Parliamentary Speeches

Second Reading Speech for Misuse of Drugs Act Amendment Bill – Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 15 January 2019



1. Mr Deputy Speaker, I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a second time.


2. Last year, there was a Parliamentary Motion filed by Mr Christopher de Souza titled “Strengthening Singapore’s Fight Against Drugs”. A number of good observations and suggestions on how we can respond to challenges in the drug situation were made.


3. Several members also made good suggestions on how we can improve our approach to rehabilitation, how we can involve families more in the rehabilitation process and how we can provide better support for abusers after they have been released.


4. There have been changes in the operating environment, and feedback from Members and stakeholders. We have looked at this carefully, analysed the situation, and looked at the evidence that we have been collecting in our dealings with abusers both in DRC and post-release. The current amendments arise from that set of factors.


5. The amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) have two primary foci in broad categories. First, they will enhance our anti-drug framework. They will make some additional actions offences and give some greater enforcement powers. Second, they will put a much greater focus on rehabilitation and move away a little bit from the philosophy of long-term detentions.


Enhancement of Anti-Drug Framework and Enforcement Powers


6. So, if I could deal with the first point first, on the enhancement of the anti-drug framework and the increase in enforcement powers.


Contamination Offences


7. We will make some actions, including actions which we will categorise as contamination, offences. There is a range of contaminative behaviours that may not meet the current definition of trafficking or abetment but they contribute to the spread of drug abuse. In that way, they harm others.


8. Clause 3 introduces a new set of offences which target acts of contamination. The proposed new Section 11C will make it an offence if you introduce a person to a trafficker or if you know or have reason to believe that the person intends to procure or consume drugs and the trafficker is likely to supply them. One example would be a student offering to introduce his friends to a trafficker to buy cannabis. The student himself does not take cannabis, did not take part in the transaction but facilitated his friends’ drug consumption. We have to try to deter such conduct.


9. Section 11D(1) will make it an offence if you were to teach, instruct, or provide information to another person on the carrying out of drug activities like consumption, cultivation, manufacturing, trafficking, importing and exporting, knowing or having reason to believe that the person intends to carry out the drug activity. Sections 11C and 11D(1) will have a mandatory minimum imprisonment sentence of two years for subsequent convictions and a maximum imprisonment of 10 years with no mandatory minimum for the first conviction.


10. Supposing the perpetrator has no knowledge of the recipient’s intention to commit a drug activity. Nevertheless, the perpetrator has still caused harm. He has spread information on the carrying out of drug activities.


11. So, Clause 3 will have a Section 11D(2) which will make it an offence to disseminate or publish information on the carrying out of any of the drug activities, those which I mentioned earlier. This can cover a range of behaviour, from the irresponsible - like posting information on how to manufacture drugs on social media where others can see it - to the downright malicious - such as trying to teach and influence friends into taking drugs. We have to try and stop such behaviours. Section 11D(2) will impose a maximum imprisonment of five years or a fine up to $10,000 or both, for first-time convictions. If there are second or subsequent convictions, there will be a mandatory minimum imprisonment of one year.


12. Obviously when you criminalise in this framework, you need to provide a set of defences. The defences would include legitimate purposes relating to the administration of justice, science, medicine, education and art. So if you did this for the purposes of any of those, then there could be exemptions. Subsidiary legislation will set out the scope of authorised activities which will not be caught by the contamination offences I just spoke about and Clause 20 provides for that.


Protecting Our Children and Youth

13. Clause 3 introduces new offences. This is aimed at better protecting our children. So if you look at Section 11B - if an adult possesses illicit drugs and knowingly or recklessly leave them within the access of a child, that would be an offence.


14. Even if an adult permits a child or does not take reasonable steps to prevent the child from consuming drugs which are in the adult’s possession, that would also be an offence. One example - in October 2016, we had two young children aged two and four. They accidentally consumed their father’s drugs, fell unconscious and were rushed to A&E.


15. So the new offences will carry imprisonment of up to 10 years for first-time convictions and a mandatory minimum imprisonment of two years for subsequent convictions.


16. Moving on to a different point, we will also mandate parents and guardians of young drug abusers who are under CNB’s supervision order, to attend counselling. Clause 19 will provide for this. At present, parents and guardians are required to attend the counselling. But some parents persistently absent themselves. CNB will, even after the new legislation comes into force, try to understand their context and why they do not want to come, and will use these powers sparingly. But as a last resort, if parents and guardians refuse to be involved in their children’s counselling without reasonable excuse, they can potentially be exposed to charges.


17. When there is a young drug abuser, it impacts the person and the rest of society. It cannot just be the State’s responsibility. The parents must bear some responsibility too, and they must come in and try to help. The State provides the counselling so they should come in, take the counselling and see how they can help their children.


Hair Analysis and Oral Fluid Testing


18. Next, let me move to hair analysis and oral fluid testing. In 2012, we introduced hair analysis in the MDA as an alternative drug detection tool. Urine tests are able to detect only drugs that had been consumed within the week. Hair analysis goes further back. It can detect drugs which had been consumed earlier. Hair analysis now applies to monitoring of those under supervision. The Health Sciences Authority (HSA), in its research and science, has enhanced the effectiveness and reliability of hair analysis. So we will expand the use.


19. Clause 18 gives Director CNB the power to subject an abuser to rehabilitation and supervision based on the positive result of a hair analysis. So if you have tested positive for hair analysis, you can be directed for rehabilitation and supervision orders. If a person fails to provide hair specimens, then he or she will face the same punishments and liabilities as failure to provide urine specimens. If these persons intentionally refuse to provide the required specimens for testing without a reasonable excuse, they can face charges.


20. We are also introducing the use of oral fluid (saliva) to test for drug abuse. This is Clause 15 of the Bill in the new Section 31B. Enforcement officers can require a suspected abuser to provide oral fluid for the purpose of testing. The punishment can be a maximum of two years imprisonment, $5,000 fine or both, if there is a failure to provide.


21. The testing of oral fluids is for the purpose of immediate and efficient screening of suspects, particularly in the context of mass raids or large crowds. Officers can then prioritise those individuals who require further hair or urine testing. Oral fluid tests will be an efficient method of screening. They will not be used for prosecution or emplacement on rehabilitation or supervision. They are screening tests. We will continue to rely on urine or hair tests for purposes of rehabilitation orders and supervision orders.


22. Those are the aspects in which the Act is proposed to be changed in terms of increasing the enforcement powers and adding in some new offences.


Strengthen the Drug Rehabilitation Regime

23. Now, let me move on to the rehabilitation aspects of the Bill.


Amendments relating to the DRC-LT Regime


24. Drug abusers today who are arrested for the first and second time go through mandatory rehabilitation in DRC - we call it DRC1 and DRC 2 for the first and second times. It is done through orders made by Director CNB under Section 34 of the MDA. DRC 1 and DRC 2 – there is no criminal record.


25. The Long-Term Imprisonment (LT) regime was introduced in 1998. That targeted hard-core abusers, who at that time, formed more than three-quarters of the abusers who were being arrested. The purpose was to punish, but also to deter their drug use. Everything else has been tried and it was still not possible to keep them away from drugs. They were contaminating others and the problem was spreading. So it was to protect the public from abusers who turn to crime to feed their drug-habits as well.


26. Third-time abusers faced a mandatory imprisonment of five to seven years and three to six strokes of the cane. For the fourth time and beyond - seven to 13 years in LT2, with six to 12 strokes of caning.


27. Since the beginning of the LT regime, together with other efforts on the enforcement and rehabilitation sides, the drug situation in Singapore has improved. The number of drug abusers arrested each year - in 1996 there were roughly just under 6,000 and slightly over 3,000 in 2017. So you could say that it has about halved. As I have said in other fora, this is quite a remarkable record because all things are not equal - people’s ability to afford drugs has increased, the amount of drugs produced in the region and availability internationally has increased. So all things being equal, the number of arrests should have gone up and not gone down. It is testament to the way CNB has worked, but not just CNB, the entire framework has worked to help our people keep off drugs. Education, prevention, a strong enforcement, an efficient CNB, an efficient legal framework - all have worked together. The strong support that has been given, both in this House and outside, by the public, for the stand we have taken.


28. At the same time, over these years, the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) and SCORE have stepped up support for abusers. They include high-intensity psychology-based programmes, especially for those with a higher-risk of re-offending. They were also given skills training and work programmes. In 2014, we also introduced the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme. We target the higher-risk offenders and they will be given compulsory structured programmes even after they are released because when they are released, they are at the highest risk.


29. Through this period, with the evidence that we have been collecting, we have been studying how to bring our recidivism rates down even further. Our assessment is that for pure abusers, we can now afford to shift the balance quite decisively and focus more on rehabilitation as opposed to detention.


30. Long periods of detention, we all know, can obviously affect the abuser’s employability after they are released. They are in for seven years, or 12 years, or 13 years and when they come out, their ability to reintegrate back into society, their ability to hold down a job - there is a lesser ability.


31. So really the question is, how do you strike a balance, what is the risk of allowing them into the community without long-term detention, versus the consequences of keeping them in long-term detention. In 1998, looking at the numbers and the way the problem was going, we had to go for long-term and one or two other number of significant factors then, too.


32. Today, looking at the numbers and looking at the profile of abusers and at how we are managing, we think we can let them out from DRC into society faster without going through the long-term detention route. The answer as to where you strike the balance depends on a variety of external factors. One is that the situation has now changed compared to 1998. First, SPS has been studying this. Our two-year recidivism rates for LT inmates are encouraging. The recidivism rate for the 2015 release cohort is 27 per cent. That is down from 35 per cent for the 2008 release cohort - this is significant. But unfortunately, the five-year recidivism rates for LT inmates remain very high, at over 60 per cent. What that means is that within five years of their release, six out of ten of the LT inmates will be back in prison.


33. Addiction is a complex problem. Staying clean is ultimately dependent on a variety of factors, including the resolve of the abuser. But it is a difficult journey for the abusers. Often they become estranged from their families, they are estranged from the communities and the workplace. It is harder for them to reintegrate once released. A number get back into bad company, on drugs, and then they get re-arrested at various points. The cycle repeats itself over and over again.


34. So, we have decided to try to distinguish between those who only consume drugs - I call them the “pure” abusers - from those who also face charges for other offences, for example drug trafficking, property offences and violent offences. If they have abused drugs and they have committed some of these other crimes, we put them in one category. We put those who only abuse drugs in another category.


35. For the second group - those who consume drugs and commit other offences, they will continue to be charged for their drug consumption offences as well as the other offences. If they are liable, they will be sentenced for LT.


36. For those who only abuse but do not have any other criminal offence - that means they only consume drugs and they admit to their drug abuse - then the general approach, regardless of the number of times, will be that Director CNB will make the appropriate supervision or detention order and channel them into the rehabilitation regime. This group of abusers may also include those who have minor consumption-related offences like possession of drug-taking utensils, or possession of small quantities of drugs.


37. If the AGC agrees with CNB that there is no need to charge the drug abusers for these minor offences, then these persons will also be channelled to the rehabilitation regime.


38. This will be conditional on the abusers admitting to their drug offences. If they deny their drug abuse despite the evidence, that means that they have not really accepted their need for rehabilitation, then they are likely to be charged in court, if AGC concurs.


39. These changes, as members will appreciate, are quite significant. Around 50 per cent of LT-liable abusers can now be channelled to the rehabilitation regime. That means one out of every two of those who are going into LT can now go into the pure DRC regime. To benefit as many persons as possible, CNB, with the concurrence of AGC, will generally not charge abusers who meet the criteria I have explained from tomorrow, 16 January 2019, on the assumption that the Bill is passed today.


40. We also want drug abusers to come forward voluntarily for rehabilitation.So moving forward, drug abusers who voluntarily submit themselves to CNB will be considered for a shorter detention in DRC. We will do a risk analysis, and based on this, they can and will be considered for shorter detention. The abuser will still need to undergo operational and risk-assessments before he or she can be considered for this. All abusers will be given two surrender opportunities in their lifetime. These are administrative under the MDA.


Rehabilitation and Supervision Amendments


41. I will now highlight the key features of the enhanced rehabilitation regime. In general, first-time drug abusers assessed to be of low-risk of further abuse will be put under the Enhanced Direct Supervision Order (EDSO). That is a non-custodial supervision order with compulsory counselling. A case manager will provide dedicated support to these persons and their families.


42. Higher-risk first-time abusers, as well as repeat abusers, will undergo intensive, mandatory rehabilitation in DRC. Because that is a secure environment run by Prisons, it maintains strict discipline, and the interventions will be based on the abusers’ assessed risk and needs. These will include psychology-based correctional programmes. So in order to correct, you need to target the underlying attitudes and drug addiction issues.


43. Second, we will also run family programmes in the sense that they will be taught how to have better relationships with their loved ones, because by and large, a significant number would have very strained relationships. We will also give them skills training and employment assistance. This is to improve their employability upon release.


44. For third-time and subsequent drug abusers, Prisons will be introducing DRC3 and DRC4. The periods will be longer than DRC1 and DRC2. Clause 18 of the Bill increases the maximum period of detention for rehabilitation from the current three years to four years. That will apply to higher-risk repeat drug abusers who require a longer period of rehabilitation.


45. Those who are assessed to be ready to be discharged from DRC to move into Community-based Programmes (CBP) will be put in a halfway house. It is a day release scheme from a community supervision centre, or they could be allowed to go home with electronic tagging. After community-based programmes, it will be the supervision phase. During this phase, the ex-abusers will be required to report regularly to CNB for urine and hair testing.


46. Prisons, SCORE and CNB will also work with community partners to try and help abusers in areas such as job training and support, casework, counselling, and befriending. We have been devoting a lot of resources to the post-release support. That is why we feel confident that we can move ahead with this.


47. The risk of recidivism is highest in the first two years. They can be clean for five years, then the recidivism rates drop quite sharply, particularly for those who are able to keep a job.


48. The current supervision period is two years. I have decided that it can be increased. Clause 18 will increase the maximum supervision duration to five years, which hopefully will help in keeping them clean. The changes, taken as a whole, mean that abusers who only consume drugs and admit to their drug use will undergo shorter, but more intensive rehabilitation in the DRC as opposed to LT. And they will be placed on CBP, and then report for a longer supervision period of up to five years. During the period of CBP and supervision, the abusers will be encouraged to hold a stable job, strengthen their relationships with their families, and build ties with the community.


49. The aim is successful reintegration back into society and to reduce re-offending. The journey is not an easy one for abusers. We want to give them the best possible chance and we want to motivate them to stay drug-free and also to put in the infrastructure for a longer period of supervision, which can help them in the longer term.


50. Clauses 13 and 14 give Director CNB the power to require abusers who have completed their rehabilitation, supervision or imprisonment to still report to CNB for urine or hair tests when required. If the person fails to comply, then it is an offence and the penalty could be an imprisonment of up to 4 years, or $10,000 fine, or both.


51. With the changes that we implement, we will track the recidivism rates very closely and if necessary, we will adjust or change our approach.


Introduction of Mandatory Minimum Sentence for First-time Drug Consumption


52. What are the consequences of this? A very substantial number, maybe one out of every two persons who are arrested who would have gone to LT could now go through the rehabilitation route that I have sketched out. Some will still be charged in court. As I mentioned earlier, those who could be charged would be persons who faced other criminal charges or deny their drug use.


53. The sentencing trend for first-time drug consumption is usually six to eight months. With one-third remission, the period in custody will come down to four to five months. That is shorter than detention in DRC. Those charged and punished with imprisonment should serve a sentence that is more reflective of the strong deterrent stance against drugs, and should not serve a period which is less than what a person in the DRC would serve.


54. Clause 16 provides a mandatory minimum sentence of one year for first-time conviction for drug consumption. Previously, there was no mandatory minimum. The mandatory minimum sentence will also apply for first-time conviction, for failure to provide a urine specimen or hair specimen.


Enhanced Punishment and LT


55. We have also reviewed the antecedents which count towards enhanced punishment for second-time abusers who are convicted in Court and LT. For abusers convicted in Court, under Clauses 16 and 17, they will receive enhanced punishment or LT, whichever is applicable, if the current offence for which they are convicted is one of drug consumption, or failure to provide urine or hair specimen.


56. The antecedents include any of the following – a previous conviction for drug consumption, a previous conviction for failure to provide urine or hair specimens, a previous admission into an approved institution for rehabilitation and a previous conviction for drug consumption under the SAF Act.


Other Operational/Technical Amendments


57. I will now briefly summarise the other amendments, which are of a more operational or technical nature.


58. Clause 5 repeals and re-enacts Section 13 to clarify that the punishment for abetting an MDA offence in Singapore from outside of Singapore carries the same punishment as the primary offence abetted.


59. Clauses 7 and 8 remove the powers of Vigilante Corps members for MDA offences, as they are no longer involved in drug operations. They will also extend the powers of “Special Police Officers” to conduct search and arrest for MDA offences. They are often involved in ground patrols or operations which may entail the arrest of drug offenders. “Special Police Officers” include full-time National Servicemen and Operationally-Ready National Servicemen during their periods of service.


60. Clause 2 sets out the different categories of transport devices to make clear the different types, including unmanned craft, that enforcement officers may seize in the course of investigations.


61. Clauses 6 and 8 define the related powers of search and seizure, and Clauses 9 and 11 set out the processes and requirements for forfeiture, return and disposal.


62. Clause 13 allows appointed SAF enforcement officers to collect urine specimens from persons subject to military law, if these persons are suspected abusers.


63. The current practice is for suspected abusers to be committed by Director CNB to a specified place for a maximum of seven days for medical examination or observation. Clause 18 codifies that. It also extends the initial period to which a person may be detained for rehabilitation and the period for which this may be further extended from the previous six months, to 12 months. This is to streamline the current process where the detention order of every single abuser in our institutions needs to be extended every six months. The total detention will not exceed four years, as I have stated earlier.


64. Lastly, Clause 20 provides the Minister with regulatory powers to provide for the supervision and aftercare of persons who have been convicted under the SAF Act for drug consumption or for failure to provide urine or hair specimens. We intend for these groups, like all other groups, to undergo post-release supervision to encourage them to stay drug-free.


65. Mr Deputy Speaker, I beg to move. 


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