SINGAPORE - Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam has disagreed with perceptions that national swimmers Joseph Schooling and Amanda Lim were let off lightly after they were investigated for the consumption of cannabis.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that Schooling, the country's only Olympic gold medallist, confessed to consuming cannabis when in Vietnam for the SEA Games in May.
The 27-year-old has been dealt with by the Ministry of Defence as he is undergoing national service and the incident occurred while he was on short-term disruption due to the Hanoi Games. He was placed on a six-month urine-testing regimen and his leave and disruption privileges were revoked, meaning he will not be able to travel for next year's SEA and Asian Games.
National agency Sport Singapore stated that Lim, 29, was issued a stern warning by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Both tested negative for controlled drugs but issued apologies for their mistakes.
Mr Shanmugam, who is also the Law Minister, had on Wednesday night said that both Schooling and Lim had been treated in the same way as others. He had also called on Singaporeans to give the pair "support and backing" as they seek to recover from the episode.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, he again addressed the perception that "Amanda was let off with a warning, and no action was taken against Schooling by CNB, given our tough drug policies".
He wrote: "In the cases of Schooling and Amanda, there was no clear evidence that they were currently taking drugs - the evidence was inconclusive. Their urine tests were negative. (They were, however, honest and admitted to having taken drugs in the past.)
"Amanda had a drug utensil - and she was warned for that.
"Schooling, based on the law, was handed over to Mindef, since he is a full-time NSF. Mindef decided on the steps to be taken, and has announced what it has decided."
The minister also reiterated the Government's position, which is to treat "pure drug abusers as persons who really need help".
He explained: "We are very tough on drug traffickers and those involved in the drug trade. That includes imposing capital punishment.
"This is in contrast to how we treat pure drug abusers, who haven't committed any other offence. Since 2019, our approach is to treat such pure drug abusers, as persons who really need help. They will not be imprisoned or have a criminal record (even though consumption is an offence).
"Instead, we take steps to help them rehabilitate - which could include DRC (Drug Rehabilitation Centre) or supervision. This would help them to reintegrate into society more quickly and effectively.
"Our approach: People might have taken drugs, years ago, or months ago. We don't send people to DRC, or even give warnings, in the absence of current drug-taking/positive test."
But he also reminded drug abusers that consuming drugs overseas is still a crime. "If there is clear evidence of current use of drugs, then CNB will take steps, regardless of whether the consumption took place in Singapore or overseas. So don't assume that if you consume drugs overseas, you will be let off with a warning."
At an event to launch Aibi Maxwell, a six-in-one wellness and lifestyle destination later on Thursday, Mr Shanmugam was asked the potential implications of the Schooling incident on Singapore's fight against drugs given the swimmer is a role model to many young athletes.
“People will also see that regardless of who you are, the matter becomes public and you will face consequences,” he told media following the launch of the unique wellness playground that is suitable for all ages in Tanjong Pagar. It is the first time state land has been transformed under the Singapore Land Authority and Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Reinventing Spaces into Vibrant Places programme.
“There will be setbacks, when people with high profiles are seen to have taken drugs. We will just have to deal with it and continue but there are also many people who recognise that Singapore is different and the fact that Schooling and Amanda both apologised, would also I think, help tremendously.”
He also disagreed with the notion that the incident negated the pair's achievements over the years.
"I see some comments that seek to almost deny or say that these mistakes by the two of them sort of erase their achievements. I think most Singaporeans won’t agree with that. Their achievements are tremendous. They have given much, and they have much to give with their dedication, their energy and their focus. And one mistake doesn’t erase all of that."