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Published: 30 Dec 2011 10:00AM (Singapore)
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Strategising against Subutex
Abuse of Subutex was rampant in the early 2000s, but former Central Narcotics Bureau Director Mr Ng Seng Liang managed to crack down on it. Find out how Mr Ng accomplished this with his “walking the ground” approach and sincerity.
By Chen Shuyi

Mr Ng Seng Liang was the Director of the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) from 2005 to 2011. In his six years there, he helped crack down Subutex among other numerous accomplishments. GRAPHIC: Chen Shuyi

It was a treatment gone wrong.

Subutex, also known as Buprenorphine, was a prescribed medication introduced in Singapore as part of drug substitution therapy in 2002.

The pills reduce heroin cravings and was used to treat heroin addicts.

Unfortunately, many patients were misusing the drug by injecting it directly into their bodies.

The availability of Subutex led to rampant abuse among addicts and patients.

When Mr Ng Seng Liang took over the reins of Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) as Director in 2005, he saw the need for CNB to deal with this critical issue.

“I moved around to the different ground units, explaining to the officers the rationale that Subutex needs to be dealt with appropriately. There is a need for us to take over the responsibility although the drug was not introduced by CNB,” said Mr Ng.

Under the 60-year-old’s steadfast guidance, CNB was able to provide thorough reviews, strong recommendations and justifications to classify Subutex as a controlled drug.

Eventually, Subutex was listed as a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act on 14 August 2006.

A series of successful island-wide operations known as Operation Wipeout followed.

The operation helped CNB crack down on Subutex abusers.

Mr Ng said it is his burning passion for criminal investigation that drove him in his battle against drug abuse.

The Nanyang University graduate joined the Singapore Police Force (SPF) in 1976, where he rose through the ranks to become the Director of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in 1998.

He was seconded to CNB as its Director on 15 April 2005 and retired from the bureau on 18 February 2011.

Mr Ng is currently a training consultant with the Home Team School of Criminal Investigation.

Strengthening the culture of the bureau

Apart from his genuine and strategic working style, Mr Ng was also a leader well-known for his calculated foresight.

During his stay with CNB, Mr Ng observed that the courts required strong and solid evidence to convict the accused.

He believed the best way to provide objective evidence was to strengthen forensic support in the agency.

While CNB traditionally relied on interviews and the support of the Police’s Forensic Management Branch, Mr Ng felt it was not enough.

“It’s good that we have the support of the Police forensic but I think there is a need to have a type of culture in CNB where investigations have to rely on the three pillars of investigations – that is forensic, interview and intelligence,” he said.

With his bold vision and utmost support from the CID’s Forensic Management Branch, Mr Ng set up CNB’s Forensic Response Team (Fort).

Through collection and detailed analysis of forensic evidence,the Fort teamenhanced the operational effectiveness and investigative capabilities of the bureau.

“Basically, thecapability of CNB were strengthened as they were given the ‘extra weapons’ to deal with drug trafficking cases,” said Mr Ng.


Spreading the name of CNB globally

Sharing of knowledge and experiences with international counterparts are practices Mr Ng firmly believes in.

One way he did this is through the launch of the Preventive Drug Education Resource Kit.

The kit shares CNB’s preventive drug education (PDE) outreach programmes, experiences and knowledge from which PDE practitioners can adapt and learn.

“Everybody expects CNB to be an enforcement agency. But we are actually more than an enforcement agency,” said Mr Ng.

“There is a need for prevention because prevention is better than cure. CNB realises the importance of this and has done a lot of work in this area of preventive drug education.”

The PDE resource kit was shared with foreign delegates at the 52ndsession of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (UNCND) in Vienna in 2009.

It brought the bureau up onto the international stage.

The kit received good responses and the sharing helped CNB hone new networks with foreign drug enforcement agencies.

“I think it is always good to let other people know what CNB has done. I don’t believe in quietly doing your job,” he said.

“I feel that they (CNB) have done a very good job and should share their experiences and knowledge with others and also let people know so that recognition will be given to them.”

“Walking the ground” with officers

Commonly known for his “walking the ground” and measured approaches, Mr Ng said: “You need to know your officers. You need to explain your actions, strategies and plans to your officers if you want to succeed.”

In his six years with CNB, Mr Ng won the trust and support from officers with his sincerity and effort.

For him, one of the most challenging aspects of working as a leader is the skill of managing people.

Giving encouragements, support and acknowledgment were what Mr Ng believed in.

“For those who want to succeed in their career, they must be able to lead, inspire and give due recognition, be it your subordinates or bosses,” he said.

“When I work with the officers, I look at their strengths. Of course, I recognise their weaknesses. But you must try to capitalise on their strengths rather than focus on their weaknesses.”

Such a principle helps develop a more efficient force and healthier working relationships.

Despite retiring from CNB, he is still impressed by CNB officers’ dedication: “I am proud to be given the opportunity to lead this group of committed officers in CNB.”

“With about 5,000 raids and operations conducted by CNB each year, one can imagine that they are always on the move to tackle the traffickers who are desperate and very dangerous criminals,” said Mr Ng.

At the end of the day, CNB officers cannot battle against illegal drugs alone.

“The officers’ hard work, coupled with the strong support of the community, are the key success factors of CNB in keeping the drugs situation under control.”

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