No plan to leave government on Casino Bill issue-Champika

Minister of Technology, Research and Atomic Energy and senior member of the Jathika Hela Urumaya, Patali Champika Ranawaka says the operation of casinos would result in grave consequences that would lead the breakdown of moral and ethical values of society while encouraging social evils such as drugs, blackmoney and prostitution. In an interview with The Nation, he also pointed out the risk of Government falling into the hands of casino giants

Following is the full interview:

Q: The JHU has voiced its displeasure over the Bills that were passed in Parliament pertaining to the
Casino Bill that was passed in Parliament recently. Can you explain your reasons behind it?

It was a gazette notification under the Strategic Enterprises Act of 2008. It is not a Casino Bill. There is a history behind it.
There were two organizations, Lake Leisure and Waterfront Leisure. There was a proposal made to Parliament in August
2013 to provide them tax relief and to allow them to operate as betting centers. This is not a new thing.
This was part of the ‘Regaining Sri Lanka’ policy of the Ranil Wickremesinghe Government. It was mentioned in page
208 of the document. It says, ‘Focus area: creating a regional hub. Strategy: position Colombo as a preferred entertainment and
stopover destination in South Asia. The policy: Permit two five-star hotels in Colombo to operate gaming facilities by auctioning licenses.”
They have clearly mentioned that. They also mentioned of considering granting short-term tax relief to these ventures.
That was Wickremesinghe’s policy document.
This Government was formed by criticizing Wickremesinghe’s neo-liberal policies. Now we are implementing the same thing
to the letter. Neo-liberal is a failed system in several countries.
We, therefore, opposed the move when it was first brought to Parliament in August last year. I submitted a Cabinet observation
pointing out the issues that we could face due to casinos. First is that there would be social and moral issues. Drug usage, small
arms, prostitution rings would thrive as a result of this issue.
Article 27 of the Constitution mentions of Directive Principles of State Policy. One aspect of that is to build a society with val-
ues and morals. This was one of the five conditions we signed while forming the alliance. This could turn out to be a danger-
ous move.
Even today, there are four casinos operating. Even though it says ‘Foreigners Only’ many of those who go there are locals. We
do not have records of foreigners who had declared at the airport that the money they had was won in casinos. What is used is
blackmoney. They use the ‘Undiyal’ system, which is illegal, to transfer monies.

Q: What are the consequences?

The establishment of such large scale casinos would create a huge black economy, which you cannot control. That’s why all these countries have these hubs away from the mainland, or commercial capitals. In India, it’s done in Goa and not in Mumbai, in the US, it is there in Las Vegas and not in New York or other commercial capitals.
Then there is also the political consequence. In 1988, the then UNP regime introduced a gaming act through which 29 casino games were permitted. Within three years, President Premadasa, who patronized these people, complained to the public that his government was under serious threat from these casino giants. Therefore, he was compelled to proscribe these activities. Likewise, Chandrika also slowly allowed these people to run casinos. However, in 2001 she also complained that the Government was threatened by these casino giants. She even said that some of her Ministers were bribed by them. Everyone knows the influence Packer has on Australian politics.
What will happen is that the power which is with Parliament will be shifted to casinos. Therefore, this is not suitable for a
small country like Sri Lanka. Similar proposals were put forward in September and in December last year, to which we had ex-
pressed our opposition and our concerns.

Q: Did you talk to the Government with regard to your concerns?

During a parliamentary meeting, we sought clarification from Minister Faiszer Musthapha on this issue. He said that the
intention of the gazette notification was to inform the public on the areas that they would provide financial concession and
added there was no need to mention these things if they were not going to give financial concessions, which means that they
can operate casinos even without tax relief.
Then we asked whether the project proposal includes casino facilities, he said yes. He also admitted that they had not asked
them to change the scope of the project. When asked whether there was an agreement, he said yes. He also said the agree-
ment included casino facilities. He also admitted that they had not ask them to abrogate aspects pertaining to casinos.
This was the response given to us. Therefore, we decided to vote against this. I wrote to the President explaining my stance to
him.

Q: Did he respond?

No.

Q: You said you joined the Government based on five principles in 2005. But what would be your actions since the Government has gone ahead with the bills?

Even though the bills have been passed, I know that the majority of this country is not in favor of this. As far as the masses
are concerned, there is no moral legitimacy at all. We took this moral high ground.
Secondly, 109 Government MPs voted in favor. But I know that a substantial number of these MPs are not happy with this. They
conveyed to me that their thinking was with us and that they were going against their conscience.

Q: Would this have an impact on your position in the Government?

No. Actually, we are now facing other serious social and economic problems which were not there in 2005. In 2005, the priority
was to defeat the LTTE and preserve the country’s unitary character. In 2010 our aim was to develop the country as a hub
in this part of the world and promote national economic activities where the guiding principles would be on par with our
national heritage.
But now, there are new things coming out. Good governance has become a serious issue after the Hambantota episode. Then we
have the issue of lawlessness in the country. We see some members of the clergy treated differently. When Buddhist clergy behaved in an unruly manner, they were reprimanded. However, the likes of Bishop Rayappu Joseph are free to say that chemical weapons were used in Puthumathalan and over 100,000 civilians died. No legal action has been taken against this man.
There should be a level playing grounds for all these religious groups. We are also concerned about corruption, malpractices
and inefficiencies, and economic principles adopted.

Q: Would you leave the Government if such issues persist, or the Government continues to go against the principles that you have agreed upon?

No. We haven’t thought of leaving the Government at this juncture. We stick to the principles.

Q: Speaking of level playground for all religions, how do you see the prevalent clashes between religious groups and the establishment of a special police unit to probe religious related incidents?

I don’t think the establishment of a police unit is a workable thing. It may lead to other consequences. Other religious groups could
ask for separate religious police. But on the other hand, the officers should be aware of the sensitivities of these religious groups.
There are units for child and women protection. There are special features and sensitivities that need to be understood. We accept that. But this is not a solution.

Published in the Nation on May 4, 2014

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