Welcome Dinner for the 5th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Drug Matters - Opening Remarks by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 19 October 2016

The Honourable Deputy Prime Minister from Malaysia Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi,


Honourable Ministers from ASEAN Member States,


Your Excellency Le Luong Minh, Secretary General of ASEAN,




Distinguished Guests,


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Good evening.




1. I wish you all a warm welcome to the 5th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Drug Matters (AMMD) and a warm welcome to Singapore.


2. Let me start by first offering our collective deepest condolences to Thailand on the loss of His Majesty. I think that loss is an irreparable loss. It is not only a loss to Thailand and the people of Thailand, a deeply loved and revered monarch for over 70 years. It is a loss to the entire region and the region grieves with Thailand. Our deepest condolences, and I'm sure I speak for all ASEAN Member States and everyone here.  


3. Excellencies, your presence here demonstrates your deep commitment to tackle the problem of drugs – both as individual countries, and collectively as ASEAN.


Global and Regional Situation


4. Globally, and in our region, the drug situation remains challenging. Global drug production continues to grow. Opium production is growing. Our enforcement agencies are seizing ever larger quantities of drugs. The Southeast Asian region is especially vulnerable. We have the Golden Triangle which is one of the world's top producers of drugs in this region, or in the world.


5. The Golden Triangle presents very complex challenges not only in terms of drug enforcement but also in terms of the economic situation - the poverty, crime and conflict – all of these create problems.


New Psychoactive Substances


6. In addition, globally and regionally, we have an emerging trend which is the abuse of more and newer psychoactive substances. According to our estimates, about one hundred new psychoactive substances are reported every single year. This constant churn poses tremendous challenges because we have to identify them and put them into our legislation. As soon as we put them into our legislation and go after these drugs, something new comes up which technically is not an offence. So these are serious challenges that face us.


Drug abuse by young persons


7. In addition, I think something that all our countries and across the world are facing is the fact that increasingly younger and younger people are getting attracted to drugs. And they are moving towards synthetic drugs which is a serious problem. They see drugs as cool and fashionable, they think that they are in control, that they can try it and then they can kick it. But we know what happens. They get addicted and it takes a long time to recover, many don't. But those who wish to recover, it takes a long time and a lot of effort. And there is irreparable harm that is inflicted on a person's mind and body.


8. Here in Singapore, we have conducted research given such a trend and that people think they can try it and stop easily. There is also a suggestion that doctors are approving some drugs for medical use, which is not true. No respectable medical association or body of doctors in the world have come forward to say that this is something that is necessary. But at the United Nations, you get human rights organisations that say that drugs is necessary for medicine. 


9. So we got our Institute of Mental Health (IMH) experts to review the literature in the field. They went through more than 500 articles and research. The conclusion was very clear - the use of drugs like cannabis causes irreversible damage to the brain and it affects the thinking ability. This research is backed, there is no doubt to it. Under very carefully controlled medical situations, there may be some situations to relieve pain in the hospital, but not for consumption outside.


A Drug-Free ASEAN Community


10. So if we look at it – synthetic drugs, psychoactive substances, young people taking it, production of drugs – these are all the challenges we face. The road ahead for us is not going to be easy. But as ASEAN, we have to work together.


11. So in 2012, four years ago, the leaders of ASEAN committed ourselves to a drug-free ASEAN community. The vision that was articulated was the kind of society that we saw for our people. A vision where children can play freely in their neighbourhoods, where young people can live their lives to their fullest potential, people can live, work and play in a safe environment, free from drugs, addiction, anti-social behaviour, no peddling and trafficking of drugs, or damage to mind and body. We are not there yet, but at least we commit ourselves to this vision where we try and do something. 


12. The ASEAN position is that we will maintain a zero tolerance approach against drugs. We take this approach because we know the cost of failure is too high. If we fail, drugs will overwhelm our societies, and destroy the lives of our people.


13. If we let drugs take root in our societies, everything that we stand for will be threatened - our families, our social stability, our security and even our very system of organising ourselves.  


14. Along the way, we have and will continue to face a lot of international pressure to take a more relaxed approach, to be "more tolerant". In many quarters, there have been calls to abandon this vision of a "drug-free" society and move towards a "drug-tolerant" one. 


15. I ask that we maintain our resolve in ASEAN and do what we know is the best for our people. Over the years, we have made significant progress.  We have intensified anti-drug trafficking operations. We have successfully disrupted syndicates. We have improved the coordination and information flow between our drug enforcement agencies. We have established the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Drug Matters as a regular platform. 


16. Earlier this year, ASEAN spoke as one united voice at the 59th Session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs and again at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS). Indonesia spoke up on behalf of all of us, and each of us spoke as well, including myself.


17. Our resolve against drugs has remained strong and we must keep this up.


New ASEAN Work Plan on Securing ASEAN Community against Illicit drugs 


18. This 5th AMMD represents a major milestone for the ASEAN community in our fight against drugs.Tomorrow, we will come together to discuss the new ASEAN Work Plan on Securing the ASEAN Community Against Illicit Drugs.


19. This Work Plan will set out our collective actions for the next ten years. It is a comprehensive Work Plan that will cover all aspects of our work, including prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, enforcement and cooperation among ASEAN Member States. 


20. It is good that ASEAN and AMMD has plans to conduct a mid-term review in 2020 and a final review in 2024. These reviews will check whether we are on track and what else we need to do. We have to continuously refine our approach.  




21. In conclusion, as we come together as ASEAN Member States, let us use this opportunity to build bonds, strengthen friendships and build relationships between our agencies. Let us remain committed to achieving our vision for a drug-free ASEAN. Together, this vision can become a reality.


22. Once again, I wish you a warm welcome to Singapore and let us achieve something together. 


23. Thank you.