05 Apr 2017

Parliamentary Debate on the Motion on Drugs “Strengthening Singapore’s Fight Against Drugs” - Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

INTRODUCTION

 

1.       Thank you Deputy Speaker.

 

2.       I thank Mr Christopher de Souza for moving this Motion and Members in giving their views and supporting generally the very strong stand that we take.

 

3.       This Motion is a timely reminder for us to remain vigilant, continue to be tough on drugs and make this a national priority. As we debate the way forward, what do we do next? Mr Pritam Singh talked about international currents, others talked about the mood within Singapore, young people.


OUR STRUGGLE AGAINST DRUGS

 

4.         As we assess how we move forward, I think it is useful for Members to understand a little bit about how the history of the fight against drugs evolved and look at the period between the 1960s and 1980s.

 

5.         In a snapshot, what did we have then? We had high crime rates, we had abusers stealing and committing crimes to feed their addiction, we had traffickers exploiting abusers' dependence, we had broken families. If I gave some numbers, I think Members will be shocked. And I will give some numbers in a minute.

 

6.         To tackle this, CNB was set up in 1971. It does not pre-date 1971. We saw it as a menace and we said we have to fight it. Which is why in every speech that I make, I emphasise that it is not a single solution. It is not just the death penalty. It is a whole suite of factors.

 

7.         CNB was set up and empowered. The legislative framework was put in through the MDA (Misuse of Drugs Act) in 1973. And then Operation Ferret was launched to reverse the momentum. You can guess from the name what it meant. CNB and the Police Force coordinated their efforts and flushed out the abusers. If we had not done that, the law and order situation today in Singapore that we take for granted, will be very different.

 

8.         In the early 1970s, we were arresting less than 10 heroin abusers a year. We could have kidded ourselves and believe that was a true situation. But after we set up CNB and after we started Operation Ferret, by February 1978, 26,000 abusers had been arrested. That is the picture before and after. So for people outside this House and for the honorable Nominated Member of Parliament who advocates a softer approach, and suggest that our laws are too tough, remember these figures. When you do not enforce, you get one picture - 26,000 people by 1978.

 

9.         In the 1990s, we still had more than 8,000 in the DRC. In 1993, our DRC recidivism rate was 73%. That is where we were, and today, everyone, even The Economist, accepts that we have the drug situation under control - perhaps the only country to be able to say that, openly and directly, and backed up by the facts.

 

10.       We set up a committee to improve the drug situation in November 1993 with a comprehensive anti-drug strategy - preventive drug education in the schools, tough laws backed up by tough enforcement, rehabilitation, aftercare. It is a whole context of factors.

 

CONSIDER THE GLOBAL SITUATION - IMPACT ON SINGAPORE

 

11.       So that is the background. We have had a good run for 20 years. But now, consider the global situation and how that might impact us. The UNODC estimated that in 2014, there were nearly 250 million drug abusers in the world and 200,000 died from drug-related causes. That probably does not include the type of cases that Mr de Souza talked about, where people under the influence of drugs caused traffic accidents and kill others. These are people who died as a result of drug abuse - 200,000.  

 

12.       Mr Pritam Singh is right. The global conversation is about a softer stance on drugs. Seductive arguments, using pseudo-science and glamourising drugs. They do create a challenging environment for us to keep Singapore drug-free.

 

13.       But if you look at evidence, if you look at the US, for opioid abuse, the prescriptions went up threefold since 1999, fuelled by people relying on and accepting questionable evidence that these are benign pain remedies. And because of diversions and misuse, thousands get hooked onto it and then guess what happens? They move on to heroin. Now you get - as The New York Times published - 33,000 deaths per year, 90 a day.

 

14.       For those with bleeding hearts who talk about the inmates on death row, I think they should think about these 33,000 deaths. What percentage do you want in Singapore? What about their families, their children? Why not spend some time with them, rather than just crying with the people on the death row?

 

15.       This is as Mr de Souza pointed out, the trafficker is engaging in a crime of cynicism for profit. He knows what he is doing. He is coming in for money and there is nothing on-the-spur about it.

 

16.       The same arguments that were used to try and get opioids allowed are now being used for cannabis legislation. The arguments if you look at them - evocative but little clinical evidence. There is some suggestion - Mr Singh talked about it, others talked about it - how people are now going into medical marijuana, medical cannabis and so on.

 

17.       I said at the United Nations, I do not want human rights groups preaching to me about the medical value of cannabis. If a respectable medical association is prepared to tell me that this ought to be prescribed as medicine, we will look at it. But what did the American Medical Association say? That there is inconclusive evidence for this.

 

18.            There can be no objection to any substance being prescribed by a doctor based on scientific evidence. I think there is every objection to a blanket legislation allowing free use of cannabis or opioids on the basis of some questionable medical suggestion, which no medical association worth its salt is prepared to back up.

 

19.       So, Mr Pritam Singh is right. Legalisation around the world is gaining ground. He quoted Malaysia, he quoted Thailand, he quoted Israel. But my point is, I think a large majority of Singaporeans stand by what is right, stand by our position. And even internationally, when I went to the UN, we brought along a doctor who had pored through a substantial amount of medical literature on substance abuse, cannabis abuse in particular. And he was prepared to stand up and present that this was the impact that cannabis has on your brain structure and it makes you dependent. That is the medical evidence.

 

20.       Now, science is always evolving, and if science evolves to a different stage, we are practical people and we rely on facts. But today, this is the science. But I thank Mr Singh for the strong stand he took in terms of supporting the position we take in Singapore against drugs. Mr de Souza pointed out how drug abuse has worsened in Colorado since they legalised cannabis. It is serious and who is pushing it? The pharmaceutical companies are pushing it. Why? It is obvious why.

 

21.       Even when we go to these international conferences, the NGOs which support legalisation come out with brochures which are glitzy, which are very attractive, evocative. They are all financed by the pharmaceutical companies. Those who oppose legalisation, those who take a stand similar to Singapore's, if you look at the material you would not want to look at them again because no one is financing them. There is a huge commercial motive for legalisation and that is driving this in many countries. There are other factors. Many countries have lost the fight. They cannot control domestic drug abuse and so after having lost tens of thousands of lives, they move to focusing on public health issues - HIV.

 

22.       So you gather an alliance with commercial interests and countries saying we cannot handle this anymore. They are now saying, let us create a new international norm. Well, I do not have a problem if they change their rules. But I do have a problem if they want to change international norms and say every country should follow that. We will not be pressured. That is the international situation. That is the background.


NEW LOCAL CHALLENGES

 

23.       What is the local situation? We have some challenges. The first challenge is increased supply. I have said this before - we are near the Golden Triangle, which is the second largest opium source in the world. And Afghanistan has become a major producer. In order to get its stock to the west, sometimes, or quite often, they seem to want to take the route through Southeast Asia.

 

24.       Our region is the fastest growing methamphetamine market. We are a major transport hub. 200 million people go through our shores - airports, shores, land checkpoints. Because of the wealth factor, our people can pay. Therefore, it is an attractive destination, both as a transhipment and as a destination source. That is one major challenge.

 

25.       The second major challenge is drug peddling sales online. You can have anonymous transactions. You can have parcels coming in from any part of the world. That creates a challenge.

 

26.       We also face a challenge from new drugs - new psychoactive substances where people take drugs and mix them with contaminants to lower the cost. There are rogue chemists who modify pharmaceuticals. CNB, for example, in the past two years, has seized more than 3.5kg and 4,000 tablets of New Psychoactive Substances, which have been falsely marketed as both being legal and safe.

 

27.       Another separate challenge is the new attitudes of our young people. There is a certain perception, glamourised through media, and outside of this country, that drugs are cool and cannabis is non-addictive. If we are not careful, they can become our next generation of abusers.

 

28.       And there is a changing profile of abusers. Last year, 40% of those who were arrested for abuse were less than 30 years old. They are mixed - they are students, professionals, people who are well-educated, good jobs, new groups of Singaporeans trying drugs. Parents may think it is not their children. But in the past three years, we have picked up more than 350 students. All levels - from primary schools to tertiary - and all backgrounds, with as well as without, a background of substance abuse in the family. Working professionals - last year, more than 70 in professional jobs, managers, including accountants and engineers.

 

29.       Drug abusers committed 12% of other crimes. That is another worrying statistic. 83% of those in our prison are in there for either substance abuse, or they have a history of substance abuse even though the particular crime they committed was not related to drugs. So you can see how much drugs can impact our lives. It destroys you. These are all statistics, facts. 

 

30.       Let me give you an example of what it does. They call him "Edy" – a young boy, 6 years old. Both parents jailed for drugs. He happened to be in the care of another person called Johan. Johan was also a drug abuser. It forms an ecosystem, a separate subculture. Johan slapped Edy around, stomped on him repeatedly, a 6-year-old boy, and killed him. He dumped his body by the Kallang River.

 

31.       You know there are thousands of such cases, not in Singapore, but around the world. Most of you might have heard of "Noinoi". She had a stepfather - Johari - abusing cannabis, cough syrups. He brought her home as a shield to hide his own abuse. He thought that having her there with him would prevent detection. She was only 2 years old. She was crying and he could not take it. He dumped her in a pail and killed her.

 

32.       Those who think we should go soft on drugs, on punishment, what is your solution to the thousands of "Edys" and "Noinois" around the world, who are neglected, abused and suffering?

 

SUMMARY OF TRENDS

 

33.       You look at the trends and I give a summary. You have a new generation of abusers. They are younger, they have different profiles and backgrounds. The situation can again become more troublesome even if it does not get out of control. Our primary duty must be to protect our society, our people and stand up together as a country.

 

SINGAPORE'S COMPREHENSIVE STRATEGY AGAINST DRUG ABUSE

 

34.       Most Members' suggestions are in line with where we want to go. And I agree with Mr de Souza and the others who spoke. We will maintain a tough stance, and we will step up. We will review our strategy for the new challenges. It will be targeted, it will differentiate between those who supply and cause harm, versus those who are abusers. Where possible, we will employ a data-based and science-based approach.

 

1st Defence: Preventive Drug Education

 

35.       Our first line of defence has got to be education - preventive drug education. So we work, and we have worked for decades, with MOE - school talks, lesson plans, so that our young people understand.

 

36.       Someone mentioned Iceland. Coincidentally, we have also looked at Iceland. Our people are going over to Iceland to look at how they send the messages across. Because this is a generation where you tell them do not do this, they might go and do it. So you need different approaches and Iceland does seem to have an approach that seems to work. But their problems are different and the scale is different. We never believe that we have found the ultimate solutions for anything. So we will always seek to learn.

 

37.       We have to work with parents because the parents are key influencers. The NCADA survey shows that if a parent interacts with children about drugs, they talk to their children, the risk that the child will take drugs is much lower. We have produced a parents' toolkit for that.

 

38.       Young people are also heavily influenced by peer influence and environmental influence. We need to grow a pool of anti-drug advocates amongst their peers, amongst young people's peers. We need volunteers, we need more individuals, we need more organisations, societies, interest groups, businesses.

 

39.       CNB will launch a United Against Drugs Coalition later this month, and also review the way it puts across messages. We need to mobilise the ground. First, education. Second, effective enforcement and tough laws are part of it.

 

40.       Last year, CNB crippled 23 syndicates. We have to increase our partnerships with overseas counterparts and we have to tackle the new online supply menace as Mr de Souza said, and others mentioned. CNB will partner ICA, partner courier companies, postal companies. And we will move quickly. Last year, ICA detected a suspicious parcel and alerted CNB. Within a matter of hours, CNB arrested the intended recipient. More than one kilogram of cannabis. If not for that, that one kilogram of cannabis would have flowed on to the streets and destroyed more lives.

 

41.       Mr Mohan talked about the recent acquittals and how it would affect sentencing approach. Now, keeping our laws effective for deterrence and enforcement is a top priority. So we will relook the comments made in those cases. We have started doing it. And we will ensure that the investigations are conducted thoroughly and impartially. The AGC will help us study the grounds of decision on that.

 

42.       The current survey that I referred to also shows the very strong support for our tough laws. And people want us to be tougher on those who harm society and those who bring drugs in, and those who provided to others, especially young people, those who encourage others. And we will have to study how we deal with these New Psychoactive Substances, how we amend the schedules and what we need to do.

 

43.       Members spoke about the amendments in 2012 to the mandatory death penalty scheme in the context of drug trafficking. We gave the courts more discretion where the courier is certified to have provided substantial assistance. It has been helpful, the information provided has contributed to the arrests of almost 90 drug traffickers.

 

44.       What role does the death penalty play in this? It is an important part of our comprehensive anti-drug regime. And as I said, part of the overall approach which would not work on its own, but is a part of an overall set of measures. Good judicial process, rule of law, enforcement, tough laws, education, rehabilitation, and also DRC and LT (long-term imprisonment regime).

 

45.       Remember, this fight is never won. We are in a difficult situation, being close to drug producing countries and we have maintained the death penalty as deterrence against trafficking. The quantity of drugs that you need to have in your possession before the death penalty kicks in, before the presumption clause kicks in, is enough heroin to supply 180 people for 7 days. That is a large amount of drugs, that is a large amount of people whose lives you are willing to destroy, and you multiply that by their family members.

 

46.       And what is the regional situation? In Malaysia, registered drug abusers numbered 280,000, as reported by The New Straits Times. In Indonesia, 5.9 million drug abusers.

 

47.       What is the nature of the drug trade today? The financing comes from one country, could be manufactured somewhere in some terrace house somewhere nearby Singapore, and couriers are easily available because they want to make some money.

 

48.       Do you believe the death penalty has some deterrent value? If you are somewhere outside Singapore, maybe Malaysia or Indonesia, and if you knew that the likelihood of being caught is pretty high and that if you are caught with that amount of drugs, you are most likely to face the death penalty, does that or does that not amount to deterrence? It is a matter of common sense. Why do you think the drug kingpins are not in Singapore? Mr Kok wants me to prove it. How do you want me to prove it? Go and ask them, if you will not come to Singapore because of the death penalty?

 

49.       Just remember, that trafficking is a cold, calculated offence. It is a transaction. The person decides to take a risk with his life when he comes to Singapore for the sake of money. So do not tell me that they are poor, impecunious and desperate. They make a calculation. They do not mind impacting the lives of 180 people each time.

 

2nd Defence: Effective Enforcement, Tough Laws

 

50.       Mr Kok suggested that we change some of our laws. As we consider how to proceed, why not consider the countries which have adopted your approach and then compare and contrast. Why not look around? Let's not argue this in vacuum. See what is happening in countries which have poor enforcement or have legalised drugs.

 

51.       Now I entirely accept Mr Kok's good intentions and honesty of the views you put forward, but frankly, they will lead to the loss of many more lives and they will lead to more tragedy and serious ruin for thousands. Let me back that up. In the early 1990s, we were arresting between six to seven thousand people per year. Today, we are arresting between two to three thousand per year. Even if you take the lower end of the figures, three thousand now and six thousand then. That is three thousand less per year over a 20 year period and assuming it came down, you are talking about tens of thousands- maybe forty, fifty thousand lives saved because our enforcement ability has not gone down. We are arresting less people. That means our demand for drugs has gone down. Every person not arrested, who has not become an abuser, is a life saved. So we have saved maybe forty, maybe fifty thousand lives, maybe more.

 

52.       If all things were equal between the 1990s and today, we were arresting six to seven thousand then, the number should be higher now right, since we are wealthier now and the drug production has increased and it has become more of a multi-national enterprise. So perhaps it should have doubled, we should be arresting about eighteen thousand. But we are actually arresting less people. We have saved lives. How do you argue against that?

 

53.       So if you look at what you say, first, you say that a person charged with the offence of drug trafficking or importation is automatically presumed guilty once the prosecution shows that the accused was merely in possession of the package containing the drugs. Do you really believe that, Mr Kok? Because that as a statement of law makes no sense. It is an incorrect statement. That is simply not correct.

 

54.       You have also suggested that there is a rule that involuntary statements are inadmissible, that we do not really know what really happens in the interrogation room, how statements or witness testimonies are obtained and there is no requirement of recording of any kind. In a drug case, Mr Kok, what needs to be proven? Possession. What the drug is, is a matter of scientific evidence, quantity is a matter of scientific evidence, so what are you suggesting would happen in witness rooms that might lead to these suggestions that you have implied in your speech?

 

55.       I do not know if you know how it works, but the prosecution would have to prove all those things. The defence would have to prove that the person did not know what it was, which is usually the defence that is claimed by many people. You complain about that as well in your speech. Because you say that the onus must be on the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt all the ingredients of the offence.

 

56.       Let me tell you what the difficulties are in going down that route, because these people come from overseas. The usual variety of defences, and let me read out to you a couple – A person was arrested at woodlands checkpoint, he has got 145 grams of diamorphine. He said he travelled to Kuala Lumpur to look for job opportunities. He was introduced to a man known as "Uncle". "Uncle" then passed him ten packets of substances and taped it on to his body. He asked "Uncle" what they were for, but "Uncle" showed him three fingers in reply. He accepted it, and he wasn't aware of the contents, and he came here. Now, you want the prosecution to rebut this? This is why our first Prime Minister, who was a lawyer, knew what the problems would be, and reversed the onus of proof. You talk about an "Uncle" in Kuala Lumpur, you show the judge that there is such as "Uncle", and the "Uncle" told you all these things, and what was in your mind. So again I do not know if you drafted this part of the speech, or a lawyer drafted it for you, but you got to look at it in context.

 

57.       How does CNB go and prove? Let me give you another example. This person was convicted in 2008. He was asked by one "Maren" to deliver items into Singapore, he was told that the item was rare and expensive, and that it was medicine, that it was wrapped up so it wouldn't be spoilt through coming into contact with air. He went to Johor, met "Maren" and brought it over. You want CNB to disprove this? You think it is possible? Or do you think it is fair that the accused should prove it?

 

58.       I have a favourite term for defences of this nature. I call them someone saying it is a shampoo for my pet toad that I got and I brought it into Singapore. If that is what you want to say, go and prove it. We are dealing with lives here. The life of a trafficker, yes. But we are also dealing with thousands of Singaporeans' lives. The person must get a fair trial. Prosecution must prove what was the substance, how much was it, and possession, and any other evidence that they can find.

 

59.       If the person has a defence, it is only fair that he proves it. Now, so far, all these points, while I disagree with you, I can see where you are coming from. But the next point you make, and let me quote you, you said you would like to "speak on the humanity of the families of those executed and those who have their loved ones on death row. While we do not see it, the reality is that our criminal punishment, the death penalty creates a new class of victims in the families of the death row inmates. The family members are innocent people – they found themselves having their loves ones taken away from them. In conversation with a former death row convict who was acquitted by our Court of Appeal. I am struck by the poignancy of how he described the impact of the death penalty on his family."

 

60.       But this does not account for the other families, the "Edys" and the "Noinois". The child that was four years old that Mr de Souza was talking about, who was locked up in the car while the grandmother had overdosed from drugs? Now, you spoke with someone who was in this situation. I have spoken with many of the victims and their families. I do not want them to suffer and I do not want more people to suffer as a result of someone's cynical calculation between his life and a few hundred dollars – ringgit.

 

61.       For every one person that brings in the drugs, there are several hundred people who suffer. The Professor Michael Hor that you quoted, was my classmate. He knows and he has said, in the same conference, that you referred to, he knows this government and he doesn't see that it will change its position on drugs.

 

62.       He knows me. The question is then, do you want to take the risk of dismantling one key part of the deterrence that we have and take a chance? You also say, Mr Kok, is the approach really to put in tougher laws? But at the same time, you also say you accept that the current enforcement is good, the current legal framework is good other than the death penalty. It appears contradictory, so I am not sure quite exactly what you mean. You tell us of the 1,400 individuals that were placed in 2015 in DRC - 820 had secondary education, 300 had primary education, six no education. You say this gives some indication that it is the inadequacies and gaps in our social and economic institutions, rather than the failure of not having implemented more punitive punishment on drug consumption and drug trafficking, that the problem lies.

 

63.       What inadequacies and gaps in our social and economic institutions that lead to drug abuse? I hope you will clarify exactly what social institutions you are referring to, or economic institutions you are referring to, and what gaps, and causatively how they relate to the drug problem. I think you should, when you make a statement like that. And I mean causatively. Tell me what the gaps are, in which social institutions, what are the gaps in economic institutions and how do they relate causatively to these people getting into drugs.

 

64.       I told you the backgrounds vary, their education backgrounds vary. There are professionals being picked up. And if you go and look at the backgrounds in other countries, you will see a whole strata of people getting into drug abuse. It is not restricted. You go soft, that is what will happen.

 

65.       Now, if I put together the points that you have made, first it is the fault of the socio-economic gaps. Second, we should make our laws less strict. Third, we should do away with the death penalty. Fourth, we should give a lot of empathy to the drug abusers and families. Pray tell me, where that will lead us and how that will solve the drug issues. You think the drug kingpins who want to make millions out of bringing drugs into Singapore will then be deterred? The couriers who want to make money by bringing it into Singapore, they will be deterred because we show them a lot of empathy? And the abusers in Singapore will be transformed as well? You just have to look at the examples of other countries.

 

66.       In all of these, in public policy making, you need a soft heart. You need compassion and that is what defines a civilised human being. But you can never have a soft head. If the heart alone rules policy, you are done for. I will say this, as a Parliamentarian, you have a right to make these points. But as Minister for Home Affairs, I don't have the right to give effect to any suggestion which I believe will harm thousands of people and ruin our society. In fact, it is my duty to do the reverse.

 

67.       Support for our penalties amongst our population, as you know, as members know, is very high. REACH did a poll last year. 80% supported retaining the death penalty. 10% wanted to abolish it. 10% had no position or refused to answer. 82% agreed that it was an important deterrent to keep Singapore safe from serious crimes. NUS conducted a survey on public opinion in 2016. Again, even in their survey, public support for the death penalty was very high. 70% of the respondents were in favour.

 

68.       But asked specifically what the penalty should be for intentional murder, trafficking illegal drugs, and discharging a firearm, the proportion in favour of the death penalty was even higher, ranging from 86% to 92%. But the NUS survey also presented a nuanced picture of public support for the death penalty. The support dropped when this question was asked – that if it can be shown that the death penalty was no more effective as a deterrent to others like life imprisonment, or a very long prison sentence, that means it is not effective, you can substitute it with something else - if you ask people that question, the support then drops. When it suggested that innocent people could have been executed, then the support drops.

 

69.       If a certain framework is put in into the question, and you get a number and you come to the Government and say change your policy, we have to look at the questions you asked. But in any event, this is one of those areas where the Government has the duty to assess the facts carefully, the data carefully, and come to the best judgement that it can.

 

70.       As I have said in public, no Government glorifies in having the death penalty or imposing it on anyone. How can anyone be happy about it? If they do it, they do it with a heavy heart. But you do it because of a greater public good. And you do it based on your best judgement and assessment, not on the basis of advice given by people who argue from an ideological point of view. We are not dogmatic about this. We will listen to arguments. We will listen to people. We will listen to anyone with a good point of view, and we will make up our mind.

 

3rd Defence: Rehabilitation

 

71.       Next, we move to rehabilitation. Abusers, as Mr de Souza and others said, must be committed to kicking the habit. As NMP Shiao Yin said, can we consider shortening the incarceration period because of the impact it has on the families. The incarceration periods are looked at regularly, whether it is for DRC, or whether it is for LT1, LT2. There is a certain reason why we structured it as DRC and then LT1 and LT2. There is some methodology behind it, and we continuously review the methodology. But in the end it has to first serve as a deterrence and second, keep society from being harmed by individuals.

 

72.       And third, what is necessary for that individual to rehabilitate him. The environment that is chosen depends on what the individual needs, and I'll explain that in a while. Every abuser has different risk levels and different motivational factors. Our prisons system tailors rehabilitation accordingly. So other programmes include family programmes, skills training, and religious services. For lower risk inmates, they have a day release programme, they go for work or study during the day, minimises disruption. They are placed on community-based programmes to reconnect to the community, to help them transition to normal life. Some are at halfway houses, some go home and community support is instrumental, we recognise that. And since 1995, fifteen thousand DRC inmates have gone through the community-based programme with an 85% completion rate. Some members mentioned rehabilitation for young people, including Mr Mohan. Again we look at the young people, if they are lower risk then they go for what we call the youth enhanced supervision scheme which involves counselling and case work. Others go to the Community Rehabilitation Centre (CRC).

 

73.       But we also look at some of the suggestions that members mentioned. Mr Kok suggested harsh programmes. Rehabilitation is something Prisons is very passionate about, the Yellow Ribbon programme. We look at it that we should even try to pick them up even before they commit an offence based on some profiles and we should try to change behaviour before. If we fail with that and they come in, we should try to change behaviour inside. But when they go out, we should also try to support them. And anything that works based on science, based on evidence, we will be prepared to consider.

 

4th Defence: Family and Community Support

 

74.       People talked about family and community support. I accept it as crucial to help abusers stay strong when they come out. There are structured family programmes in prisons, skills to strengthen the bonds, joint sessions with the family. Now I am not saying by all means, any means, that it is perfect and that it cannot be improved or that we are where we want to be. But we have thought about these things, we have introduced these and it continues to be refined, changed, worked on.

 

75.       Families will also need help. SPS has set up a Family Resource Centre, it's got a Yellow Ribbon community project to encourage families to visit abusers in DRCs. Family relationships are complex, different families, different types of relationships. It requires long term effort, even after release. So we have volunteers who continue to follow-up via Yellow Ribbon Community Project. We have talked to the Association of Muslim Professionals and they have said they will come in to provide family casework in their new family rehabilitation programme. Let me share a story, this is in context about what Shiao Yin said, about halfway houses.

 

76.       He started abusing drugs in his teens, twenty years. He abused heroin, ice, alcohol. At one point he lost his family support. He couldn't even face himself. Then he went to Pertapis halfway house. Things changed. He was moved and struck by the unwavering support from the staff of Pertapis. He has now been clean for more than two years. And he is paying it forward. He is now the Chairman of the family support group for Pertapis. And he strongly believes in not giving up on abusers even when their families have given up on them. He himself has experienced how community support has changed lives.

 

77.       Mr Mohan said rehabilitation is important. I think I have made the point. It may be that in Singapore our message on deterrence and our tough laws has been so strong that the fact that we put a lot of emphasis on rehabilitation probably hasn't come through. But you can take it that we put a lot of effort on rehabilitation.

 

78.       He also referred to a specific case where he felt the prosecutors made submissions which were perhaps not appropriate or a bit too harsh. Now you know that I don't control prosecutors' submissions. And nor should I, nor would you want me to. But I will certainly pass on what you said to the AGC. But for young drug abusers, the emphasis has to be on rehabilitation, so that they can have a drug-free life ahead of them. So we have a variety of programmes. If they are below age of 21, they undergo counselling and casework management for a period of six months, and that's non-residential. If they are of moderate risk, they are then sent to the CRC. They started operations in 2014 and that allows them to continue with their education and employment in the day with minimal disruption. Higher risk young people who require more intensive rehabilitation, they will be in the DRC. Even in there, we have split it into low-risk, moderate risk and high risk and different types of treatment for the three categories.

 

79.       We also started the Anti-Drug and Counselling Engagement or ACE programme which was started last year for young drug abusers who have confessed to drug abuse but for one reason or another they have tested negative in the urine test. This is a three month programme and includes counselling and we equip them with skills to cope with their addictions. We keep their parents involved. But two hands need to clap – often times we find that the parents are not willing to come forward. So I've asked my people to consider whether legislatively we can do something, that the parents also have a duty.

 

INTERNATIONAL FRONT

 

80.       On the international front, coming back to some of the points that Members made, we don't want to be isolated. Within ASEAN, members have their domestic situation and they may take different approaches. But they sign up to a stand refusing to accept the legalisation of drugs. They continue to support criminalisation and there's an ASEAN coalition supporting it and there are a few other countries which adopt the same approach. We cooperate together in the international arena. We have to have to have a sensible dialogue with others of a different persuasion and perhaps agree that they have their own viewpoint and we have our own viewpoint. Different countries should be allowed to have different viewpoints.

 

CONCLUSION

 

81.       In conclusion, we face international challenges, we face different types of local challenges, we will step up our efforts, we will review our drug strategy. But we need the community support and it must be a national priority to keep drugs under control. Today's motion and the speeches of the Members, even Mr Kok's speech, gives me considerable comfort because I think we are on the same page, that this has to be taken seriously and you reflect the perspectives of the people in many ways. Given that there is a broad variety of viewpoints that have been expressed, almost everyone consistently supporting a strong stand, save for some difference on the part of Mr Kok relating to specific penalties. I think that shows where the weight of public opinion stands on this.

 

82.       Thank you.

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