Published: 31 May 2022
Home Team colleagues
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. A very good afternoon.
2. I’m very happy to be able to join you today at CNB’s Workplan Seminar 2022.
3. The global and regional drug situation continues to be challenging. The methamphetamine market in East and Southeast Asia has continued to expand, driven by an increase in global supply. Internationally, pro-cannabis lobby groups driven by commercial interests continue to push for more liberal drug control policies. Some countries have also become more permissive of cannabis for recreational use. For example, in January this year, Thailand announced the removal of cannabis from its list of controlled drugs.
4. Locally, CNB has kept up with its enforcement efforts. Intensive enforcement operations in 2021 dismantled 25 drug syndicates, seizing over $18 million worth of drugs.
5. To make operations more effective, CNB has made significant progress in using technology and new methods to facilitate investigations and gather evidence.
6. For example, CNB started using a portable general drug screening test kit to augment drug screening capabilities at the site of the crime. This helps CNB officers determine whether the unknown substances seized contain controlled drugs, before higher-resolution lab analysis results are known.
7. CNB has also digitalised its work processes to help officers do their work better. In particular, CNB is rolling out the Mobile Diary, which digitises existing manual documentation required to screen entities of interest and record keeping of incidents into mobile phones and tablets.
8. CNB has also been using video recording of interviews. In addition to providing a more objective account of the interview process, this has helped us to continue investigations amid the pandemic, even across borders.
9. As an example, when CNB officers were unable to travel out of Singapore to conduct in-person interviews, Specialist Investigator, Epeer Mohammed Farez Bin Mohd Yusoff worked with our Malaysian counterparts and the Attorney General’s Chambers to obtain video recorded statements. The statements were recorded in a secure environment, in the Malaysian Police HQ.
10. To combat drugs, enforcement alone is not enough. I am happy to note that CNB has also made progress in enhancing our drug rehabilitation and aftercare efforts.
11. We just watched the video earlier on Community Supervision Skills, or CoSS. The scheme was piloted in 2019 to strengthen the supervision regime for drug supervisees and reduce the risk of relapse. Under the scheme, CNB supervision officers check in on supervisees and assess what they need to better reintegrate into society, whether on the financial, family or employment fronts. For example, from the video, you can see how our supervision officer, Elfi, helped his supervisee in thinking through the consequences of his decisions.
12. The Community Supervision approach has received good feedback. More than 80% of supervisees were satisfied with CoSS sessions, and shared that the engagements with the officers had helped them to chart out new directions for their lives. They also appreciated that the supervision officers heard their needs and referred them to agencies for help, be it for financial assistance or housing. I have received positive feedback about CoSS, and I’m very happy to be able to help our friends who are recovering – and their families – to reintegrate into society.
13. CoSS is being expanded progressively, with full implementation island-wide by March next year. This will better support the reintegration of former drug abusers and aid them in pursuing drug-free lives.
Taking a Strong Stance on Drugs
14. Drug abuse exacts a heavy price on abusers, their families, and ultimately society. Some may think that the harms of drugs only affect the abusers themselves. Or, that because we have already done well, we can afford to take a softer approach towards drug use in Singapore. This is not the case.
15. While the local drug situation remains under control, the proportion of new drug abusers remains high. About 34% of drug abusers arrested in 2021 were new abusers. Drug trafficking syndicates continue to explore novel methods to import drugs into Singapore, and have also moved drug transactions online.
16. There continues to be a need for strong deterrence. Just a few weeks ago, there was an enforcement operation that resulted in the seizure of 20kg of cannabis – a record for 2022. On 18 May, nearly 18kg of heroin was seized at Woodlands Checkpoint, the largest seizure of the drug since 2001. Such amounts could feed thousands of abusers and cause significant harm.
17. Some of us may also recall the recent spate of drug-related violent incidents in March. In each of these cases, the suspects were violent and reckless, and they were armed. They could have caused even greater harm had they not been stopped in time.
18. In the case at Buangkok Crescent, the attacker swung a sword at passing cars and a passer-by. Preliminary investigations showed that he had taken unknown pills right before the incident. For the case in Bendeemer, the knife-wielding man threatened to injure SPF officers – he was eventually shot by the officers. The man was a known drug offender and wanted by CNB; we found drug apparatus in his unit. In the same month, there was the man in Queenstown who injured two passers-by with a razor blade – he also had a history of drug consumption.
19. These examples show that drug abuse often goes hand in hand with criminal activities. Drugs cause people to lose control, become violent, and cause harm to others’ property or lives.
20. In addition, drugs cause immense harm to the lives of drug abusers and their families. Drug abusers have died from consuming drugs. In 2018, a 19-year-old medical student from the National University of Singapore died from the toxicity of a new psychoactive substance commonly known as “acid”, after he consumed the drug with a group of friends.
21. Beyond abusers themselves, there is good evidence to show how drug-taking impacts the abusers’ children. We have seen many cases of drug abusers neglecting their families, with young children growing up without a role model. In a 2020 study, psychologists from the Singapore Prison Service found that as a result of their parents’ drug abuse, children of drug abusers are more likely to experience a lack of social support, and develop permissive attitudes towards drugs. They also found that one in every five children of drug offenders themselves ended up committing criminal offences.
22. Beyond the health and familial impacts of drug abuse, drug abuse puts the families under great financial stress. When abusers get so addicted to and dependent on drugs that they cannot hold their jobs, their families bear the brunt. Some drug abusers also stole from their families to fuel their drug habits.
23. These are the reasons why we continue to take a strong stance against the scourge of drugs, to try to break the cycles of drug addiction, and curb the wider harms of drugs on our society.
Use of Capital Punishment
24. To tackle this problem upstream, we must be relentless in combating the self-serving, profit-driven and deadly crime of drug trafficking. This includes imposing capital punishment on those who traffic large quantities of drugs.
25. As Minister Shanmugam mentioned at MHA’s Committee of Supply Debate this year, capital punishment has clear deterrent effects. Let me reiterate some of the points he made earlier.
26. The introduction of capital punishment changed the behaviour of drug traffickers. In 1990, the Government introduced the mandatory death penalty for trafficking more than 1.2 kilograms of opium. Comparing the four years before and after, there was a 66% reduction in the average net weight of opium trafficked.
27. In a 2018 study conducted by MHA, we found a very high level of awareness of capital punishment among convicted drug traffickers. This had influenced their drug trafficking behaviour, as they adjusted the amount of drugs they trafficked to below the capital threshold.
28. To address some critics of the death penalty – we must remember that these are not small amounts we are talking about. To put it in context, 15 grams of pure diamorphine – the threshold for heroin – is equivalent to about 1,250 straws of heroin, which can supply about 180 drug abusers for a week. In fact, to cross these thresholds, one would not be carrying drugs for personal consumption. Instead, it would be for mass distribution to others, for financial gain.
29. Singapore is located very close to the Golden Triangle, home to large-scale illicit drug production and distribution centres. Without such a tough stance in place, there is no doubt that more people would take the opportunity to traffic drugs into Singapore. Drugs would become more readily available, and more Singaporean families and individuals will be harmed.
30. Singapore’s position on drugs, including our use of capital punishment, is well-known and has worked well for us. It is also supported by an effective criminal justice system: effective enforcement and intelligence such that there is high certainty of being caught, and an incorrupt judiciary.
31. In an ideal world, we would prefer not to have to impose capital punishment on anyone. But we have to continue to do what is best for Singapore, and Singaporeans.
Observations on Abuse of Court Processes Leading Up to the Conduct of Capital Sentences
32. In this context, I will make some observations on certain recent attempts to frustrate the carrying out of capital sentences that have been lawfully imposed, and upheld by the Courts.
33. Recently, the Courts have dismissed several legal applications brought by convicted drug traffickers, and commented that they were an abuse of process to frustrate the carrying out of the offenders’ sentences. Quite a number of these applications were filed at the last minute, in the days before their sentence was scheduled to be carried out.
34. For example, applications were brought by Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam, through his legal counsel, in the days before his scheduled execution. The Court of Appeal found the proceedings to “constitute a blatant and egregious abuse of the court’s processes” which were “conducted with the seeming aim of unjustifiably delaying the carrying into effect of the sentence imposed”. It also observed that the case mounted was “baseless and without merit, both as a matter of fact and of law”.
35. We acknowledge that there are those with passionate views about the use of capital punishment in Singapore. But we must respect the law and the administration of justice: the proper mode to engage on such issues is certainly not through making last-minute, unmeritorious applications to obstruct the course of justice. In this regard, we will be looking at legislative amendments to curb such abuses of court processes.
Commitment to a Drug-Free Singapore
36. Apart from tough laws, we must continue to do more on three other fronts.
37. Firstly, we must ramp up our preventive drug education efforts. This is our first line of defence. Singaporeans must be keenly aware of the dangers of drug abuse, and the importance of taking a zero-tolerance stance against drug abuse.
38. I am encouraged by the efforts from CNB, together with the National Council Against Drug Abuse, or NCADA, and stakeholders of the United Against Drugs Coalition and Anti-Drug Abuse Advocacy Network, to spread and strengthen anti-drug narratives.
39. For example, to commemorate CNB’s 50th anniversary, CNB worked with Mediacorp to produce an eight-episode television drama series titled The Takedown, which debuted in November 2021. The series includes sub-plots based on real-life cases to highlight the harms of drug abuse on our society, especially families and children. MOS Desmond Tan, CNB officers and advocates were featured in the end-credits of each episode to reinforce anti-drug messages. I heard that the drama series was very popular, and was even nominated for best drama serial at this year’s Star Awards. Congratulations!
40. We have also been working to engage youths. For example, CNB organises an annual video competition, which allows youths to share on the harms of drugs by producing creative videos. This year, CNB will reach out to more students to co-create such preventive drug education resources, to reach out to fellow youths.
41. Secondly, we must continue to build mindshare internationally on our position, to share why Singapore makes the choices that we do in our approach towards drugs. This includes fostering international dialogue and coordinating joint action to address the drug problems. Singapore is running to be a member of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs for the term 2024 to 2027. We hope to be able to further contribute towards developing evidence-informed and effective global drug control policies, supporting capacity building efforts, and sharing research findings on drug trends.
42. Third, we must partner closely with our local community: students, businesses, and other organisations, in order to harness the support of different community stakeholders in advancing the anti-drug cause.
43. For example, we have been holding the DrugFreeSG Light-Up as an anchor event of the annual Anti-Drug Abuse Campaign since 2018. In the evening of 26 June every year, we will see buildings illuminate their facades in green and/or white, the colours of the anti-drug ribbon as a show of their support for the fight against drugs. Besides lighting up their building facades, our partners Fullerton Hotel Singapore, Singapore Flyer and Jewel Changi Airport, also publicised the event on their social media platforms. Lazada Group also participated virtually with the CNB drug-free ribbon’s signature green colour featured on its e-commerce platform. Let us join hands and thank them for supporting the DrugFreeSG Light-Up.
44. I am also especially encouraged by the ground-up initiatives by our advocates from the Anti-Drug Abuse Advocacy Network.
45. Last year, CNB collaborated with four community libraries as part of their efforts to inspire anti-drug advocacy within the communities. I understand that one of the advocates is here with us today. Sze Wei, founder of the Little Library at Clementi Ridges, put up a drug-free themed display with posters, collaterals, and a message board for Clementi Ridges residents to pledge their support for the drug-free cause. Thank you, Sze Wei.
46. Another initiative involved a group of youth advocates and student leaders from the ITE College Central Student Council. They organised a Drug Prevention Awareness Campaign last year to spread awareness on the harmful effects of drug abuse to their peers. The campaign comprised class-based sharing sessions, in-class activities and a video interview with an ex-abuser sharing the importance of making the right choice through his story. The campaign reached out to over 500 students.
47. I have shared with you the developments, as well as why we take a strong stance against drugs, and what we will continue to do to strengthen our approach. The road ahead will not be easy for CNB. On the international front, lobbying for more liberal drug control policies continues. Locally, there is a gradual slide towards more liberal attitudes about drugs and drug taking among youths. In a survey conducted in 2019 by NCADA, youths’ support for Singapore’s zero-tolerance stance towards drugs was 79%, compared to 84% for those above the age of 30. Youth drug abuse remains a concern. 60% of new drug abusers arrested last year were under 30 years old.
48. The fact that the drug situation remains under control in Singapore is a testament to the good work and contributions of our CNB officers. Because of our strict anti-drug approach, we have prevented many of the social harms caused by drugs from plaguing Singapore.
49. However, we cannot be complacent. CNB must continue to improve and transform its operations, to respond effectively to the evolving drug situation. Another part which is very important is having a strong network of community partners. This is very crucial as we continue to work together towards our vision of a drug-free Singapore. I have been working together with CNB as well as our community partners. They have come forward – some with their family members, some with a group of friends, various backgrounds, from different segments of the community. To all of you, we are deeply grateful for your support, and we look forward to continuing our strong collaborations to reach out to the public. Our sincere thanks to you and let’s continue this journey.
50. In conclusion, I am confident that together, we will progress towards our vision of a drug-free Singapore. I wish you all a successful CNB Workplan Seminar and I look forward to working with you for the betterment of Singapore, and Singaporeans.
51. Thank you.