Saturday, 3 May 2014 00:03
Govt. slams ‘casino protests’; says they caused “concerns” among global investors
Backtracks on impact, assures FDI targets will be met, brushes over JHU opposition
Faiszer fails to give clear answers on casino policies; says it is not a “yes or no situation”
By Uditha Jayasinghe
In a high-stakes claim, Investment Promotion Deputy Minister Faiszer Mustapha yesterday criticised Opposition protests against casinos, insisting that they had caused “concerns” among foreign investors that could negatively affect foreign inflows.
However, taking on the thorny casino issue proved to be a risky business for the Deputy Minister, who was bombarded with questions regarding the Government’s casino policy by journalists at the media briefing held at the Board of Investment (BOI).
A visibly-disgruntled Mustapha was repeatedly questioned in both Sinhala and English as to why the Government had not introduced regulations that provided teeth to the 2010 Amendment to the 1988 Act that introduced casinos to Sri Lanka.
Journalists also highlighted inconsistent policies adopted by the Government and noted that investors such as casino mogul James Packer had told international publications several times of intentions to establish a casino in Colombo. John Keells Holdings also in its Annual Report mentions a hotel with gaming facilities, they pointed out. Mustapha in return stated investor requests would not be entertained wholesale and the Government had outlined a “no casino” policy.
He reluctantly admitted that technically operation of casinos was illegal but insisted that successive governments had made use of the revenue provided by the casinos, which was introduced during a time the United National Party (UNP) was in power. Despite numerous questions on the point, Mustapha stopped short of commenting on the current Government’s policy regarding casinos, emphasising that it was not within his power and was not a “yes or no situation”.
No legal provisions yet exist for the transfer of existing casino licenses, he added.
The Minister also defended the three projects worth $ 1.4 billion passed last week as clearly not containing casinos as pledged by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and later Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa during the debate in Parliament.Mustapha acknowledged that coalition parties of the Government were also responsible for the criticisms levelled against the Strategic Development Act, but went on to justify this difference of opinion as a sign of democracy within the ruling party. “Even after the Government had clearly stated it will not allow casinos to operate in these three projects, politicians have continued to oppose it on the speculation that the investors ‘intend’ to start gaming facilities even though there is no legal or factual basis for such a claim. This has caused investors to be concerned,” Deputy Minister Mustapha told reporters.
He, however, refused to divulge what the specific concerns were, instead preferring to highlight the need of constructing 35,000 hotel rooms to meet the Government target of 2.5 million tourists by 2016.
When asked why investors would be concerned with Opposition sentiments and if this was so because they are unsure of the Government, Mustapha scrambled to assure that it was not the case, but stressed that investors look at “vibes in totality” when considering projects.
Regardless of the Deputy Minister’s contention that the Government could have to face more challenges in attracting investment, he was upbeat of meeting the $ 2.5 billion target set for 2014. Of the three projects, about 30% of the total investment is expected to be injected this year.
South Korea’s Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co Ltd. said on Friday that it had won a $ 339.30 million contract to build an integrated resort in Sri Lanka for privately owned John Keells Holdings.
The BOI will also sign new contracts with all three investors in the next few weeks stipulating terms approved by Parliament, Mustapha added. Several new projects including infrastructure and possible hotel projects from Bahrain are also in the pipeline.