Published: 15 January 2019
1. Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker.
2. I will now address the following questions raised by Members. First, the mandatory minimum sentence for drug consumption; second, hair analysis; third, international cooperation in cross-border drug enforcement; and fourth, cannabis and our preventive drug education.
3. Drug addiction is a complex issue, as what Ms Anthea Ong has noted. It is a confluence of biological, psychological and social factors. We adopt a multi-pronged approach to tackling drug addiction. Robust laws, a fair criminal justice system, evidence-based rehabilitation framework, community and family support, all play important parts.
4. Mr Pritam Singh asked how many of the DRC inmates are first-timers. Based on the end-2017 DRC inmate population, around 55 per cent or 750, are first-timers. Mr Singh has also asked for family and income profiles of DRC inmates. We do not have the information currently. I invite the Member to file a separate PQ on this.
5. The key challenge is to ensure that our people do not even start on drugs and get entangled in this complex issue.
Mandatory Minimum Sentence
6. Mr Murali, Mr Louis Ng and Ms Ong asked what was the policy consideration to impose the mandatory minimum sentence for drug consumption. The primary intent of the mandatory minimum sentence is to reflect the strong deterrent stance against drugs. This is a deliberate policy decision by the Government.
7. The courts still retain discretion in the following ways - sentencing above the prescribed one year, between one to a maximum of ten years. When a person is also charged with other criminal charges, the Court retains the discretion to order the drug consumption sentence to run concurrently or consecutively with that of the other charges.
8. The mandatory minimum sentence has to be seen against the larger context of the rehabilitative framework for drug abusers. We have introduced various calibrated rehabilitative programmes for both youth and adult drug abusers. These programmes cater to the different circumstances and risk-levels of the individual abuser.
9. So, the reality today is that not all offences of consumption are treated the same. There is no rigid, immutable starting point as an offender can be directed to the newly-introduced Enhanced Direct Supervision Order or the DRC, and for youths, Youth Enhanced Supervision, Community Rehabilitation Centre or DRC. As Minister earlier said, we are also introducing a surrender regime. So the options are varied and tailored to the needs of the offenders. Given the many varied and expanded options, the mandatory minimum sentence for drug consumption is important in maintaining the Government’s firm stance against drugs.
10. Mr Chris de Souza asked how often a person needs to report for hair testing. Hair testing will complement urine testing and generally, the abuser will need to report to CNB once every month.
11. Mr Irshad and Mr Faisal Manap have provided some feedback on the supervision process. We are aware and are monitoring closely. We will see how we can leverage technology like hair analysis, which can reduce the frequency of reporting.
12. Mr Deputy Speaker, many drug trafficking operations are transnational, so cross-border collaboration is crucial.
13. Ms Joan Pereira asked about border security and how we work with other organisations to keep drugs out of Singapore. In particular, she has asked about checks at our checkpoints. The reality is that, there is a very high volume of people and goods that cross our border. So, it is not feasible for us to subject each and every person or vehicle to extensive checks. But that said, CNB works closely with ICA on joint operations and conduct intel-led checks. CNB also shares information on latest regional drug trends and modus operandi of trafficking syndicates. CNB also collaborates with partners across the world, including the Narcotics Crime Investigation Department of the Royal Malaysian Police and INTERPOL to investigate and dismantle cross-border drug trafficking syndicates. Last year, CNB took part in a number of operations with foreign agencies including Operation Lionfish, an INTERPOL-coordinated operation across 93 countries which led to a combined seizure of more than 55 tonnes of illicit drugs and the arrest of 1,300 suspects.
14. Members have also spoken about how the Internet facilitates cross-border drug trafficking. We will continue to maintain the tough laws against trafficking across all mediums, whether the offence is facilitated via physical meet-ups, or the Internet.
15. Ms Pereira asked whether our intelligence teams are empowered to access encrypted messages. Authorities are empowered under the Criminal Procedure Code to access computers and encrypted information as part of investigations. CNB uses its forensic capabilities to extract and access encrypted information in suspects’ phones and computers.
16.On the issue of cannabis, when dealing with the international drug situation, enforcement is only part of the story. The battle for the hearts and minds is equally tough, thus we have been stepping up our preventive drug education (PDE).
17. As Mr Christopher de Souza and Ms Irene Quay observed, other countries have softened their approach towards cannabis. This is accompanied by misleading media messages. Our children can be misled into thinking that cannabis is harmless.
18. CNB works closely with the Institutes of Higher Learning to conduct regular pre-trip briefings for students who are going abroad to remind them of the harms of drugs, and also that Singaporeans and Permanent Residents who consume illicit drugs overseas can be dealt with as if they consumed them in Singapore. We make sure we provide such timely reminders. But it actually starts much earlier.
19. In December last year, I launched a storybook with an anti-drug message for lower primary school children. The books are available at public libraries and primary schools. CNB works closely with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to provide PDE throughout primary, secondary and tertiary education. As Er Lee Bee Wah observed, fundamentally, our children need perceptiveness and resilience against drug misinformation.
20. We also know how important peer influence is. CNB has set up an Anti-drug Abuse Advocacy Network comprising more than 500 youth leaders, educators, influencers and other members of the community, who use their voices to help encourage others to lead drug-free lives.
21. As Mr Irshad mentioned, NS is another important touchpoint. Besides educating servicemen in both Home Team and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) through mandatory talks, commanders are also equipped with PDE toolkits that they can use to educate servicemen on drug abuse.
22. We encourage good ground efforts. The National Council Against Drug Abuse has a DrugFreeSG Fund that organisations can tap on for funding support for anti-drug initiatives, including awareness campaigns and ad-hoc activities.
23. By continuously engaging youths at various stages of their development, we want them to internalise the facts about the harms of drugs, so that they will be smart and resist bad influence and reject misinformation. We will also continue to study others’ best practices to see what we can improve, such as the Icelandic Model, which promotes dialogue between those in research, policy and practice. The National Committee on Prevention, Rehabilitation and Recidivism set up in April 2018 is one such avenue to bring together policy makers, practitioners and researchers to co-create solutions to prevent offending, re-offending and enhance rehabilitation.
24. With the inclusion of cannabis in many non-medicinal products sold overseas like cigarettes and oils, Ms Quay asked about how we can ensure the general public are well-informed of risks when they travel overseas. CNB issues public advisories to remind the public of these risks and not to bring in cannabis products. We will continue to do so via traditional and social media platforms. CNB also closely monitors the importation and sale of cannabis products in Singapore and will take tough actions against those who engage in these activities.
25. Ms Quay also asked how we handle travellers who are legitimately prescribed with scheduled drugs, if they intend to enter Singapore. Travellers visiting Singapore are allowed to bring in or import their prescribed medications, but depending on the specific type, an approval to import is required before the person arrives in Singapore. Detailed information and application procedures can be found on Health Sciences Authority’s (HSA) website. Specific to travellers who request to bring in cannabinoid medications, these applications are considered on a case-by-case basis, and must be pharmaceutical cannabinoid which are prescribed by qualified medical practitioners.
26. As Mr Pritam Singh has said, it is important that the general population, and even foreigners are aware of our laws, including new ones, and we will continue to expand our outreach efforts.
New Psychoactive Substances
27. Another global challenge is the rapid emergence of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), which Mr Christopher de Souza spoke on. Syndicates and rogue chemists quickly churn modified drugs, marketing them as a safe and legal high, profiting off others’ misery.
28. MHA has been proactive in listing NPS as controlled drugs under the MDA. CNB is also working closely with partner agencies such as HSA to expand the range of NPS that can be tested, and shorten the time taken to develop these testing capabilities. This has led to a significant increase in NPS abusers and traffickers arrested in 2018, and we are monitoring the situation very closely.
29. Mr Deputy Speaker, I will now address the other issues Members have raised.
30. Mr Chris de Souza and Ms Anthea Ong asked about the medical observation period of up to seven days. Such medical observation is for the purpose of determining whether a person has consumed drugs, and is meant to provide legal clarity for existing practices. This period is for doctors to observe the person, like his withdrawal symptoms, as how fast this appears is dependent on the drug type, how heavily addicted the suspected abuser is, and when he last consumed drugs.
31. Ms Quay also asked if there are plans to consider dispensing separation for controlled drugs and other drugs like hypnotics and codeine-containing preparations. The Ministry of Health (MOH) currently manages the risk of errant prescription by practitioners through legislative controls, guidelines in supply, prescription and dispensing of drugs. This is coupled with random ad-hoc audits of the records of the dispensing of drugs in licensed healthcare institutions. We will study the suggestion.
32. Dr Intan asked how SAF deals with drug abuse. The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF take a zero-tolerance approach towards drug abuse, and work closely with CNB to deal with drug abuse in the SAF. In line with this zero-tolerance approach, SAF servicemen who are caught abusing drugs will be charged in the military court and receive custodial sentences, the duration of which would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case.
33. Dr Chia asked about appeal processes for those charged with drug offences. The processes are no different from other appeal processes and an application can be filed with the courts.
34. Mr Speaker, allow me to speak in Malay.
35. Ini adalah pindaan penting yang akan membantu meningkatkan strategi menyeluruh menentang dadah. Kami merasa besar hati atas sokongan daripada para Anggota Parlimen mengenai pendirian tegas kami terhadap dadah.
36. Saya ingin menggariskan tiga perkara.
37. Pertama, pendekatan yang lebih tersusun terhadap pesalah. Mereka yang hanya mengambil dadah dan mengaku mengguna dadah, boleh diletakkan di bawah rejim pemulihan. Mereka akan menjalani pemulihan intensif di Pusat Pemulihan Dadah (DRC) dan tempoh pengawasan yang lebih lama sehingga lima tahun. Tindakan ini akan membolehkan mereka diawasi, tetapi juga memberi mereka peluang untuk mempunyai pekerjaan yang stabil dan memperbaiki hubungan dengan keluarga dan masyarakat.
38. Kedua, kami akan menyasarkan kegiatan pencemaran untuk mencegah tingkah laku yang boleh menyebarkan penyalahgunaan dadah dan membahayakan orang lain. Sebagai contoh, adalah satu kesalahan mengajar orang lain tentang cara melakukan kegiatan dadah seperti penggunaan dadah, membuat dadah, mengedar dadah, dengan mengetahui orang itu berhasrat menjalankan kegiatan tersebut.
39. Ketiga, kami akan menggandakan usaha untuk melindungi anak-anak kita. Ia akan menjadi satu kesalahan bagi orang dewasa yang mempunyai dadah secara sengaja atau secara tidak sengaja membiarkan dadah dalam jangkauan kanak-kanak. Ia akan menjadi satu kesalahan bagi orang dewasa membenarkan orang muda (di bawah usia 21 tahun) mengambil dadah yang dimiliki orang dewasa itu. Kami akan mewajibkan ibu bapa dan waris belia yang menyalahgunakan dadah, supaya menghadiri kaunseling.
40. Saya setuju dengan saranan yang diketengahkan oleh Dr Intan, Puan Rahayu dan Encik Faisal Manap tentang bahaya dadah. Penyalahgunaan dadah akan membinasakan keluarga dan meninggalkan kesan yang dalam kepada anak-anak kita dan keluarga kita. Tindakan keras dan sesuai harus diambil.
41. Bersama-sama dengan rakan masyarakat, kami akan terus berusaha membebaskan Singapura daripada najis dadah.
42. Thank you.
Translation of Malay Speech
35. This is a significant amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act, which will help enhance our comprehensive strategy against drugs. We are heartened by Members’ support for our strong anti-drug positions.
36. I would like to highlight three areas.
37. First, we are taking a more calibrated approach towards abusers. Those who only consume drugs and admit to drug use, can be put on a rehabilitation regime. They will undergo intensive rehabilitation in the Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC) and a longer post-release urine/hair supervision period of up to five years. This allows them to be supervised, yet be able to use the time towards holding down a stable job, and mending ties with their families and communities.
38. Second, we will target acts of contamination to strongly deter behaviour that can spread drug abuse and harm others. For example, it will be an offence to teach another person how to carry out drug activities like drug consumption, drug manufacturing, drug trafficking, knowing that the person intends to carry out the activity.
39. Third, we will do more to protect our children. It will be an offence for adults who possess drugs to knowingly or recklessly leave it within a child’s access. It will be an offence for adults to permit young persons (under 21 years old) from consuming drugs in the adult’s possession. We will make counselling mandatory for parents/guardians of youth drug abusers who are on CNB supervision.
40. I agree with the suggestions by Dr Intan, Ms Rahayu and Mr Faisal Manap about the dangers of drugs. Drug abuse can destroy families and deeply impact our children and family. Tough and appropriate action must be taken.
41. Together with our community partners, we will work to achieve a drug-free Singapore.