SAF scheme allows drug users to confess once without being punished: Ng Eng Hen

Swimmer Joseph Schooling, a full-time national serviceman, had confessed to taking cannabis while in Hanoi for the SEA Games in May. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - To allow servicemen to avoid the harsh penalties associated with drug abuse, an existing Singapore Armed Forces scheme lets those who have consumed illegal drugs confess without being punished.

Under the SAF Amnesty Scheme, they will instead receive counselling and rehabilitation to help them kick their habit, and will also undergo regular testing, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in a written parliamentary reply on Monday.

The scheme, which was introduced in 1976, allows SAF soldiers to avoid punishment just once, after which normal penalties apply for drug offences, said Dr Ng.

He was responding to Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (Chua Chu Kang GRC), who asked about the steps taken to detect and prevent the abuse of drugs in military camps or during training, particularly among national servicemen.

The response comes after news broke last month that swimmer Joseph Schooling, a full-time national serviceman, had confessed to having taken cannabis while in Hanoi for the SEA Games in May.

The 27-year-old Olympic gold medallist had, however, tested negative in urine tests for drugs, and was placed under a six-month urine testing regimen. His leave and disruption privileges to train and compete have been revoked.

The SAF maintains a drug policy that is aligned to the national policy of zero tolerance against drug abuse, said Dr Ng.

To ensure a drug-free culture in the SAF, it seeks to both prevent and enforce rules against drug abusers through testing, appropriate punishment and rehabilitation, he said.

All recruits attend talks by the SAF Counselling Centre during their basic military training. Anti-drug talks are also conducted periodically at SAF camps and units.

Before overseas exercises or postings, soldiers are briefed on and sternly reminded of the consequences of taking drugs overseas, said Dr Ng.

Extensive urine tests are conducted across the SAF to monitor drug abuse. All enlistees undergo these urine tests during their basic military training.

Urine tests are also conducted without notice in units, overseas bases and training locations, as well as on returning service personnel, he said.

The SAF Military Police also conducts routine spot checks to ensure that illegal products, including controlled drugs, are not brought into SAF premises.

Servicemen or women who test positive during urine screening will be charged, said Dr Ng. They are typically sentenced by the military courts to a minimum of eight to nine months' detention in the SAF Detention Barracks.

Known or suspected drug abusers who have confessed or had recent drug convictions will be put on a urine test regime and drug counselling sessions.

During this period, they will be screened up to three times a week for a period of up to six months. If they test positive during the period, they will be investigated for drug offences and potentially charged at a court martial.

"This serves as both a deterrence and a form of rehabilitation to help them stay away from drugs," said Dr Ng.

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