Published: 04 May 2023
Question: Minister Shanmugam, can you share with us, how the PRESTige programme will help the residents here in Pertapis?
Minister: We are here at Pertapis Halfway House. Mr Hussaini is the President, and has been the President for a long time. They do a lot of good work on the ground. Minister of State (MOS), Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development, Faishal is here with me too. The programme that they are doing, they are partnering Prisons, the halfway house. We call it the PRESTige programme. Prisons works with selected partners, working in the community, and our aim is to try and reduce the five-year recidivism rate.
How does Pertapis do this? They work with [supervisees] – there are about 90 of them here. They provide them with work therapy and training, to help them better prepare, to take on a job, and keep the job. So, it is both psychological as well as actual training. There are different kinds of jobs – cleaning, shredding, logistics, printing. Different types of jobs are available, and they will go for skills training as well.
From Prisons’ perspective, the more we can help them, and work with partners, hopefully that will help the [supervisees] stay out of trouble and away from drugs, so they don’t go back to prison. We find that being employed and working at a job is one of the key factors in keeping people out of prison.
Question: With Thailand legalising cannabis last year and Malaysia recently abolishing the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking, among other offences, will Singapore expect to face more challenges in our drug situation?
Minister: The challenges are increasing, and the challenges are not only regional.
If you look at one aspect, there is a lot of wrong, false information out there; narratives which are driven by profit motives, which seek to mislead on drugs, including on cannabis.
IMH did a recent survey, and the results are quite worrying. The survey showed that homes were the most common location for drug abuse, and the average age for starting drug abuse was actually 16. So, you see, this is quite worrying.
We will need to deal with this. We will bring together different Ministries to take a broader look from different aspects of drug prevention for young people. We will form an Inter-Ministry Committee involving Ministry of Education (MOE), Ministry of Social & Family Development (MSF), Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), People’s Association (PA), Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), and the Ministry of Health (MOH).
I will chair this committee, and we will try and see how we can focus on drug prevention efforts in homes, through parents; in schools; in the community; in National Service. We’ve got to approach this from many different aspects.
Question: If I could ask a follow-up question, could you elaborate a bit on the aspects that the committee will be looking into and what are the outcomes or targets that you hope to achieve with the committee?
Minister: The committee has not started work. But, as I have said – How can we work better with parents? How do we try and get the message across that drugs are a serious problem?
It has gotten across to many Singaporeans, or most Singaporeans, I would say. We need to emphasise it, drive it home further. Also, we have to approach the young people themselves. That is why we need to work with the parents, with the community, with the schools, National Service – in a variety of different ways. And send the message, give them alternatives, give them opportunities to think about it, think carefully, and try to keep them out of trouble.
Question: Just to clarify, when you say young people, what is the specific age range that the committee will be looking at?
Minister: The surveys suggested that the average age at which young people are starting, is at 16. That is worrying. That means not everyone starts at 16, and some of the young people are starting below 16. So, we should look at the entire range and try and help them.
Question: How is this taskforce different from another campaign?
Minister: It is not a campaign. It is a taskforce to understand the reasons, why this is happening, and how can we best deal with it. A follow-up campaign targeted at specific aspects can entirely be possible. But at present, this is more a study to work out the various options.
Question: When will the taskforce be set up? When will it start?
Minister: It is likely to start sometime in the third quarter of this year.