Malay/Muslim Organisations Rehabilitation Network Conference 2024 - Opening Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 25 January 2024

Minister Masagos 

SMS Zaqy, MOS Faishal

Parliamentary Colleagues – Fahmi, Wan Rizal

HT Partners and Colleagues

Ladies and Gentlemen

Very good morning to every one of you. 

1. We, at the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), decided that we will focus a lot on rehabilitating ex-offenders some years ago. It is an important contributor to safety and security.  If ex-offenders succeed in turning over a new leaf, they will be less likely to reoffend. It makes a big difference to the lives of their families - that is important. In a way, when we talk about volunteering, making society better, what are we talking about? We are talking about improving people’s lives; and statistics, not just in Singapore but all over the world, show that people who offend are likely to reoffend. So, their lives, their children’s lives, their families’ lives are basically destroyed. If we can help them, we are helping a lot of people. That is, I think, the true essence of volunteerism. 

2. 20 years ago, the Singapore Prisons Service reoriented itself from seeing its mission solely as securing the custody of inmates, keeping people inside jail; and changed their tagline to “Captain of Lives”, where the focus is significantly on rehabilitation. Other agencies within MHA and the programmes were also similarly changed. For example, Yellow Ribbon Singapore has been expanding its programmes to improve employment opportunities for ex-offenders. They go out to look for partners; they bring in work skills into prisons and help train the offenders, and hopefully they go out with extra skills. We have also increased cooperation with other social service agencies. They provide long-term support for inmates’ families because when the inmates are in there, the families suffer. So, social service agencies go in and try to support the families. We have brought in various organisations, including religious organisations, to meet the spiritual needs of offenders as well as their families, across all religions. 

3. In this context, we are very happy that the Malay/Muslim Organisations Rehabilitation Network was formed in November 2021. This was something that I wanted, I spoke to MOS Faishal and with the very strong support of Minister Masagos, this has become possible. So, I would like to acknowledge their significant contribution - otherwise, we are unlikely to be here today - that provides more effective and more holistic support for Malay/Muslim inmates, ex-offenders, their families, in their rehabilitation and reintegration journey. 

4. I would also like to thank SMS Zaqy, Fahmi and Wan Rizal for supporting the MHA team and our partners. And, MOS Faishal, as I said earlier, someone has to take it up and do the work. So, he has been walking the ground and doing the work and putting in endless days and hours. So, I wish to thank MOS Faishal as well for this.  

Value of the MMO Rehabilitation Network

5. We are happy with what the MMO Rehabilitation Network has achieved. It has been an extremely effective platform for Malay/Muslim Organisations to work with each other, to build on each other’s expertise, strengths and networks. 

6. For example, we take FITRAH. When FITRAH was formed, they were working with a small number of mosques, which itself was a significant step because some years ago there were no mosques involved. So, it started with a small number of mosques. They also did not have any Mosque Religious Officers (MROs) in their pool of volunteers. Today, with MUIS’s support and networks, and MHA’s seconded officers, FITRAH works closely with 29 mosques to provide incare and aftercare services to our inmates, ex-offenders, and their families. The mosques are spread out across the island. It is easier to reach out to the ex-offenders through something they understand and trust. Therefore, it is very important. Religious counselling, Quranic courses and tattoo removal programmes are all offered. And, with the support of the mosques, FITRAH has expanded its pool of MROs to 40 today. The MROs visit the prisons regularly to engage with inmates and link them up with the various mosques in Singapore, so that they can link up and receive support after their release.

7. Another example is the Insan Mukmin Programme, which started five years ago in 2019 as a collaboration between FITRAH and PERGAS. This is a religious counselling programme; the curriculum was developed by PERGAS. I spoke with PERGAS and said that we need people to come in, and PERGAS was good enough to come in to help. FITRAH provides befriending support to the participants. 

8. A third example is the collaboration between PA MESRA, Pertapis Halfway House, Jamiyah Halfway House, and Rise Above Halfway House. We support the halfway houses but they still need to come forward and we need to link up with PA. They have been doing very good work. They have introduced a number of courses to help the residents in these halfway houses to upskill themselves and improve their employment prospects. Since this joint collaboration started two years ago in 2022, they organised seven courses and more than 150 inmates and residents have benefitted.

9. MMOs have also come together to organise learning journeys, learning from each other’s best practices, better understand each other’s programmes, so that they can provide even better services. Another good thing that has happened is that MMOs have started referring cases to each other so that their beneficiaries can receive better support. For example, FITRAH refers cases to Mendaki for educational support, and New Life Stories refers cases to FITRAH for religious counselling.

10. MMOs have also used this network to expand their reach because together they reach and benefit more people. It is very good to see some of the M3@towns have joined these efforts. They reach out to the families of inmates, ex-offenders, to invite them to community activities and programmes in their neighbourhood. This helps to expand the families’ networks, and introduces them to an additional “helpline”. Before we came in, I was speaking with MOS Faishal and said we need to try and see how we can scale this up. I think with M3 and PA, we will be able to scale up some of the services to reach even more people. So, we will work on that. 

11. M3@towns now have started to provide volunteering opportunities for ex-offenders through M3 events and community activities. 

Progress of the Community

12. The government and MHA alone could not have done all of this - we could do some but it will have limitations. Government agencies, community partners and all of you have made a big difference to the well-being of the ex-offenders and their families.

13. The 2-year recidivism rate for Malay ex-offenders has remained low and stable in recent years. 

14. For the 2020 release cohort, it was about 25% (24.7%), one in four. That is a huge improvement compared to 34.1% for the 2010 release cohort. 

15. The other thing that I take considerable heart is that the number of new Malay drug abusers arrested has dropped very significantly, from close to 600 in 2011, 13 years ago. Two years ago, in 2022, it was 300. So, it has come down by half. 

16. Today, at this Conference, we are also releasing a paper documenting our efforts to prevent offending and reoffending within the MM community

17. This paper marks the significant progress we have made, highlights what all of you, our MMOs, have done. 

18. At the same time, I would like to share with you some statistics which I have shared with others in small groups. We come here together, we talk about ex-offenders, drugs, rehabilitation, helping their families. But the picture is actually considerably brighter when you look overall at the Malay/Muslim community. I want to share some data with you, so that when you go away, you know that the problem is becoming smaller and the positive side of the ledger is growing much bigger. 

19. If you look at education, which we in Singapore emphasise as a key to better performance, if you look at 1995, 47.5% of Malay kids going to primary one went on to post-secondary education - so one in two. If you look at 2020, it is 93% - almost every Malay child who goes to primary one will now go on to post-secondary education. That is real progress. Hard work, but real progress. 

20. If you look at university graduates, if you look at the 2010 census, it is 5.5%. If you look at 2020, it has doubled to nearly 11% (10.8%). If you look at the year 2000, it was only 2.1%, so there is a five times increase from year 2000 to 2020 in the number of graduates.

21. If you look at Malays who got a post-secondary or higher qualification, in 2010, it was one in three, 31%; in 2020, it was one in two, 47.5%. If you look at year 2000, it was only 16%, so it has gone up three-fold in 20 years. 

22. If you look at post-secondary and higher, university, I told you 10.8%, diploma 17%, post-secondary 20%. So what we now need to do, is to push more of those who are going to post-secondary into diploma, polytechnics and ITE. 

23. Even more encouraging, if you look at those below the age of 34, four in five, that’s 80%, have post-secondary or higher education. That is very significant. Almost eight out of 10 under 35. I suspect, in 10 years when you look at it, it will be like 95%, and that is real progress. And 20% who are university graduates in 2020. 

24. If you look at jobs, the proportion of Malays in PMET jobs in 1980 was only 7%; in 2020, the latest census, it was 40%. Four out of 10, nearly one in two, are in PMET jobs and the monthly median household income, the census shows, has increased on a real basis from 2010. 

25. Another significant fact relates to housing. First, 85% of Malay households own their own homes. That is extremely significant. Everyone pretty much is a home-owner. We need to tackle the 15%. And equally significant, more than 60% live in four-room or bigger flats. What does four-room in Singapore mean? To me, four-room is a marker of middle class. Why? Because if you are in a four-room and it’s a flat that you bought from the Government, then after some years, you are probably sitting on an equity of anything from $150,000 to $250,000, as long as they don’t sell and cash out. 

26. 60% live in 4-rooms or better, they therefore have an equity of $150,000-$250,000 locked up in the house. But when they retire, they can go to a smaller flat, and the money is there.

27. And if they are in a 4-room or better, it means they can afford education, a certain lifestyle, and they are able to give aspirations to their children. So, one can confidently say, the Malay community in the last 20 years, has made significant progress in terms of where it is, and it is actually now a middle-class community in Singapore.

28. And not just that, it's poised – if we can keep pushing in the same way, in the next 10 to 15 years – for a vertical take-off. Because once you have a base of parents who understand the value of education, and they themselves are relatively well educated – at least secondary or post-secondary education, they have decent jobs; then they are able to help their children to move out.

29. So I would say the picture, to look at it, is actually quite bright. So, the problem we have now managed to reduce as a society – we have managed to reduce the numbers substantially. Now, we can put our focus and resources in two areas.

30. One, continue to push the majority of the community to achieve even higher levels and be competitive across the world. Remember for PISA scores, which are international scores - you take our kids, and you compare them with kids from the OECD countries, France, UK, Germany, US. Our Malay kids does better on PISA scores compared from kids from these countries.

31. Within Singapore, there is still a gap between them, with the Indian kids and the Chinese kids. We need to continue to try and close the gap.

32. We need to make them understand that competition is inherent, whether people are competing here in Singapore, or outside where they are all competing in an internet-linked world; and the jobs are at stake. So, they need the hunger. These are things we need to inculcate in them.

33. So, we have made good progress - I think you can go away feeling that the community and Singapore has made good progress.


34. But as we make progress, we don't forget those who are not making that progress, and we try and help them.

35. The 5-year recidivism rate, for example. I said just now that the 2-year recidivism rate is 1 in 4, or 25%. But if we look at it over five years, and whether they reoffend, that remains quite high. That's 50% - 1 in 2 go back to jail within five years.

36. Second, the fight against drug abuse is getting more challenging. The global supply of drugs has increased, and liberal attitudes towards drugs in other countries are influencing Singaporeans, especially our youths. 

37. Another aspect of the problem is inter-generational offending. A 2020 study done by MSF and NCSS showed that children whose parents were involved in crime are three times more likely to themselves get into trouble. 

38. These are problems that can be solved. Now, we know the statistics. We know who are the children at risk. We should be able to intervene and help them before they get into trouble. So, we need to work together to deal with these; learn from each other, tap on each other’s experiences, skills and resources.


39. Thank you to all of you here for your support, for your commitment to help our inmates, ex-offenders, and quite importantly, their families.

40. I hope that you will have a valuable, fruitful conference. We look forward to working together. 

41. Thank you very much.


1. Working With the Malay/Muslim Organisations to Rehabilitate Ex-offenders [PDF, 290 KB]