SINGAPORE: An Asia Times article that accused Singapore's Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam of "spreading disinformation" about drug policy contained claims that are "quite inaccurate", said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Friday (Aug 2).
In the article published on Jul 17, Ms Gen Sander wrote that Mr Shanmugam "continues to make poorly informed and inflammatory claims on drug policy", despite Malaysia announcing plans to decriminalise drug addiction and drug possession for personal use.
Ms Sanders questioned several points Mr Shanmugam had made on Singapore's approach to drugs during a seminar on Jun 28, as well as the veracity of the statistics he had cited, including drug mortality rates in Portugal rising after drugs were decriminalised.
She also wrote that Singapore has failed to provide transparent data on the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent.
"Although officials have repeatedly affirmed that Singapore has one of the lowest rates of drug use in the world, the government has consistently failed to provide transparent data," she said.
In response to the article, MHA said: "Ms Sander’s points are quite inaccurate."
Listing issues with Ms Sander's article, MHA said that statistics cited by Mr Shanmugam on Portugal were obtained from a paper by the Department of Economics, University of California, Berkeley. It is titled The Effect of Drug Decriminalization in Portugal on Homicide and Drug Mortality Rates (2011).
Ms Sanders had said that it was "impossible to find a source" for figures cited by the minister. She also said after drugs were decriminalised in Portugal, there was a "dramatic fall" in HIV infections between 2001 and 2008.
"In countries with a large number of HIV-positive intravenous drug users, such as Portugal, decriminalisation policies are typically supported by harm reduction programmes," said MHA.
"Their priority is to minimise costs from HIV and other blood-borne infections, rather than preventing drug abuse, because drug abuse is often already pervasive ... Such programmes may of course help to reduce HIV rates, but they do little to fundamentally reduce drug abuse in the society."
It added: "Singapore’s situation is very different. Our drug situation is under control, and we are relatively drug-free. In 2018, the number of drug abusers arrested comprised less than 0.1 per cent of our population."
On the deterrent effect of the death penalty, Ms Sander had disputed Mr Shanmugam's position, saying in her article: "Punitive drug laws don’t reduce drug use or drug trade, and there [is] no evidence that the death penalty has a deterrent effect."
In response, MHA said: "To the contrary, Singapore’s experience is that the death penalty when combined with other measures, can be effective deterrence."
Singapore is one of the few countries in the world where the drug menace has been contained, despite a worsening regional and global drug situation, MHA added.
This, it said, was because of the country's multi-pronged strategy of preventive drug education, tough laws and enforcement, as well as rehabilitation framework.
"The death penalty is an important part of this comprehensive strategy," MHA said.
"There is no international consensus against the death penalty, and it is not prohibited under international law. Every country has the sovereign right to decide its own approach to maintain law and order and to tackle its drug situation," it added.
"Singapore respects the right of countries that have abolished capital punishment, and we expect similar respect for our decision to retain it."