SINGAPORE: Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Friday (Mar 2) criticised anti-death penalty lobbyists as he spoke at length in Parliament on maintaining Singapore’s tough stance against drugs.
“The activists light candles for traffickers outside Changi Prison, they write emotive stories,” he said. “But who cares for … real victims? How many young lives have we saved with our policies? Would you hear a squeak from the activists, about these people?”
He cited a raft of cases from as recent as earlier this week, where a toddler was rescued in a drug bust.
“How old is the child? One year old. In that one year, he had already been abandoned by his mother who is on the run for drug offences, and being passed around between these drug traffickers,” said Mr Shanmugam.
“In another case, a drug addict father abused his baby daughter, regularly biting her. One day, he was furious because he had no money to buy drugs. The baby cried, he shoved her against the wall so hard, her skull fractured. She was 10 months old, not old enough to defend herself.”
He continued: “Another case, a nine-year-old boy living with his abusive aunt. He saw her doing drugs and ran away, scared of being beaten again ... But she found him, hit him, burned him with a lighter, picked him up and dangled him out of a third-storey window.”
“Our CNB (Central Narcotics Bureau) officers recently came across another abuser, seven months pregnant, still smoking ‘ice’. She already had a previous miscarriage because of her ‘ice’ habit, but her addiction was so strong she persisted anyway, at the expense of her unborn, innocent child.”
“Who speaks for these defenceless victims?” he asked.
“As I said earlier, the self-styled activists refuse to talk about how the addiction of hundreds of abusers is fed with each shipment that these traffickers bring in; how many families suffer as a result of drugs.”
“Our penalties are severe because we want to deter such offences, not because we take any joy in enforcing them. No one can take any joy in enforcing them ... We have to be firm in resisting those who try to force their ideologies on us.”
‘PERHAPS THE MOST EFFECTIVE IN DRUG CONTROL’
Mr Shanmugam also reasserted Singapore’s need to continue its “fight against drugs” against a worsening global backdrop and “softening” stance by some countries.
“Results from a 2016 National Council Against Drug Abuse survey showed that youths are adopting a slightly more open attitudes towards drugs compared with a similar survey done in 2013, especially towards cannabis,” he said of Singapore’s teens.
“The Internet, social media, the pro-legalisation lobby in the US are telling them it is cool and safe to take cannabis, but if you look at the well-supported research, it tells us cannabis is harmful, especially in teenagers because it can cause irreversible brain damage.”
“We are ... studying how we can enhance the MDA (Misuse of Drugs Act) to deal with new threats.”
Later, Parliamentary Secretary for MHA Amrin Amin mentioned people in Singapore who tried to buy drugs online. "They thought they could get away with it. They were wrong. Last year, we worked with courier companies to detect more than 350 parcels with drugs or drug-related products," said Mr Amrin. "CNB’s (Central Narcotics Bureau) follow-up investigations led to the arrest of 177 individuals. We will continue to work closely with partners such as courier companies to clamp down on the online drug trade."
Mr Shanmugam then spoke about the lessons Singapore could pick up from Portugal’s decriminalisation of drug use.
“First, Portugal started out with a serious public health problem on its hands, with many heroin abusers sharing contaminated needles, spreading diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV. More than half of HIV infections were drug-related, which was the highest rate in the European Union,” he explained.
“Portugal then decided to decriminalise drugs. It increased funding for treatment facilities, provided for needle exchange and opioid substitution therapy, ran campaigns ‘say no to a second-hand syringe’.”
“These measures have helped Portugal reduce HIV and hepatitis infections. When you start with serious HIV-related problems, hepatitis infections-related problems arriving through drug use and contaminated needles, then I suppose you ask yourself which is the lesser evil."
“We are not in that situation, thankfully,” Mr Shanmugam noted.
“And there are trade-offs from Portugal’s approach: The lifetime prevalence of drug use in Portugal has increased since decriminalisation; surveys now indicate that more Portuguese students are trying drugs; and the number of drug-related deaths have also gone up since 2011.
“Portugal decided to decriminalise drugs in a situation where perhaps it concluded it was not possible or unrealistic to control the drug situation. The situation we have in Singapore is different. Our approach has been effective and has worked well for us. We are one of the few countries where the drug situation has been under control, and perhaps the country that has been most effective in dealing with the problem.”
Mr Shanmugam pointed to how the number of opiate abusers in Singapore is less than 30 per 100,000 people, compared to almost 500 for Portugal and 600 in the US - with numbers set to grow further with legalisation.
“Intravenous drug use is not a significant mode of HIV transmission in Singapore. So you think of the lives saved. The misery, deprivation, the loss – we have saved a lot of people from that,” he said.
“This has been possible because we have been tough on drugs. And we should not ease up.”