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MHA study finds most people from countries with drug trafficking problem believe S'pore's death penalty to be effective: Shanmugam

SINGAPORE — More than eight in 10 people from countries where most arrested drug traffickers originate believe that Singapore’s death penalty makes criminals not want to commit serious crimes or smuggle large amounts of drugs here, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Thursday (March 3).

MHA study finds most people from countries with drug trafficking problem believe S'pore's death penalty to be effective: Shanmugam
Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam said that the death penalty has a “clear, strong" deterrent impact that has sharply brought down serious crimes.
  • People from countries known for a drug trafficking problem believe Singapore's death penalty is an effective curb against serious crime and trafficking 
  • Most also believe that capital punishment is more effective than life imprisonment
  • These findings come from a study conducted by the Ministry of Home Affairs
  • Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam spoke about the death penalty and how it has curbed the drug problem
  • He urged Members of Parliament to think carefully before calling for its removal

SINGAPORE — More than eight in 10 people from countries where most arrested drug traffickers originate believe that Singapore’s death penalty makes criminals not want to commit serious crimes or smuggle large amounts of drugs here, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Thursday (March 3).

He was referring to a 2021 survey that was conducted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which also found that a majority — 69 per cent — of respondents from these countries believe that the death penalty is more effective than life imprisonment.

In response to TODAY's queries, a MHA spokesman said that it commissioned the survey in 2018 and carried it out in two phases, in 2018 and 2021.

A total of 7,221 respondents from several "countries in the region from where many arrested drug traffickers have come in recent years" took part in the survey.

The ministry declined to disclose the countries surveyed.   

As he revealed these findings during a debate on MHA's budget, Mr Shanmugam asked parliamentarians to mull on them, adding that the death penalty has a “clear, strong" deterrent impact that has sharply brought down serious crimes such as kidnapping and firearm offences when introduced in 1973.

“If you remove the death penalty… it is a fair assumption to say more people will traffic drugs into Singapore, more drugs will enter Singapore, and there will be more drug abusers in Singapore,” Mr Shanmugam added.

“More families and individuals will be harmed.”

This latest survey by MHA adds on to other studies that have showed the effectiveness of capital punishment for trafficking above certain thresholds or amount of drugs, Mr Shanmugam said. The penalty was introduced in 1990.

He pointed to a survey in 2018, which showed that there was a high level of awareness of the death penalty among drug traffickers and this has influenced their criminal behaviour.

Mr Shanmugam noted that one trafficker in the study said that he had purposely trafficked drugs below the threshold amount because he knew of the death penalty.

The minister then said that the issue is not just a question of survey results or whether more or less people agree with a policy.

"If, as policymakers, having studied issues and the facts, we believe this is the right thing to do, then it's our duty... to try and persuade people on what is the right course of action. In the end, we have to lead by persuading, explaining," he said. "And if we are wrong, then the counter-arguments prevail."

Responding to a question from Mr Murali Pillai, Member of Parliament (MP) for Bukit Batok, about the level of support for the death penalty among Singaporeans, Mr Shanmugam said that preliminary results of a 2021 study showed that most people said the death penalty is appropriate as the punishment for intentional murder (81 per cent), firearm offences (71 per cent) and drug trafficking (66 per cent).

More than eight in 10 respondents also believed that the death penalty had deterred these offences in Singapore, the early findings showed, he said.

In their speeches, Mr Vikram Nair, MP for Sembawang Group Representation Constituency, and Nominated MP Raj Joshua Thomas also asked the ministry about how Singapore compared to countries that did not have the death penalty for drug offences.

In response, Mr Shanmugam said that some countries, such as Britain and the United States, have taken the path of legalisation, which he called “a softer stance”.

In Singapore, he noted that there are some who would argue that they are not calling for the decriminalisation of drugs, but that the death penalty should be removed. 

However, the death penalty, he said, is "a key part of our system and approach" in keeping Singapore relatively free from drugs: "Good intelligence, strong enforcement, stiff punishments, rehabilitation for offenders and deterrence."

Urging the House to think carefully before calling for the removal of any part of this approach, Mr Shanmugam said that people who advocate against the death penalty or for the legalisation of drugs often compare Singapore with those “who have already lost the drug war”.

In these countries, the drug problem has contributed to rising crime and homelessness, the minister noted.

Reiterating that Singapore’s approach to the death penalty works for the country and continues to be relevant, Mr Shanmugam said that being tough on drug offences minimises the harms of drugs on society.

“If we removed the drug penalty, I have no doubt (that) more drug syndicates and traffickers would be encouraged to bring larger amounts of drugs into Singapore, and Singaporeans and their families will suffer.

“We prefer not to have to impose the death penalty on anyone. But we must continue to do what is best for us as a national policy.”

Seeking clarification after Mr Shanmugam's speech, Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh asked for the countries that were studied by MHA, and if the findings will be made public.

This is to allow people to understand the findings about deterrence "quite squarely", and to also understand the structure of the survey itself, the Workers' Party chief said.

In response, Mr Shanmugam confirmed that the 2021 study on Singaporeans' attitudes towards the mandatory death penalty will be made public once it has been finalised, adding that he provided the preliminary figures "with a reasonable degree of confidence".

As for the regional study by MHA on countries where many of the drug traffickers come from, Mr Shanmugam said that the results are known to the Government.

"I think it is important, and I’ve given instructions for it to be made public in some form, in a way that will not prejudice Singapore’s public interest and foreign policy," he added.

Related topics

crime death penalty drugs K Shanmugam MHA

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