Parliamentary Speeches

Wrap-up Speech for Second Reading of The 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 Sir, I thank all the Members for their support. Everyone who spoke welcomed the Bill and it was across party lines. I will just deal with a couple of points which were slightly more philosophical, or perhaps a matter of principle.


2. First is Mr Pritam Singh’s point going back to the speech when the LT (Long-term Imprisonment) regime was introduced in 1998. I thank him for the support for the Bill. The LT regime - LT1 & LT2 - was introduced at a time when the situation was quite dire. We had about between 7,000 and 8,000 in DRC. Three-quarters of them were hard-core opiate users. They repeatedly went back to heroin, morphine, opium, and many were using crime to feed their habit. I can talk about a few other factors, but essentially, we were facing a very difficult situation. If we did not deal with it decisively, the sense was that it would have gotten much worse.


3. In the context of the very serious concerns that the Ministry then had, the LT regime was conceptualised. The proposals received very strong support from Members and the larger community. The people who worked with the addicts were very concerned because they could see that many of the addicts they were working with did not change their attitudes. So decisive action had to be taken. It was taken and what the LT regime did was to actually keep away from society, many of the hard-core users who could have infected or induced many others to come into the drug trade and drug abuse situation.


4. Together with strong enforcement, more preventive education, improvements in rehabilitation and the LT regime, I think we dealt effectively with the situation. As I said earlier, from just under 6,000 people being arrested in 1996, to now just above 3,000. So you can say, roughly it has fallen by half. We are in a much better situation. But we are in the situation because of the actions that have been taken in the past. At least, that is my conclusion.


5. Mr Singh is right in asking the question. The profile of the abusers over the 20 years have changed, with the profile change of the general population as a whole, though I do not have the figures right here to give. The other point is that drugs of choice have changed as well - from very hard-core heroin to New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) and so on. Today, nearly two-thirds of new abusers are under 30 years old. Again, it is a different situation compared with what we had 20 years ago. Many with higher educational qualifications, professionals. Many of them use drugs like “Ice” and NPS.


6. Also, over a period of time, we have a built a substantive body of evidence-based work on rehabilitation, both based on international experience and local research. Counselling techniques, psychological interventions, evidence-based programming, technology, the importance of family involvement, stable employment and the crucial nature of extended post-release support. I think today, we decided that we will make this move.


7. As Mr Singh and other Members have said, it is not without risks. One of the risks is of course how people might characterise it. But people must be slow to characterise the Singapore Government as being weak or soft on drugs. Some people might take that view. But I think we have to do the right thing.


8. The knowledge and the experience built up over the last 20 years enable us to take a risk-based approach, which as far as possible, takes into consideration an individual’s risk and protective factors so that the intervention is most effective and appropriate.


9. Fundamentally, our philosophy of a drug-free Singapore has not changed. We will continue to take an evidence-based approach. We will see what is it that we can improve and we will have no hesitation in refining or even changing our policies based on evidence.


10. If I may deal now with the points by Ms Anthea Ong, the NMP. She suggested that it is habit to do with brain structure and could be beyond people’s control. I think it would be wrong of the Government to say that we will not consider certain things, or we will not accept certain things. It is not a hard line which precludes consideration of evidence.


11. We have to when we deal with public policy, deal with evidence. We base our policies on evidence and science. But I will caution against taking approaches which are fashionable - I am not saying the approaches she suggests are fashionable - if you look at the evidence from the countries which have taken a certain approach, I think the experience shows these approaches to be thoroughly discredited. It will be quite stupid if we blindly follow because their arguments are attractive, but not backed by evidence. I think there is scope for saying that we will look at research, we will look at evidence, and we will manage our policies accordingly. At the same time, we also have to believe in individual responsibility until evidence shows us otherwise.


12. The suggestion that we have to put human beings in the centre of our policy, I do not think we can agree more. Though if I could de-code what Ms Ong was saying, I think in context she was talking about a drug abuser and putting that human being in the centre of our policies, which is usually how debates in this field are often structured.


13. When I say I agree completely, I will add a caveat that I will also put the victims of the drugs at the heart of our policies. There are victims on both sides - the drug abusers are victims, the drug traffickers in some way are the people who are benefitting from it, but there are a lot of people who are innocent bystanders who suffer as a result of other people’s drug habits.


14. Let me give an example. These people do not find mention in many of these debates, which are centred on drugs. A few years ago, there was a little girl. I think she must have been four or five, called “Noi Noi”. Charming, when you look at the photographs, a life full of hope and expectation. Her adult relative - a drug abuser - killed her. She is a victim of drug abuse. She does not enter the statistics in the context of debates on drug abuse. We could well put the drug abuser who killed her in the heart of our policies, but I think we should also spare a thought for the “Noi Nois” of this world.


15. It is often pointed out by the Singapore Government, the context of the death penalty. The 15g of diamorphine (or pure heroin) that a trafficker brings in is enough to feed about 180 drug abusers for one week. Those are all victims too. The reason why, and I have said this many times, for those of us who have children, you will let your 10-year-old child go on public transport in Singapore while you will not let that child take public transport in many other first-world cities. This is because we are safe. And we are safe because of our drug policies. Let us not forget that.


16. Let us not be seduced by the liberal arguments. Liberalism is not an unfair word. Where it makes good science, we will take it, as you can see from the major aspects of this policy. But where it makes sense, we must be ready to stand our ground. We want to achieve the core goal of reducing drug abuse in Singapore, as Mr Desmond Choo, Mr Pritam Singh, and other members point out - there is a risk of these changes being characterised as we are “going soft”.


17. We will distinguish between abusers who only consume drugs, from those who also face charges for other offences. And we will point out that the approach we are taking is based on evidence. It is not going hard or going soft. There is no particular merit in being hard for the sake of being hard, or soft for the sake of being soft, or attaching labels like right-wing, left-wing, liberal. Actually all of that is irrelevant. What is relevant is the evidence, how we deal with it, what is in the interests of society. And we deal with it openly and debate it openly, and we set out the facts, and we try and come to an agreement. That is the preferred approach, not ideology.


18. Those who face additional charges for other offences will continue to be charged for their drug consumption offences as well as their other offences. For those who only consume drugs and admit to their drug use, rather than staying in LT, as we said, they will undergo a shorter, but more intensive rehabilitation in the DRC which could be up to four years, and then be placed on Community-based Programmes (CBP), and then a longer supervision period.


19. And to make sure we are able to intervene as soon as possible if they do relapse, even after they are released from supervision, Director CNB can require abusers who have completed their rehabilitation, supervision or imprisonment to still report to CNB for urine or hair tests when required. We will do this in a measured, targeted fashion.


20. Mr Deputy Speaker Sir, we have introduced offences to protect children and young persons from the reckless acts of older people. We have to give the next generation the best chance of leading a drug-free life. Young people who have already started on drugs, we must provide them with the support to get out of that cycle as quickly as possible. Hence the change to mandate parents and guardians of young drug abusers to attend counselling.


21. So we thank Members for the many useful suggestions, especially during last year’s Parliamentary Motion on Drugs, and today. And I think together, we will continue to work towards maintaining a drug-free Singapore.


22. Mr Deputy Speaker Sir, I beg to move.



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