary school level, 42,000 students from 116 schools participated in the Anti-Drug Ambassador Activity in 2023.

62. Third, we will also enhance PDE for full-time national servicemen and better equip NS commanders to identify and support drug abusers and those at risk. This will better sustain the drug-free message beyond schools.

63. Dr Tan Wu Meng expressed concern that social media is making it easier for foreigners to promote drug culture to our young people. Mr Derrick Goh also asked about measures to curb online misinformation about drugs. Mr Christopher de Souza suggested leveraging on social media to reach out to young people.

64. We agree. CNB puts out information, evidence, stories of the harm of drugs, on multiple social media platforms, in formats that are easy to digest. 

65. But CNB cannot do this alone. We need the help of the community. 

66. This is one reason why we have appointed DrugFreeSG champions – social workers, educators, youth mentors. 

67. Last week for example, I spoke with more than 1,000 of these anti-drug ambassadors and other partners, and their response was very positive. They are happy that we are doing this, standing firm on drugs. 

68. They are eager to share the message and make it clear, especially to our young people, that drugs destroy societies, destroy families, can destroy their lives. And that is why we must not allow it to take root here.

Manpower and Resourcing

69. Mr Chairman, I will now touch on resourcing.

70. The demands on the Home Team, across all the Departments, are growing sharply. 

71. The SPF has been dealing with more sophisticated crimes, including financial crimes and money laundering. 

72. The SCDF has been receiving more Emergency Medical Services calls, with annual demand increasing by more than 30% in the last five years. Calls are expected to continue to rise as our population ages.

73. The ICA has been dealing not only with an increase in traveller volumes, but is also preparing for new gateways into Singapore, like the Rapid Transit System Link with Malaysia, and Changi Airport Terminal 5. 

74. Mr Murali Pillai and Ms Sylvia Lim asked about the manpower situation in MHA agencies. I have said it before: it is very tight. 

75. This shortage of manpower is faced not just by MHA, including all the Home Team Departments, but by many other parts of the civil service as well. And I have also said that before. 

76. Births are declining in Singapore, and there are limits on growth of resources. Government agencies are put on a very tight quota on new employment. 

77. We can understand it, rightfully so. Because you cannot have a situation where the public sector continues to grow and employ Singaporeans, and the private sector suffers, through severe shortages. 

78. The public and private sectors need to share resources, across many fields. And MHA is no exception. 

79. Fact is, both public and private sectors in Singapore face shortages of manpower, particularly if they wish to employ Singapore citizens. 

80. And in MHA, we are obviously in a position of having to employ Singapore citizens for most of our work. 

81. One way we try to deal with this, partially helpful, is to use technology wherever we can.

82. My colleague, Minister Josephine Teo will talk about these efforts in the Home Team. 

83. Second, we have also been relying on retired officers, community partners and volunteers. Mr Pillai asked about this. We encourage our retirees who are suitable to consider re-employment. Over the past five years, 36% of our retirees were re-employed in uniformed roles. That’s a significant number.

84. Our volunteers with the various Home Team Departments, for example: the Police, Prisons and Civil Defence are also critical. 

85. They are on the ground, 

(a) raising awareness of crime prevention 

(b) patrolling their neighbourhoods,

(c) supporting ex-offenders’ re-integration into society, and performing many other roles. 

86. In response to Mr Murali’s question: Recruitment numbers for the Voluntary Special Constabulary (VSC) force has steadily increased in the last three years, by 30%.  

87. Over the past five years, there has been an almost 40% increase in the number of Citizens on Patrol (COP) volunteers, and a 60% increase in the size of Civil Defence Auxiliary Unit (CDAU), just to give two examples of schemes. 

88. Some volunteers may naturally leave after a while to pursue other priorities, but the overall numbers have been going up.

89. We will continue with our efforts to attract more to join as volunteers, and to retain and engage existing volunteers. Many ways in which this is done, for example, volunteer appreciation dinners, and awards at the departmental, MHA and national levels. 

90. And third, of course, in terms of maintaining our workforce, we need to focus on the welfare of our officers. Ensure that they are properly remunerated, properly trained, and properly taken care of. I should add, despite all the challenges as Mr. Murali very graphically explained, talked about an ex-police officer who is now telling his daughter to leave (the job) because of the hours she is working -  I should add that in terms of resignations, the figures for MHA as a whole are below 5%. That is better than the resignations in the public service as a whole. I think that's an illustration of the efforts that MHA has taken to help our officers and keep up the morale, the esprit de corps and a sense of belonging our officers feel to the organisation, how it blends. So, despite all the challenges, the resignation rates are actually better than the public service. But, I have spoken about this again before. You know, don't get me wrong. It is very challenging, including on morale.

91. Assoc Prof Razwana Begum asked about the health and well-being programmes in place.  MHA provides mental health and resilience training programmes for our officers. We have initiatives to educate our officers on the importance of self-care, and how to deal with work stressors. We also provide confidential counselling and psychiatric services, so that our officers can receive help when they need it.  

92. But after taking into account all the steps we take, and can take, to mitigate manpower needs, there is still a significant gap between the manpower that we need, and the manpower that we actually have. 

93. We have been discussing, with the responsible Government agencies, to try and increase the ministry’s manpower allocation. This will, of course, be subject to the balancing of needs across the whole of Government. 

94. If we are short of manpower, then we have to be upfront about the trade-offs, what we can do, and what we may have to deprioritise. These are the long-term consequences of our declining birth rates. 

95. One area of specific concern is the workload in SPF’s investigation fraternity. Mr Murali Pillai and Mr Raj Joshua Thomas also expressed concern about this. 

96. Let me give Members a context, using scams as an illustration. That is just one illustration. Scams now account for the majority of crimes and this trend is likely to continue. 

97. The number of reported scams has gone up six-fold since 2018. Many of these cases are complex – and they require our investigators to pursue more evidential areas than before. 

98. Demands and expectations from the public have also gone up: be it on the direction of the investigations or speed of the investigations. 

99. On the other hand, the number of investigation officers (IOs) has increased by about 11%. So, you can see there is a significant gap. 

100. Police is already a very lean outfit. With the increase in cases, our IOs are increasingly even more overstretched and overworked. And it will not be sustainable for them to continue cancelling their leave days, covering extra duty shifts, and so on. 

101. If we don’t deal with this, it will affect the safety and security situation in Singapore. 

102. So, as I said earlier: we have been working closely with the relevant Government agencies, to see if MHA can get additional resourcing support for the SPF’s investigation fraternity. That is under consideration. 

103. At the same time, many other Government agencies are also needing additional manpower. 

104. Second, as I also mentioned: we are trying to automate and streamline investigation work processes where possible. For example, SPF launched CRIMES3, a next-Gen investigation case management system. It automates manual tasks, gives our officers sense-making capabilities, and allows them to work digitally, on the go. And in this context of automation and what we prioritise and where we put our manpower, Miss Sylvia Lim asked if the ministry, referring to the ministry’s changing of NPPs from being manually - with having officers there on the counter; to being automated, where you can walk in and for those who need help, there will be both audio and video help available, with some officer taking you through the steps -  she asked if a survey has been conducted on the perception of elderly population on the removal of manned neighborhood police posts. Members will understand why we removed the manned neighborhood police posts and converted them to automated NPPs.

105. We have not done a specific survey on elderly but we have been running publicity campaigns to educate the public on the use of digital services. There have also been ongoing efforts to review the digital services for lodging of Police reports to make them more user friendly. We also still have physically manned counters available across Singapore for those who prefer to report in person. So, it would not be at the NPP but they will have to go to the specific Police stations.

106. So, while we have not conducted specific survey on unmanned NPPs, there are alternatives available including manned counters, albeit a little bit further away. And second, they are general surveys that have been done which are statistically valid because they cover the different demographics and that would include the elderly. I have given the numbers before based on the Home Team's Public Perception Survey of 2022, 95% of the respondents surveyed, personally trust the Home Team. And as I said these surveys are statistically representative of the Singapore population. So, it includes both the elderly and the younger populations. The 2021 IPS study said 87% are confident or very confident in the SPF. That is the highest level of confidence in the Police around the world. So, I think overall there is that confidence and trust. But, it all depends how the Police and the Home Team agencies conduct themselves year by year and also a variety of factors, including how investigations are conducted and the manpower resources too.

107. Now, coming back to my points. A third point I would make in the context of resourcing is that within the SPF, we have also looked at prioritising the areas that have the most pressing needs – for example, investigating scams, and sexual offences. We are looking to channel more resources towards them. But Members will appreciate on the flipside, this  naturally also means there are some other areas, where work will be deprioritised. These are the trade-offs.

108. Mr Raj Thomas asked whether we would consider enlisting support from private investigators, or PIs. 

109. Police IOs are specially trained to meet stringent requirements and to exercise police powers which are quite wide ranging.

110. Private investigators don’t undergo the same level of training. I think we have to be very careful before we clothe private investigators who haven't gone through the same level of training and who are not subject to the same discipline to be given the level of powers that our police officers have. PI agencies also need to hire their staff from somewhere. Today, those with investigative skills and experience are mostly in the Police. There is little point in outsourcing to PIs if the net talent pool is the same. 

111. We have no plans to do this at present. We will continue to look at what we can do.

112. Mr Chairman, before I end, let me briefly deal with two other issues. 

113. First: several MPs asked about our plans to introduce a Maintenance of Racial Harmony Bill

114. We spoke about this Bill before. The Bill will consolidate the Government’s powers to deal with racial issues, and strengthen our suite of powers to preserve racial harmony. 

115. We will also introduce softer reparative measures, which would seek to help the aggrieved community, take a more reconciliatory view towards an offender and strengthen mutual understanding between the races. 

116. My Ministry has been developing the proposals We will introduce them in Parliament later this year, subjected to the drafting being done. 

117. Second, Mr Gerald Giam asked about the criteria for designating Politically Significant Persons (PSP) under the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act or FICA.
118. The criteria are set out in the Act. The individual must be a member of a foreign legislature or foreign political organisation, or the individual's activities must be directed towards a political end in Singapore. But in addition to this, there is also the public interest criterion that must be satisfied. So, you could be a member of a foreign legislature or foreign political organisation, but if the public interest criteria is not satisfied, you would not be designated.
119. Mr Giam asked about the considerations for whether those who are members of foreign bodies will be designated. 
120. The deadline for declaring whether a person is a member of a foreign legislative body or foreign political body is actually today, and, as I said, that is just one criterion. The other criterion, public interest, needs to be assessed.
121. The Registrar of Foreign and Political Disclosures will look at the facts, consider the relevant matters in deciding whether to designate an individual as a PSP. What would this include? Typically, what the person has done in Singapore, his past actions, statements, conduct, his reach and influence and, especially, how likely he is to be a target of foreign interference or influence, and that would include an assessment of the extent to which he has linkage with the other country. These would be among the criteria. I am not setting this out as exhaustive.
122. And if there is or there are such individuals in our view, not in all cases, but where appropriate in circumstances where we think it will be useful, we will also have discussions with the individuals, and we will see whether after that there is a need for designation. We will look closely at the activities. So, where possible, where appropriate, we will seek to advise them. After that, we may still assess that it is necessary to designate. If we do, we will designate them.
123. In respect of the specific individual that Mr Giam referred to, I have to be careful because I am the appellate authority and the period for appeal is not yet over. But I can disclose that we did have some discussions with the individual. He was advised about our concerns. Thereafter, based on the Registrar's assessment, the Registrar decided to designate him. If he appeals, I will have to look at the facts and make a decision.
124. And Members must understand, what does designation as a PSP mean? That means an ordinary person outside now has the same status as MPs, because all of us are PSPs. And therefore, there are obligations for the person to be transparent in the context set out in the Act. Not that he has actively done some wrong, per se, at that point of designation. Just that we have assessed him to be at a higher risk of being susceptible to influence by foreign actors and have imposed on him the requirements for transparency. This is somewhat different, let us say, from designating corporates or corporate entities, because by their very nature, some corporate entities could be designated, not because they are close to any particular country, but because of their very nature. For example, trade unions. You can imagine that trade unions, regardless of whether they are close to a foreign country or not, could be relevant to be designated, and that is no indication or suggestion that they have been suborned, or that they are close to or they have undertaken any activity that suggests anything. Just like us as MPs – our very nature requires us to be defined automatically as PSPs. So, these are nuances which sometimes might be overlooked in public, but I thought I will set that out. 


125. Mr Chairman, my colleagues will now elaborate on some of the areas that I have mentioned and also address the other issues raised by Members. I thank Members for their support for MHA.