Parliamentary Speeches

Ministry of Home Affairs Committee of Supply Debate 2015 – Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs

Published: 06 March 2015

Standing Firm Against Drugs 


Madam Chair, I will now speak on the drug situation in Singapore, road safety, and the Home Team’s efforts in community partnerships. 


Overview of Drug Situation 


2. First, an update on the overall drug situation, which Mr Edwin Tong asked about. The international and regional drug situation continues to be challenging, with higher production, higher trafficking, and higher consumption of heroin and methamphetamine. International drug syndicates have also formed networks within Southeast Asia to manufacture, receive and distribute drugs to the region. So Mr Edwin Tong is right, this has increased supply and led to a drop in drug prices. Unfortunately, Singapore remains a major destination for these drugs, either for transhipment or for imports. 


3. The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) has maintained its enforcement tempo. In 2014, CNB dismantled 21 drug syndicates and seized about $8mil worth of drugs. Among the drugs seized last year was 35kg of cannabis, a 10-year high. 35 kg of cannabis can feed more than 5,000 addicts for a week. 


4. On the demand-side, there are two worrying trends. First, the proportion of younger drug abusers has increased. Of the total drug abusers arrested in 2014, 34% were below the age of 30, up from 29% in 2010. Among new abusers arrested, two-thirds were below the age of 30, up from half in 2010. The educational profile of abusers arrested is also changing, with more from institutions of higher learning. Second, we are arresting more cannabis abusers, with 184 abusers arrested in 2014. The number may be small, but this is a 50% increase over 5 years. The majority of cannabis abusers are young people aged below 30. 


Zero-Tolerance Against Drugs 


5. Given these challenges, it is important that Singapore maintains a zero-tolerance approach against drugs. Zero-tolerance means that we strongly reject the scourge of drugs and do not condone its presence in our society. Zero-tolerance means that we tackle both drug supply and demand. We take a tough stance against those who wish to profit off drug addicts. But at the same time, we rehabilitate those who consume drugs, even as we take firm action against repeat abusers. I am glad that the community has given its strong support to tackle the drug situation firmly. 


6. Other countries have chosen a different approach. Because they could not keep drug abuse low, they moved on to address secondary problems arising from drug abuse. They have, for example, opiate substitution programmes to help drug abusers to stay socially functioning, or needle exchange programmes to minimise the spread of HIV. Some states in the US have even decriminalised drug possession to alleviate prison overcrowding. These initiatives do not treat the underlying drug addiction. Singapore is different. Our tough drug laws keep our streets largely free from drugs and save lives. More importantly, our laws have kept crime low and deterred organised drug syndicates from operating in Singapore. Let us keep it that way. 


Protecting Youths from Drugs 


7. Allow me now to focus on youths and the worrying trend of a rise in youth drug abusers arrested, though the absolute numbers are still small. I currently co-chair a Taskforce on Youths and Drugs with MOS Sim Ann which was set up to tackle the youth drug abuse problem head-on. We will release our findings and recommendations later this year. The recommendations will build on our current comprehensive approach to tackling drug abuse among youths and this comprises Preventive Drug Education (PDE), effective enforcement, and early, targeted intervention for youth abusers. 


8. Upstream, PDE will continue to be our first line of defence in the war against drugs. We must continue to communicate our strong anti-drug message clearly and in an engaging and better way that resonates with youths. 


9. Youths may have the impression that cannabis is a “soft” drug. This is not true. Heroin and methamphetamine addicts in our prisons in Singapore have been known to start their addiction with these drugs with cannabis. Cannabis, also known as marijuana, weed, or ganja, is addictive and harmful. It is especially harmful to young people, and has been linked to impairments in brain development, psychomotor skills, and even cognitive decline with a drop in IQ. The applications of cannabis for managing pain and epilepsy have also not been clinically proven. There are safer and more effective alternatives. 


10. Next, CNB will continue to maintain a high tempo of enforcement amid a rapidly evolving operating environment. We are constantly on the lookout for emerging drug trends. Let me share some examples. First, with the rise in e-commerce, some have tried to order drugs online. CNB is watching this development closely. We will intercept suspicious packages and prosecute those who conduct drug transactions online.  Second, some youths, when travelling overseas, have been experimenting with drugs because they think that they are beyond the reach of our laws. CNB performs checks at our checkpoints and airports and has taken action against individuals found to have consumed drugs overseas. Third, we are keeping an eye on music events. This is after several youths and young adults, including one Singaporean, died from suspected drug overdose at music events held in this region last year. 


11. Finally, we have enhanced our early intervention programmes for youth drug abusers of different risk profiles. In the past 2 years, we have introduced the Youth Enhanced Supervision Scheme for first-time low-risk youth abusers and the Community Rehabilitation Centre for those at moderate-risk of relapsing to drugs. These new programmes are more targeted and take into account the individual circumstances of abusers. 


12. We must do all we can to prevent our youths from being tempted by drugs, and ensure that those who take drugs do not relapse. All this is possible only if our youths are resilient, possess the will to change and take individual responsibility for their actions. Only then can we save our youths from drugs and work towards a drug-free society in Singapore. 


Employment of Ex-Offenders 


13. Mdm Chair, Mr Hri Kumar asked about skills upgrading and employment outcomes for inmates. The Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE) provides skills training to inmates during their incarceration and this is aligned to the national Workforce Skills Qualification framework to improve their employability upon release. 


14. SCORE also helps inmates with longer sentences secure employment before their release. This follows through from the training received in prison and is an important part of their reintegration process. Those with sentences of less than one year, who comprise the majority of releases each year, are typically not offered assistance, as they have not been out of the workforce for very long. Post-release though, regardless of sentence length, all ex-offenders can approach SCORE for employment assistance and job matching. However, we only track the employment outcomes of inmates who approach SCORE for assistance. The outcomes have generally been positive. Other than skills training and employment assistance by SCORE, the Yellow Ribbon Project has significantly changed the community’s perception of ex-offenders. Ultimately, the onus is on the individual to take charge of his rehabilitation. 


Safer Roads for All 


15. Madam Chair, let me now address Dr Janil’s and Mr Ang Wei Neng’s questions on road safety. In 2014, although injury accidents increased slightly, the number of fatal traffic accidents and fatalities continued to fall. Overall, we have seen improvements in our road traffic situation and our road fatality rate has decreased by more than 50% over the past two decades. 


16. More can still be done to improve road safety. The Safer Roads Singapore action plan aims to foster a culture of safe and courteous road use, through a three-pronged strategy of enforcement, education and engagement. 


17. On enforcement, our sustained efforts have improved the drink-driving and red-running situation. Even with an increase in the number of drink-driving enforcement operations conducted, I'm glad that the number of persons arrested for drink-driving actually fell from 3,019 in 2013 to 2,954 in 2014. The number of fatal accidents involving drink-driving also declined from 14 in 2013 to 10 in 2014. 


18. DPM spoke of the effectiveness of red light cameras and we hope to do the same for speeding. The number of speeding violations detected increased by 6.5% since 2013 to about 280,000 violations in 2014. The number of fatal accidents involving speeding also increased from 39 in 2013 to 42 in 2014. TP has begun installing 20 new digital speed enforcement cameras across 11 locations island-wide starting this week, and we will step up enforcement against speeding. I have personally seen drivers slowing down when approaching traffic junctions as the traffic lights turn amber, or if they think there’s a red light camera. I am thankful that our motorists have been responsive and I hope they will also regulate their speed on the roads. Together, we can reduce accidents and save lives. 


19. I agree with Mr Ang Wei Neng on the need to ensure that heavy vehicle drivers are safe drivers. We have kept up the enforcement tempo against heavy vehicles, and the number of accidents involving heavy vehicles has remained stable over the last 5 years. But we can do more. Larger heavy vehicles are also required to install speed limiters, which are regularly inspected. On top of this, we introduced additional speed limiter inspections for those caught speeding. Since then, the number of such heavy vehicles caught multiple times for speeding in a given year declined from 270 in 2013 to 230 in 2014. The total number of heavy vehicle speeding violations also decreased from 1,953 in 2013 to 1,743 in 2014. We will continue keeping a close watch on the situation. Speed limiter or no speed limiter, we expect all our heavy drivers to drive responsibly. We agree with Mr Ang and will work with LTA to explore better methods and better technologies for this purpose. 


20. Overall, when it comes to enforcement, we will deal firmly but fairly with those who flout our traffic rules. Traffic offences pose a serious danger to other road users. For compoundable offences, TP has the authority to issue a composition fine and, where required by law, demerit points, in lieu of court prosecution. Therefore, it saves offenders the hassle of going through the court process. These penalties will not be waived even upon appeal, unless there are very strong extenuating factors which can be substantiated. Should the motorist disagree with the decision, he should present his case to the court, rather than submitting his appeal to TP. 


21. On public education, vulnerable road user groups such as children and elderly pedestrians remain a priority. Last year, the Traffic Police reached out to more than 45,000 students to teach them good road safety habits. TP and the Singapore Road Safety Council also organised two Road Safety Concerts for the Golden Age in 2014, reaching out to more than 2,000 seniors. 


22. On engagement, the Government has partnered the transport and logistics industry through the Safer Roads Industry Taskforce to promote safer driving among vocational drivers. We will release the recommendations later this year. 


23. Ultimately, the efforts of the Government alone are not enough. All road users must exercise individual responsibility and practise safe and courteous road use. TP will, in coming months, launch a new road safety campaign to encourage all users to “Use Your RoadSense”. This campaign encourages all road users, including motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, to be more patient and careful on the road. 


Strengthening Community Partnerships 


24. Mdm Chair, finally, Ms Tin Pei Ling and Mr Arthur Fong spoke about the need for strong community partnerships. We have built up and developed community volunteer programmes in many areas over the years. As DPM said, we must now take community partnerships to the next level by helping the community take ownership of its issues and facilitating those who are prepared to play their part. We believe that people are innately willing to help others in need. The Government will do more to encourage and enable more members of the community to play their part, whether it is to be vigilant against terrorism, to fight crime, to deter harassment by illegal moneylenders, or to save lives. We will facilitate this in a systematic and comprehensive way. 2M spoke earlier on how the Police’s crowdsourcing initiatives have empowered the community to help detect and deter crime. Our existing community involvement initiatives, like the Yellow Ribbon Community Project and Community Befrienders, are running well. I would now like to touch on how community partnerships will transform our approach towards emergency response. 


25. In any emergency, the first few minutes are crucial. The best first responder in such situations is the bystander. For example, in the case of a cardiac arrest, rapid and effective CPR and AED intervention from bystanders increases the chances of survival by as much as 30%-pts. SCDF has empowered bystanders to provide immediate CPR assistance by changing the script of our 995 operators from “Do you know how to do CPR” to “I need you to help administer CPR”. Since the change, the proportion of cardiac arrest victims who receive CPR from bystanders has more than doubled from 22% in 2011 to 47% in 2014. 


26. We will go beyond these episodic interventions. Under SCDF’s “Save a Life” initiative, we will train, equip, and organise a network of community responders that will be able to respond quickly and effectively to cardiac arrest cases in the community. It is imperative that we do so as our population ages and a significant proportion of cardiac arrest cases take place at home. We hope to launch the initiative in all constituencies by end-2018. For a start, we will carry out a pilot later this year in 6 constituencies – Bedok, Bukit Panjang, Choa Chu Kang, Pasir Ris West, Radin Mas & Tampines West. In particular, I would like to thank Dr Teo Ho Pin for acknowledging the need for such an initiative during the Budget Debate. SCDF is already in touch with the grassroots leaders in his Bukit Panjang constituency and will work closely with his constituency on implementation. 


27. Let me explain how this programme will work. First, in partnership with MOH, we will grow the pool of community responders. All volunteers will be trained to administer CPR and operate AEDs. No prior medical training or background is necessary. Second, we will make AEDs more accessible at HDB blocks. For a start, we will install them at the lift lobbies of every 2-3 HDB blocks in the pilot constituencies. Third, SCDF has developed a new myResponder App that alerts users to cardiac arrest cases nearby and locates the nearest AEDs. With the “Save a Life” initiative, the person who responds to your cardiac arrest can be your friend, can be your neighbour, or even your son or daughter. This is possible when we train our volunteers, equip them properly, and then link them to those who need their help. 


28. We will also help the community organise itself to take greater ownership for its security and emergency response. SCDF and SPF will soon launch the pilot of the Neighbourhood Active Responder Programme (NEAR) in 2 constituencies – in Tampines East and Tampines West. NEAR represents a fundamental shift in the roles that volunteers play in the community – from passive to active first responders. It complements the “Save a Life” initiative. NEAR volunteers will be trained to respond to residential fire incidents and medical cases requiring first aid treatment, including cardiac arrest cases. On weekends, when activated, they will respond to these emergencies in bicycles equipped with a combination of a first aid kit, AED, fire extinguishers and smoke evacuation hoods. They will also patrol their estate and be on the look-out for suspicious characters and crimes in progress. About 100 persons have thus far stepped forward to volunteer and we hope to implement this programme in more and all constituencies. 


29. The safety and security of our community is our collective responsibility. Community partnerships have a tremendous multiplier effect on the Home Team’s efforts. Our volunteers are a dedicated and passionate group, comprising individuals of all ages and from all walks of life. I commend their tireless contributions and sacrifice and look forward to many more members of the community joining us to do their part to keep their neighbourhoods and Singapore safe and secure. 




30. Madam Chair, Singapore remains safe and secure because of the hard work put in by the Home Team. We must not take this for granted. As DPM mentioned, we will augment the Home Team with more manpower and resources, and invest in systems and technology. Community partnerships are the third pillar to this strategy and we will take our partnerships to the next level in the coming years. Together, these three pillars will form our overall strategy going forward to ensure Singapore remains safe and secure. 


Managing Security Threats
Science and Technology
Community Engagement