SINGAPORE - Several MPs worry that the changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act may send a signal that Singapore is softening its tough stance on drugs.
Their fears centre on the lifting of the mandatory death penalty on drug mules in certain circumstances, a change which came up for debate last Monday.
Noting that many drug couriers caught here are foreigners, Mr Alvin Yeo (Chua Chu Kang GRC) said the change will likely raise the pressure from lobbying by countries which do not permit the death penalty, when their nationals are caught here for trafficking.
"Is this something our Government is ready for and ready to push back on?" he asked.
Mr Yeo cited recent cases such as Malaysian drug trafficker Yong Vui Kong, who was arrested in 2007 when he was 19 and sentenced to death the year after.
Human rights activists "took up the cudgels on the basis that the death sentence should not be passed against someone who was, among other qualities, not a Singaporean", said Mr Yeo.
He was also worried that Singapore's "zero-tolerance" stance on drugs may be adulterated by the exceptions, as it is a "much more powerful statement" to say that all drug traffickers will be sentenced to death.
Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) said compassion is skewed towards drug traffickers.
A former volunteer with the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association, Mr de Souza said the true victim is society and the families broken by drug addiction.
"We should have compassion for this brokenness too. The way to do so is to maintain immensely strong and muscular measures to deter drug traffickers from targeting Singapore," he said.
He also spoke at length on the link between drugs and crime, adding that Singapore cannot afford missteps in its anti-drug drive.
"We misstep, open the floodgates, our war on drugs falters."
Other MPs, like Mr Edwin Tong (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) and Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), noted that the proposed changes were taking place against a backdrop of rising arrests for drug addiction and recidivism.
Dr Intan was concerned that the public, especially the young, would misperceive the amendments.
Already, she said, the number of drug abusers aged below 18 arrested last year was more than double that in 2008.
"The less informed may think that the drug trafficking offence has become less serious while the opportunists may think that they can get away with a less harsh sentence," she said.
"The seriousness of the drug trafficking offence must be emphasised time and again."
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.