Casino bill by another name passed by stealth: Harsha

Thursday, 19 December 2013 01:02 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Ashwin Hemmathagama – Our Lobby Correspondent: Opposition Legislator Dr. Harsha De Silva who has led the charge against the Government’s casino bill, yesterday slammed the regime for attempting to mislead the country and taking the country for fools after it gazetted the controversial James Packer hotel project on Tuesday night. Speaking in Parliament yesterday De Silva said that Rank Holding Chairman Ravi Wijeratne had told a Sunday newspaper he would open a casino at D.R. Wijewardena Mawatha and the Government had held an urgent cabinet meeting the next day despite it being Poya. De Silva said that the Government had attempted to pull the wool over the eyes of the public with the earlier strategic withdrawal of the casino bill and gazetting it this week using different words. “At the emergency cabinet meeting, Ministers confirmed the decision allow a casino and the tax reliefs,” charged Dr. de Silva. “Last night (17) Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena published a gazette notification on par with the decision taken by Cabinet of Ministers met on Monday. In this gazette the Minister has announced the necessary tax reliefs offered for James Packer for his proposed casino. There was a previous gazette issued on 18 July 2013 notifying details about the same project. However, the earlier gazette talks about a casino and the recent gazette talks about the Integrated Super Luxury Tourist Resort facility. There is no difference between these two and they may be taking us for fools,” he said. De Silva claimed that religious leaders had come together against the casino culture the Government was trying to bring about in the country, causing the Government to withdraw the first gazette. “Now the Government is identifying it as an Integrated Super Luxury Tourist Resort facility. Is this the good governance? Don’t you have a backbone to come forward to announce the establishing of the casino? James Packer and Ravi Wijeratne are two of the investors engaged in this casino. We will talk about the third investor sometime later,” said MP Dr. de Silva. According to this controversial notification, gazette extraordinary No. 1841/4 of 17 December 2013, the particular casino project will set up and operate an Integrated Super Luxury Tourist Resort which consists of 400 rooms including high-end shopping malls, high quality residencies and office spaces/service spaces with associated facilities at D. R. Wijewardena Mawatha, Colombo 10. The Gazette omits approval for betting and gaming facilities at the resort. The total investment in this project will be $ 350 million and will be considered as a Strategic Development Project. The proposed casino will provide employment for approximately 2,600 locals and consequent income earning opportunities for Sri Lankans.