Parliamentary Speeches

Ministry of Home Affairs Committee of Supply Debates 2018, “Securing a Safer Singapore, Together” - Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 02 March 2018

1.  I thank the honourable members for their comments.




2. Singapore continues to be a safe, secure city. We were ranked 1st in the Gallup Global Law and Order Report 2017. The Economist Intelligence Unit Safe Cities Index 2017 ranked us 2nd behind Tokyo.


3. The public's trust and confidence in the Home Team continues to be high. 97% of residents feel safe walking home alone at night. The overall crime and drug situation remains under control. Crimes such as robbery, housebreaking and snatch theft registered an all-time low in 2017. The number of drug abusers arrested decreased in 2017 compared to 2016. Fire incidents are at their lowest in 40 years. Recidivism rates have improved, as have the road safety and immigration offending situation. So overall the situation in 2017 on the security front was better than previous years, and compared to the rest of the world, and many other similar cities, we are in a good situation.


4. Achieving those results, securing a safer Singapore requires efforts from many different people.


5. Looking at the growing terrorism threat, we have to deal with it on multiple fronts. It also means building up our capabilities to protect the people. MHA's budget has increased by more than 10% this year. A large part of that increase is going into enhancing our counter-terrorism capabilities. It is because the threat of IS remains high, and in fact, will continue to grow as fighters from the Middle East come back to this region.


6. MHA must and will do all it can to protect our people. It is our responsibility and accountability to deal with terrorist threats within Singapore. As members may know, under our system, legal framework and constitutional structure, MHA is responsible for homefront and internal security, including counter-terrorism, crisis and consequence management. When a terrorist attack happens, MHA is therefore overall responsible, will be in charge and lead the national response. The Police will manage the incident on the ground and will be the first and main responders. If the scale of the attack is very large, MHA may also ask SAF to provide support to the Police as an auxiliary force. Likewise, MHA may also ask other ministries, agencies, like MOH, to support the operations.


7. To this end, the Police and SAF have developed joint plans and conducted joint exercises. We are very appreciative for the SAF's commitment and the commitment of other agencies, to support the Home Team in such situations.


8. This modus operandi has been discussed and agreed for some time. As I said, it follows the constitutional structure and practice that we have adopted over many decades. And I made this clear in 2016. I had stated that:


  • For all operations within Singapore, the Police will take command.
  • Depending on the nature and scale of the attack, the Home Team may rely on other agencies who will provide support to us.
  • These agencies could include, depending on the nature and scale of the incident, the SAF, MCI and MOH.


9. For example, if there is a large scale attack, and if Police need additional forces beyond the Emergency Response Teams (ERT) and the Special Operations Command (SOC), SPF may call upon the SAF for specialised forces like the Special Operations Task Force. They will support and reinforce the ERTs and the SOC.


10. Exercises have been conducted to make sure that these plans are sharpened, and we will continue to include other partner agencies in such exercises. 


11. 2nd Minister Josephine Teo will share more on how the Home Team is countering the terrorism threat.


12. I will now speak on three areas:


  • First, ensuring that our criminal justice system stays relevantand effective;
  • Second, preventing religious extremism and segregationist thinking; and
  • Third, maintaining our tough stance against drugs.




I. Criminal Law Reviews and Amendments


13. First on the Criminal Justice system. We seek to amend the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), the Bill is in Parliament, and later this year we will amend the Penal Code.


14. The detailed proposals to the CPC, I will cover in the Second Reading.


15. I told the House in January that we have embarked on a comprehensive review of the Penal Code. We set up a committee in July 2016 to this end, to undertake a fundamental review, to look at the principles which underlie our laws, what offences could be covered, what the punishments should be and whether the current punishments are appropriate. It is a broad review. The Committee aims to complete its work in a few months' time, and we will invite feedback from the public.


16. A significant focus of the Penal Code Review would be enhancing protections for vulnerable persons:


  • Children;
  • People with mental disabilities; and
  • Domestic workers.


17. Mr Ang Wei Neng spoke about this.


18. We have seen cases where such persons are violently treatedhurtexploited, or even killed, by the very people who ought to be protecting them.


19. Many Members will know about  the case of Annie Ee, as do many Singaporeans, and we can understand the anger that many people felt.


20. There are other cases like this. Recently, the case of a mother who abused her two-year-old son. After two years, he died from head injuries, assaulted for not being able to recite numbers.


21. Our punishments for these sort of offences are generally stiff. We will nevertheless review the punishments, and what is the level of proof that is needed in these cases.


22. Mr Ang Wei Neng spoke about the Vulnerable Adults Bill. Our MSF colleagues have been working hard on this, and I understand the Bill will be tabled in Parliament soon.


23. Mr Louis Ng asked about marital rape. That is also under review.


24. Let's be clear. Violence against women is wrong: No ifs, no buts on that. The removal of immunity for marital rape is being studied.


II. Process Reviews and Changes


25. Second, I want to talk about process reviews and changes. The steps we are taking to improve our processes.


Investigations – Victims 


26. Our investigation processes will aim to take better care of the victims' well-being. In particular, we are looking at the investigations and court processes for sexual crimes, to better protect victims of such offences. 


27. Mr de Souza and Mr Louis Ng asked about this. I first announced in August 2016 that we were reviewing this. We have listened to the victims, to understand their concerns, worked with several organisations such as MSF, the hospitals, the Courts, and NGOs to improve our processes and the way our officers interact with the victims.


28. Some examples of the changes that have been made:


  • We selected and started training a group of Sexual Crime Duty Officers to conduct interviews with victims;
  • We have introduced the One-Stop Abuse Forensic Examination (OneSAFE) Centre so victims can be examined by the doctor on-site at the CID, without the need to shuttle between CID and the hospitals, and having to recount what had happened to them once at the hospital, once to the Police officers. Everything to be done in one place, at the OneSAFE Centre;
  • We developed a training video for our officers on how to question the victims in an empathetic way. AWARE helped us with that. They will then understand and have greater empathy of the trauma faced by victims;
  • In June this year, the Police, together with KK Hospital and other partners, will pilot a Multi-Disciplinary Interview (MDI) model. This will be focused on children who have been sexually abused by family members. It is necessary to gather the facts from these children, but again, one can imagine and understand the stress that these children may undergo if they have to be interviewed separately by Police, doctors, child protection officers, which can add to the stress. So we will seek to integrate these interviews so that the children need not repeatedly recount the traumatic experience.


29. In addition, Court processes will aim to better protect the victims of sexual assault cases, including:


  • Automatic protection of identity;
  • Closed-door hearings; and
  • Questions about the victim's sexual history and unrelated behaviour will face restrictions on what sort of cross-examination will be allowed, subject to the overall jurisdiction of the Courts. That will be set out when we deal with the legislation. We will define the precise scope of what we are intending to do and how the process can be taken forward.


Investigations – Suspects


30. Another process is the Appropriate Adults Scheme. We started this in 2013 for persons with intellectual disabilities or mental health problems. This was expanded in 2017 to support young suspects.


31. Appropriate Adults (AAs) are independent volunteers trained to provide emotional support to interviewees. In 2017, AAs provided support to about 700 interviews during the course of investigations. Feedback has been positive from both the AAs and the IOs.


32. In April this year, we will roll out the AA scheme to more Police and CNB units, so that it can support more young suspects. And it will also include Customs and CPIB.


33. Separately we are also looking to identify and deal with the basic issues that lead people to crime. Mr Murali Pillai spoke about involving the community and VWOs, and how to deal with offenders with mental health conditions.


34. We will introduce a new initiative, called the Home Team Community Assistance and Referral Scheme, or HT CARES.


35. When our officers deal with individuals who have committed offences, often they come across or become aware of other problems and the complex circumstances surrounding these offenders. Some, like Mr Murali pointed out, have medical issues too. Some are struggling to make ends meet. Others have problems with the family.


36. We will have CARES officers stationed at every Police Division. The investigators will deal with the "crime-solving" while the CARES officers will assess whether social interventions are needed to address the underlying issues. The interventions could be in the form of:


  • Counselling;
  • Mental health assistance; and
  • Financial assistance etc. 


37. The CARES officers will then refer the offenders to a suitable agency for help, and continue to follow-up. We are studying this in detail with MSF, and we will try to pilot this at a Police Division this year.


Rehabilitation – Youth Offenders


38. Another important area is how we deal with young offenders.


39. Our approach today, 80% or almost 4 out of 5 youths arrested are not charged. The Police will give them a warning or refer them to counselling and other programmes[1]. We want to give them a chance to sober up, stay on the right side of the law after that.


40. But there will be cases, as the statistics show - 20%, where we have no choice, and have to take stern action. Some are repeat offenders; some could be serious offences like drug trafficking.


41. In such cases, they will be detained; for punishment, deterrence, and equally important, their own rehabilitation.


42. Reformative Training, or RT, is an essential, necessary regime for such young people.


43. Within the RT population, we try to group them by risk profile and needs. This helps to provide a more targeted set of interventions. The trainees will go through programmes that will help them take charge of their rehabilitation. They can then reflect on their offences, how to stay crime-free, and how to strengthen their relationships with their family.


44. Prisons will also continue with education and skills training for the reformative trainees. Those who can will continue to take their 'N', 'O' and 'A' levels. There are also vocational training opportunities, such as WDA-accredited courses.


45. We intend to further enhance the RT regime. One of these changes is to reduce the minimum detention period from the current 18 months to either six or 12 months. This is in line with the more targeted approach we want to take, because different individuals may require different intensities of intervention and different length of rehabilitation.


46. I will speak further about the RT regime during the Second Reading of the CPC amendment bill later this month.




47. Third, let me deal with religious extremism and segregationist thinking. Mr de Souza spoke about this. 


48. The older generation will remember the turmoil of the 50s and 60s. We do not want to go back to those days. For many countries, that is their current reality.


49. What we have today, the racial and religious harmony, has been achieved through decades of deliberate and sustained interventions, and the Government working hand-in-hand with various stakeholders.


50. It is a constant work in progress. You will never say you have arrived and you can slide back quite quickly.


I. Preventing Segregationist Teachings from Taking Root


51. So how do we prevent segregationist teachings from taking root? We have a number of approaches; social intervention, regulatory framework and constant working with community organisations, grassroots, getting the message across. For example, in terms of social intervention, the Ethnic Integration Policy in our public housing, our schools are integrated, and National Service puts our young men together.


52. These deliberate interventions mean that we grow up together, build collective memories together, and we come together as Singaporeans instead of forming ethnic or religious enclaves.


53. And this shows in the way we live our daily lives, such as eating together at the same table, working together in the same offices.


54. One example of our approach, or the result of this approach:


  • The Straits Times recently featured Masjid Khalid, a mosque in Joo Chiat, which distributes oranges and greeting cards to business owners and residents in the area during the Lunar New Year. This is just one of the many examples we see on the ground.


55. We have to preserve the harmony and to do this, we must not let extremist or segregationist teachings infiltrate our communities. Even a small number of persons propagating radical, or segregationist beliefs can be dangerous. 


56. As Mr Chong Kee Hiong pointed out, the inflammatory and viral potential of such beliefs is increased with social media. It is challenging, but we work closely with community groups and religious organisations to better inoculate our community from such influences.


57. These efforts extend into the online sphere as well. For example, the Religious Rehabilitation Group has produced online videos to explain why ISIS' ideology goes against Islamic teachings.


58. Offline, in the physical world, when we have foreign preachers who want to come into Singapore and we know that they have advocated violence, or spread ill-will towards other religions whether in Singapore or elsewhere, they will not be allowed to speak here. This applies to all religions.


59. In September 2017, we banned two foreign Christian preachers. They wanted to speak in Singapore. One of them had described Allah as "a false god", and asked for prayers for those "held captive in the darkness of Islam", and insinuated that Buddhists were "lost" people who could be saved by converting to Christianity.


60. The other preacher had variously referred to "the malevolent nature of Islam and Mohammed", saying Islam was "not a religion of peace". This is all unacceptable.


61. We said "No, they cannot come in to preach".


62. In October 2017, we said no to two foreign Muslim preachers. One was Ismail Menk (Menk) and the other was Haslin bin Baharim (Haslin). They wanted to come into Singapore to preach on a religious-themed cruise.


63. Some have said that the government over-reacted; what is wrong with Ismail Menk telling Muslims that wishing non-Muslims "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Deepavali" is the biggest sin and crime that a Muslim can commit? What is wrong with him preaching that?


64. Our decisions are carefully considered.


65. Ismail Menk is a preacher who has been systematically putting out messages:


  • That there are people who are very big enemies of Islam and if you attend their functions you will be seen as rubbing shoulders with them;
  • That there are thousands of reasons why Islam is more authentic and more valuable;
  • That Christianity is just a bubble that is blown such that you feel emotionally high.


66. If you look at all his teachings, the main message that comes out is quite clear and the divisiveness is not acceptable.


67. Singapore is also not immune to Islamophobia.


68. In June 2017, after the news of the detention of Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari was reported, an Indian man scolded a Muslim woman who wore a tudung on a bus, saying that Muslims "should stay in Iraq as they did not know the value [of] staying in Singapore".


69. So far these incidents are few and far between. They are contained. Most Singaporeans don't behave like this, and there is a good reason why. It is because of the approach of the Government and the people of Singapore. But we need to keep a close watch on this. We must not allow the threat of terrorism to breed fear, suspicion and distrust of each other.


70. Mr Chong Kee Hiong spoke about the role of the community. Our community leaders have done much to foster respect and understanding between communities.


  • The Inter Racial and Religious Confidence Circle (IRCCs) is one example.
  • The Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) is another.


71. Our religious leaders play a big role in leading by example. A wonderful example is the Mufti of Singapore, Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, who shares in other communities' celebrations like Deepavali and Christmas and regularly offers festive greetings in private and public, including during the Chinese New Year last month.


72. Another example is the Anglican Bishop Rennis Ponniah, who hosted an annual Christmas tea at his official residence. But it's not just Anglicans attending; there were Catholics, Lutherans, Muslims, Buddhists and Taoists who were invited and they joined in.


73. The Singapore Buddhist Lodge donates rice and funds to mosques during Ramadan every year for the breaking of fast, to be distributed to needy families. This was initiated by their late President Mr. Lee Bock Guan, both to help the needy and to promote inter-religious harmony.


74. There are numerous examples. I have just identified a few.


75. It is the respect of different faiths, the willingness to share in each other's lives, that nurtures a harmonious common living space.




76. Let me now move to our stance on drugs. Mr de Souza, Mr Baey Yam Keng, Mr Desmond Choo and Mr Edwin Tong spoke about the global challenge. The results from a 2016 National Council Against Drug Abuse survey shows a slightly worrying trend. Our young people are adopting a slightly more open attitude towards drugs compared with a similar survey in 2013, especially towards cannabis.


77. I think the internet, social media, and the pro-legalisation lobby in the U.S. are telling them it is cool and it is safe to take cannabis. But if you look at the well-supported research, it tells us cannabis is harmful, especially in teenagers because it can cause irreversible brain damage.


78. We have to stay firm in this fight against drugs.


79. We are also studying how we can enhance the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) to deal with new threats.


80. Over the past year, the drug situation in the world has continued to worsen.


81. The US declared that the opioid crisis they face is a "public health emergency". The U.S. National Centre for Health Statistics estimated that almost 64,000 people died from drug overdose in 2016. 64,000 people – that number is more than the number of U.S. soldiers who died in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined. It is more than the number of people who have died through breast cancer in the U.S yearly. It's more than the number of people who have died through HIV/AIDS-related deaths in the U.S. at the peak of the epidemic.


82. The media has covered extensively on how Big Pharma, poor regulation and irresponsible proliferation of poor-quality research, often funded by the pharma companies, have all combined to create this crisis.


83. In May last year, the U.S. federal court found top executives from Purdue Pharma guilty of misleading regulators, doctors, patients about risks of OxyContin, which is a powerful and addictive opioid.


84. They earned billions from their deception while patients graduated to snorting or injecting the crushed pills, then turning to heroin and other drugs to feed their addiction.


85. Despite the harms caused by drugs, some countries have been softening their stance.


86. Countries such as Portugal have decriminalised drug use and they have received international attention for this approach. And there are some people here who tell us Portugal is a great example to follow, and shows why our approach is wrong and Portugal's approach is right.


87. But do the facts bear it out? And what are the lessons for us, from the Portugal situation?


88. First, Portugal started with a serious public health problem on its hands. It had many heroin abusers, they were sharing contaminated needles, and they were spreading diseases like Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV. More than half of HIV infections were drug-related, which is the highest rate in the EU.


89. Portugal then decided to decriminalise drugs. It increased funding for treatment facilities, it provided for needle exchange and opioid substitution therapy, it ran campaigns - "say no to a second-hand syringe". 


90. These measures have helped Portugal reduce HIV and hepatitis infections. But when you start with serious HIV-related problems, hepatitis infection-related problems arriving through drug use and contaminated needles, then I suppose you ask yourself which is the lesser evil? And you go for decriminalisation and you try to reduce the problem. 

91. But we are not in that situation, thankfully.


92. And there are trade-offs from Portugal's approach:


  • The lifetime prevalence of drug use in Portugal has increased since decriminalisation;
  • Surveys now indicate that more Portuguese students are trying drugs; and
  • The number of drug-related deaths have also gone up since 2011.


93. So you will not find all these facts from the people who advocate that we go down the route of Portugal. Portugal decided to decriminalise drugs in a situation where it perhaps concluded that it was not possible or unrealistic for it to control the drug situation.


94. The situation we have in Singapore is different. Our approach is effective and has worked well for us. We are one of the few countries where the drug situation has been under control, and perhaps the country that has been most effective in dealing with the problem.


95. Mr Chairman, with your permission, can I display a slide on the screen please? This shows you what the trends have been over a period of time in terms of drug use. If you ignore the downward blip for the period when people abused Subutex, then you see that actually it's a fairly smooth curve. There was not a real dip in certain years because people were using Subutex, and then we outlawed that and then they went back to other drugs. The number of drug abusers we have in Singapore is relatively low compared with some of the other jurisdictions.


96. For example, the number of opiate abusers in Singapore is less than 30 per 100,000 people. The number in Portugal is almost 500. In the U.S. the number is 600, 20 times our number. And the numbers will grow further in U.S., because of the move towards legalisation in many states.


97. Intravenous drug use is not a significant mode of HIV transmission in Singapore. So you think of the lives that have been saved. The misery, deprivation, the loss – we have saved a lot of people from that, if you just look at that slide. From something near 7,000 people being arrested per year to the region of 3,000 plus being arrested now. If you take that as three to four thousand lives per year over a 20-year period, that is a lot of lives. A lot of people who have been saved from drugs.


98. This result has been possible because we have been tough on drugs. We should not ease up.


99. Look at the cases, anecdotally:


100. Just this Monday, CNB arrested a trafficker in a drug bust. During the investigations, officers discovered that she was a caregiver to a toddler. She had left with him with two other suspected drug traffickers.


101. Concerned about the toddler's safety, CNB and Police then moved quickly the very next day to take down two suspects. The young child was rescued and is now with Child Protective Services.


102. How old is the child? One year old. In that one year, the young child had already been abandoned by his mother who is on the run for drug offences, and being passed around between drug traffickers.


103. Now, these are not isolated cases. In many other countries, these are par for the course. We do not want to get there.


104. In another case, a drug addict father abused his baby daughter, very cruel, regularly biting her. One day, he was furious because he had no money to buy drugs. The baby cried, as babies do. He shoved her against the wall so hard her skull fractured. She was 10 months old, not old enough to defend herself. 


105. These are the victims of drugs. 


106. The activists light candles for traffickers outside Changi Prison, they write emotive stories. They dream up about their lives. But who cares for these very real victims? How many young lives have we saved with our policies? Would you hear a squeak from the activists about these people? The actual victims of burglaries, housebreakings, families torn apart through drugs. The physical violence, the mental abuse, and by a process of estimation, the number of people who have been saved from that. The shootings and killings that take place in other countries where drug abuse is prevalent. The 60,000 people who died through opioid abuse doesn't capture all the deaths in the U.S. There are many more gangland violence with drugs as the underlying cause, the shootings with guns, weapons.


107. You have another case in Singapore, a nine-year-old boy living with his abusive aunt. He saw her doing drugs and ran away, because he was scared of being beaten again when she was under the influence of drugs. But she found him, hit him, burned him with a lighter, picked him up and dangled him out of a third-storey window.


108. Our CNB officers recently came across another abuser, 7 months pregnant, and still smoking "ice". She already had a previous miscarriage because of her "ice" habit, but her addiction was so strong she persisted anyway, at the expense of her unborn, innocent child. 


109. And again from foreign jurisdictions you see cases where children are born with addiction. They need and crave heroin from the time they are born. Who speaks for these defenceless victims?


110. As I said earlier, the self-styled activists refuse to talk about how the addiction of hundreds of abusers is fed with each shipment these traffickers bring in; how many families suffer as a result of drugs. 


111. Our penalties are severe because we want to deter such offences, not because we take any joy in enforcing them. No one can take any joy in enforcing them.


112. Our regional drug situation remains challenging. The region is home to the Golden Triangle, the largest methamphetamine market in the world. The trafficking of heroin and methamphetamine in this region alone is estimated to generate over US$32 billion annually. It is a very lucrative business, and it is not going to go away, so let's not kid ourselves. International criminal syndicates operate in this region, attracted by the profits.


113. Being a major transport and commercial hub makes us susceptible both as a transit point and as an import market because of the wealth factor. It is beyond our ability to change factors outside of Singapore; what we can do is try and deter criminals from attempting to bring drugs into Singapore. 


114. We have to be firm in resisting those who try to force their ideologies on us.


115. Parliamentary Secretary Amrin Amin will elaborate on how we are working with various stakeholders on this.


Thank you Sir.


[1] Some examples include the Guidance Programme and the Streetwise Programme, run by MSF. SPF may also refer youth offenders to IMH's Child Guidance Clinic if l mental health interventions are required.


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