Singapore official and media claim liberal cities are hotspots for drugs and crimes

11 May

The Law Minister and Second Home Affairs Minister, K Shanmugam of Singapore claimed in a resident’s dialogue session that the mandatory death penalty is needed to protect thousands of lives from drugs. Otherwise, Singapore would become one of those cities such as Sydney or New York plagued by widespread drug problems and soaring crime rates.

Casting aspersion on other cities have always been a favourite mantra used by Singaporean officials as well as the local media when it felt the need to justify some of its most draconian laws.  Back in 2005 when the government was executing Australian, Nguyen Tuong Van, the Straits Times published two ‘investigative’ news articles which basically questioned the country’s harm minimisation program as well as portrayed Vietnamese immigrants in an unfavourable light.

In the first article, ‘Soft drug policy, hardcore junkies – Australia has one of the highest rates of drug abuse in the world – and its soft sentencing under a ‘harm minimisation’ programme is making the problem worse’ published on Sunday Times in December 11, 2005,

‘… The principle of ‘harm minimisation’ was introduced 20 years ago. It was founded during the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse, which was prompted by the discovery that the daughter of then-prime minister Bob Hawke was a heroin addict’.

The reporter went on to cite a household survey by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare which found in 2004 that at least six million Australians aged 14 and older – or some two in five – had used illicit drugs during their lifetime. Crime statistics were then listed, hoping to bolster the assertion that harm minimisation is flawed and has resulted in deaths and violent crimes,

‘… And although only about 4 per cent in this age group had used heroin, the drug is one of the biggest killers.

About 700 Australians die each year from heroin overdose. In 1999 and 2000 – when the problem was at its peak – more than 1,000 died every year, not far from the numbers killed in road accidents.

Melbourne’s Herald-Sun newspaper even started printing the drug death toll on its front page next to the road accident toll.

In 1999, the state of Victoria reported 376 deaths on the road compared to 324 from drug abuse. Police estimate that some 70 per cent of all crimes committed in the state are drug-related.

These figures would be of grave concern to the thousands of Singaporeans who flock Down Under every year for holidays and tertiary education. But few seem to be aware of the degree of danger…’

A week later, the same reporter filed another sensational ‘investigative’ piece, ‘Vietnamese are No. 1 drug dealers – With little education and few job opportunities, many Vietnamese youths are turning to drug dealing to earn quick money, and gaining the reputation as the most visible face of drugs in Australia’:

‘A visit to Melbourne’s drug hot spots reveals more of the same.

In Victoria Street, a section of Richmond known as ‘Little Saigon’ for its large Vietnamese population, Vietnamese youths brazenly deal drugs on the pavements as shoppers pass by. One Thursday morning, four different dealers could be seen along a 13-shop stretch…

… The Vietnamese came to the forefront of the drug market in the late 1980s and early 1990s as they began to import them from the notorious Golden Triangle area, which straddles the borders of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar.

They were better organised, more efficient, and able to deliver cheaper heroin than the dealers from Italy and Romania. Soon, Vietnamese suburbs like Cabramatta in Sydney and Richmond in Melbourne emerged as the new heroin hot spots…’

He went on to interview social workers and academics who blamed the larger society and governance  for these problems. To appear less biased, the reporter managed to insert one tiny paragraph (after all the not-so flattering jibes) quoting a local member in a Vietnamese suburb who claimed that Australian Vietnamese have also done well in the country.

These news propaganda pieces were meant to create, if not reinforce the impression that governments of western states and liberal cities are incapable of managing its drug and crime problems. By painting Australian cities in a bad light, the reader is meant to come to the conclusion that capital punishment can be justified on the grounds of reducing unwanted deaths and crime. To put it starkly: Singapore would become one of those Australian cities such as Sydney and Melbourne (in a sorry state) if it does not hang its drug dealers.

It is objectionable that these reports do nothing except create a stereotypical portrayal of the Vietnamese community in Australia. It is also undesirable and shoddy journalism with its simplistic argument that heavy sentencing on drug crimes automatically leads to less crime. The prevalence of crime and drugs within any society and community is affected by many factors, certainly not reducible to a formulaic equation.

Ultimately, if the Singaporean authorities and media are sincere about a genuine comparison, they should stop focusing on criticising others. They could start with being more open about Singapore’s drug and crime statistics. These information have unfortunately been sorely lacking in the public domain for serious scholarly and general debate.

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