Published: 29 October 2022
Members of the Home Team Boards,
Councils and Committees,
Home Team Colleagues,
1. It is wonderful to see all of you again, and to see so many familiar faces – colleagues, friends and partners who have never taken your eyes off the important mission of the Home Team, and who have been supporting us in every way possible.
2. There are many things that are happening that are worth our attention, but certainly for my colleagues and I, as well as Minister Shanmugam, and the Home Team, we very much value all of your contributions, and we are very grateful for your continued commitment of time and attention to various responsibilities that we have sought your help on. I just want to say a big thank you to all of you.
3. For several years now, Gallup has been doing a poll on law and order across different jurisdictions in the world. Since 2015, Singapore has been ranked number one, and in the most recent ranking again. I say this, not so much to thump our chest or to sing our own praises. I say this, to let you know that it is because of your willingness walk with us in this journey. It is your dedication to contributing towards the Home Team’s mission, that we are able to sustain this kind of performance, and we do not take it lightly at all.
Diverse contributions and roles of BCCs
4. Across the Home Team, we are truly privileged and honoured to have 42 Boards, Councils and Committees (BCCs). Some of you have been involved in reviewing appeals, some help to strengthen our systems and governance, while others provide strategic guidance to various Home Team entities.
5. I cannot fully represent all your contributions, but I can testify to their range and scale, and also to acknowledge that each one of you brings something valuable to the table.
Tapping on BCC members’ support to amplify the Home Team’s voice
6. Today, I wanted to spend some time sharing about the Home Team’s priorities, to give you a sense of the challenges we see over the horizon, and how we believe Singapore needs to pull together to weather these challenges.
7. First, and the most obvious one, is drugs. Drugs are a persistent problem. The way in which we have to deal with drugs is not from five years ago, or 15 years ago. It actually dates even further back. Some would have heard or read about the opium dens that dotted our landscape, around the turn of the last century, and how long it took for us to bring the situation under control, and to be where we are today. But when we look around the world, there are many worrying developments. For example, Thailand, not so long ago, removed cannabis from their list of illegal narcotic drugs, to allow access for medicinal purposes. Our most immediate neighbour, Malaysia, has stated its plans to learn from Thailand’s policies. This was stated at the very highest level.
8. In Singapore, from time to time, there are also comments that we should consider relaxing our laws on cannabis. It is not a very loud voice, but it is heard often enough for us to be very concerned.
9. Is this the right thing to do? We better go back to the facts.
(a) It is very clear from studies that cannabis is linked to brain damage and serious mental illness, when consumed in its raw form.
(b) Second, there is really no scientific evidence showing that raw cannabis is effective in treating medical conditions at all.
(c) There is some research showing the potential uses of cannabinoids – a substance extracted from cannabis plant – that can be used to manage medical conditions such as seizures and epilepsy. But this is not the same as raw cannabis, which is what drug addicts will consume.
(d.) Should a medical professional, a doctor in Singapore, assess that medication containing cannabinoids is necessary for the treatment of any individual, the doctor can already apply for this to be made available in Singapore, and we have indeed granted such applications before. So, the use of cannabinoids for treatment is not something we prohibit. We are able to facilitate it, but there must be someone who says that we have looked at the options, and this is the only one available to help the individual, and we are very sympathetic to that. But it is not raw cannabis, which is where it is being promoted for recreational purposes.
10. The experience of several countries shows clearly that a permissive attitude towards drugs exacts a high cost to society. And remember, cannabis is what is called a “gateway drug”. In the first instance, it doesn’t sound or look like something that is very harmful, but when you get on to one kind of drug, it opens up your willingness to try other kinds of drugs.
(a) In the news not too long ago, a 32-year-old man went on a stabbing rampage in Saskatchewan, Canada. The killer had a history of drug abuse, as well as alcohol abuse, and was known to be selling drugs in the community.
(b) Earlier this month, we heard the heartbreaking news of an attack on a childcare centre in Thailand. Imagine young, innocent children. The perpetrator, unfortunately, a former police officer, had a history of drug abuse.
(c) Last month, closer to home, a passenger on an SIA flight assaulted a cabin crew and falsely claimed to have a bomb in his carry-on bag. His urine tested positive for cannabis.
(d) In a local case that was sentenced last month, a man killed his mother and grandmother, after he had consumed the drug LSD.
(e) Drug trafficking also provides gangs with the funds to obtain weapons and commit violent crimes.
(f) According to a report by the German federal government, drug trafficking is the largest activity for organised crime groups.1 And yet, in spite of the clear evidence in Germany, its Health Minister has recently proposed legalising the recreational use of cannabis.
(g) Of course, what is more known to all of us is that in Mexico, the drug cartels, enriched by the drug trade, are often better armed than law enforcement officers. And if we get into that situation, I think the battle is very much lost. It would be very difficult to reverse the situation.
11. There are many more examples that I could cite, but suffice to say, the pressures are mounting, the dangers are all around us, and that is why we need your support more than ever.
12. Within your spheres of influence, you can help fellow Singaporeans, especially younger ones, be more aware of the harms of drugs, including cannabis, and counter the misleading propaganda that recreational use is harmless. This is a very dangerous development – that certain segments of our population begin to see it as part of a relaxed, free-living lifestyle, and that there is nothing wrong about it. Our people travel, and even if they do not travel, they come across such materials on the internet.
13. On our part, the Government will not waver in our tough approach against drug trafficking, including the use of the death penalty. We take no pleasure in using the death penalty, but it is there as an effective deterrent.
14. We are very clear on this, because the evidence is incontrovertible – that the death penalty is an effective deterrence against drug trafficking.
15. When we interviewed convicted drug traffickers and analysed their operations, it shows clearly that the death penalty has featured in their calculations, and has significantly reduced the amount of drugs trafficked into Singapore, as a result.
16. Surveys also show that a large majority of people living in our surrounding region agree that the death penalty has a deterrent effect.
17. Some people, however, make the disingenuous argument that because drugs are still being trafficked into Singapore, it must mean that the death penalty had not worked; it is ineffective.
18. It is an illogical argument, but they will grasp at any argument.
19. Drug criminals, like businessmen, make hard-nosed calculations about costs and benefits. They think of the return on investment. So the idea that penalties do not matter is plainly wrong, and we have to keep reminding people about it.
20. Our approach in Singapore has made a difference. It has saved tens of thousands of lives, and protected families from harm. Singaporeans understand this, and they support us.
21. In the next few months, we will tighten the laws to allow us to deal more effectively with New Psychoactive Substances (NPS).
22. Because the NPS are easy to manufacture in drug labs that are not difficult to set up, we find it a challenge to keep up with all the stuff that is coming into the market. If we continue to require the scheduling as we did before, there must be a proper governance structure in place, but we will propose that the CNB be allowed to take action based on the psychoactive effects of a substance. The substance can change, but the effects can be described, and so even if the substance has not yet been scheduled under our Misuse of Drugs Act, this will allow CNB to be more responsive in the face of new effects.
23. A second area of priority for the Home Team is scams. This is one of those unintended consequences of digitalization, and one that we must try to fight if we are to succeed in becoming a smart nation. The level of trust and confidence that people have must not be taken for granted, we will have to work hard to keep this up.
24. Scams, unfortunately, have been the main driver of crime in Singapore in recent years. In the first half of 2022, scams alone accounted for more than half of all reported crimes. Not all of it is cyber related but quite a good number, somehow, has a part of it that is perpetuated through digital means.
25. We’ve put in a great deal of effort working with the community and stakeholders to help the public be more vigilant. We will continue to do this, and we seek your support to spread a few key messages.
(a) First, be aware of what the common scams are and watch out for signs of them. The most common scams this year have been job scams, phishing scams, e-commerce scams, and investment scams.
(b) Second, everyone in the community can help to fight scams. They can do their part by sharing anti-scam advisories, and encouraging their family members and friends to download the ScamShield app which MHA developed together with GovTech to filter out scam messages, as well as block scam calls from numbers that they know are problematic.
(c) Third, if you are even in the slightest doubt, pause. Do not respond immediately to the caller, or text message, or email, but ask yourself: is there something that does not look quite right? Then, separately, call your bank, or the organisation that says it has reached out to you, on the line, on the platform that you have used before and know works. This is essential, because you do need to check things out. If somebody says your bank account has been frozen, this can have serious consequences. You may have payments that are scheduled. But the way to do it is not to immediately click the link that has been sent to you, because our banks today don’t send links anymore. They want you to go to their app, their website – the official one – for your transaction. That is something that we all have to remember, and if in doubt, there is an Anti-Scam Command that has been stepped up, and they will be willing to help you.
26. Even as the Police continue to build our scam-fighting capabilities, ultimately, the best defence against scams is a vigilant public. So, this is something that we have to keep in mind.
27. The third topic that I want to deal with is online harms. This is another threat that the Home Team is grappling with – criminal content that has gone online and manages to reach even wider audiences.
28. Aside from scams, some of the more troubling areas includes radicalisation of our youths, and the dissemination of voyeuristic or non-consensual intimate images, sometimes known as revenge porn. This finds its way around on online communication services, and it is not characteristic of the kind of society we want to live in. So, we have to do something about it.
29. We have been working with the media and community groups to educate the public, especially vulnerable segments like youths and seniors, to protect themselves against online crimes.
30. But the Government must also be able to intervene in egregious cases. Public education is a very big part of it, but there will be occasions where we need to act on behalf of society.
31. We are therefore considering introducing legislation that will empower the Government to require the removal of such content from the view of Singapore users.
32. We are also going to make a concerted push for online platforms to take greater responsibility for reducing public exposure to criminal content. This move, on the part of MHA, together with our colleagues in MinLaw, will complement what the Ministry of Communications and Information is doing, to also counter content that may be legal but still harmful. There is work on this front, and we certainly look forward to your support.
33. The final priority that I want to talk about today is foreign interference. You would have heard Prime Minister talk about the concerns we have, and he shared them during the National Day Rally.
34. And the crux is really this – while we enjoy warm diplomatic relations with many countries and want to continually strengthen these relations, we must always remember we are not immune to foreign interference.
35. Deliberate, state-sponsored efforts to spread disinformation are not new. These actions have happened since time immemorial. It doesn’t mean that they stop during modern times, and certainly does not mean that they stop when relations are good.
(a) In 2017, it was reported that Russian-linked organisations infiltrated a group that was planning a protest against Donald Trump, propagated divisive messages, which precipitated the eventual dismantling of the movement. This was in the US. It’s a poignant example of how disinformation can be used as a weapon to alter domestic political discourse.
(b) In a report that was published in August this year by Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory, investigations revealed an interconnected web of social media accounts, that used deceptive tactics to promote pro-Western narratives in the Middle East and Central Asia. The accounts were allegedly linked to the US.
(c) Meta reported just last month that it had taken down a network of accounts originating from China. These accounts were alleged to be part of a “Chinese-origin influence operation” which targeted several countries and communities around the world.
(d) So, you see, the sources are varied, not confined to a single state actor.
36. These examples show that foreign interference is a very real and present threat, which is used by various powers, to drive their own foreign and political agenda.
37. When faced with news on controversial issues – be it on domestic or international matters – it is important for all of us to examine the information with a critical mind, assess whether the source is reliable, and to be especially discerning when spreading that information further. The last thing you want to do is to have been tricked into becoming an agent of foreign influence, when you have no intention to so and have unknowingly walked straight into a trap.
Recognising recipients of Long Service Awards
38. Now, I have covered some pretty heavy topics, and I want to return to the purpose of this afternoon’s event – and that is to recognise our many volunteers and agencies.
39. The consistent theme that you would have heard running through all these priorities that I’ve talked about, is that the safety and security of Singapore requires a collective effort on the part of the Home Team, and even more so our partners such as yourselves, and the wider community. The government cannot do it alone. We can only be more effective if we engage all of you and the wider community to join us in this effort.
40. This is why we have this annual cohesion, to thank you for helping the Home Team in our mission.
41. On that note, I would like to congratulate 41 individuals who will be receiving the Long Service Award today. You have been an inspiration to all of us. In spite of your other commitments, you continue to support these important priorities, and some of you even serve on multiple BCCs.
42. Among our recipients today is Mr Chia Chor Leong. He is the longest-serving recipient today, having served for 35 years in various portfolios such as on the Criminal Law Advisory Committee, the Independent Review Panel, the Singapore Road Safety Council, and on the External Placement Review Board.
43. Mr Chia, thank you so much, for your long-standing support!
44. I’m also very happy to share that from this year, all Long Service Award recipients will be presented with a 2-year HomeTeamNS Associate Membership, as a token of our appreciation. This clubhouse is one of the perks that comes with it. There is another one – Bedok clubhouse – coming very soon, I hope, in a matter of months. It is also a facility that we are proud of because it pays tribute and homage to all our Home Team NSmen,
45. We invite everyone here today to use the facilities at the HomeTeamNS clubhouses.
46. Once again, congratulations to all our award recipients, and thank you to all the volunteers in our BCCs for your continued support and contributions. Thank you