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http://static.ft.lk/ft_logo.png"/> Opposition protests casinos as controversial bill taken up in Parliament
Home / / Opposition protests casinos as controversial bill taken up in Parliament

Opposition protests casinos as controversial bill taken up in Parliament


Comments / 1300 Views / Friday, 25 April 2014 02:10


The main Opposition yesterday staged a protest outside the proposed site for three casino investment valued at over $ 1 billion as Parliament prepared to pass controversial legislation legalising gambling. The three projects are a $ 350 million casino project by Australian casino mogul James Packer, a $ 300 million gaming facility by local tycoon Dhammika Perera called Queensbury and the largest venture of $ 650 million by local conglomerate John Keells Holdings (JKH) that will also have a casino. The Government has already twice attempted to push through legislation in Parliament that will make casinos legal. However, strong protests from the Opposition United National Party (UNP) and Buddhist hardline group Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), which is part of the ruling coalition, has stalled the attempts.               “The Government continues to fool the people by saying that the casino gazette includes no casinos. It’s a joke. The Government is trying to take people for a bunch of idiots but we cannot be fooled by the Government,” UNP MP and well-known economist Dr. Harsha De Silva told reporters during the protest. The UNP members together with supporters and Buddhist monks marched along the Fort area of central Colombo. The protest also caused huge traffic jams as the area holds several large offices and five-star hotels. The Government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa holds a two-thirds majority in Parliament and the latest presentation of the projects on Thursday and Friday is expected to have a high chance of success. Last year following protests the Government removed the word “casino” from the draft bill and inserted the phrase “mixed development projects,” which the UNP claims is just a euphemism for casinos. The Government had previously stated existing casino licenses could be transferred to the three projects and Opposition politicians have charged that loopholes exist in the regulations to establish casinos at a later date. Packer’s casino in particular has been severely censured by the UNP for being given sweeping tax concessions for 12 years. The Australian Financial Review has estimated that the tax holiday will add up to as much as $ 1 billion. The UNP has also slammed the Government for not establishing a competent monitoring system for casinos and alleged that public concerns were being ignored. The UNP has also proposed three amendments to the Bills that are to be taken up in Parliament banning casinos or prostitution from ever being carried out at these three projects.  

 President refutes allegations casinos to be introduced

President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday categorically refuted allegations that the Government has issued casino licenses to the new hotel projects. He said setting up a casino is not a part of the projects. Addressing Editors at Temple Trees yesterday, the President said the Government has given its approval purely to set up a hotel project. “We are not the ones who introduced casinos to this country. They have been in existence since the 1950s,” the President said. “There is no change in the wordings of the Gazette whatsoever when issuing the license for this particular project,” the President said, adding that the Government adhered to the previous Gazette notification. “There is no change in the Government’s policy stance. We will not set up casinos,” the President emphasised.
 

P’ment approves Gazette on Queensbury

First of the controversial Gazette notification, which sanctions the establishing and operating of an integrated super luxury tourist resort coming under The Queensbury Leisure Ltd. received the Parliament’s approval yesterday. Disregarding the amendments the Opposition suggested Government moved the motion where acting Leader of the Opposition and Chief Opposition Whip in Parliament John Amaratunga sought a ‘division by name’. Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa told Parliament during the debate that “there won’t be any tax concessions for casinos through this order (under gazette).” Another gazette aims at permitting “Associated facilities” in these integrated resorts replacing “Gaming and Gambling facilities” contained in the prevision version. The Opposition vehemently protested yesterday during the debate, having proposed its own amendments which clearly specified the exclusion of any activity in the nature of gaming, gambling and casinos. With the voting taken place late last evening, 112 Members voted in favour and 42 against the Gazette notification, which is identified as an approval given to start a casino and a brothel in the eyes of the opposition. Around 68 MPs were absent at the time of the vote. Jathika Hela Urumaya, a part of the ruling coalition, MP Ven. Athuraliye Rathane Thero voted against the Gazette. UNP, TNA and DNA voted against. Among notable ministers who were absent when the vote was being taken included Ministers Wimal Weerawansa, Champika Ranawaka, Rauff Hakeem and Rishard Bathiudeen. The Queens bury integrated super luxury tourist resort will consist 500 rooms including high end shopping malls high quality residencies and office spaces/service spaces at its site in D.R. Wijewardena Mawatha, Colombo 10. The project, which is an investment of US$ 200 million is to commence its commercial operations of the within 48 months from the date stated in the Project Agreement with the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka.

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