Are we turning Lanka into a Macau? - Editorial

25 April 2014 04:32 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Despite strong and widespread protest by Mahanayaka Theras, hundreds of Buddhist monks, leaders of other religions and civic action groups, the Rajapaksa regime made a second attempt in Parliament yesterday and succeeded in pushing through colour-washed regulations for the setting up of two huge casinos.

The religious leaders and Opposition critics say that, besides the moral decay through large scale money laundering, narcotics-smuggling, crime syndicates, brothels, massage parlours and related vices, the Government will also offer ten-year tax holidays amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars to the new casino operators. This is being done while taxes upon taxes, direct or indirect, are being imposed on millions of common people who have to pay more for their basic needs such as food, healthcare and education.  

In the amended regulations, the words, “entertainment and gaming facilities” have been replaced with the words “associated facilities”. The regulations were presented and passed under the Strategic Development Projects Act which during the past few years has been used for a multitude of multimillion dollar projects, with huge kickbacks and commissions for top politicians and officials, because there is no tender procedure, little or no accountability and less transparency.

One of these huge projects will be run by the Australia-based Crown Group headed by casino tycoon James Packer, and the other by John Keells Holdings.

Both will set up and operate integrated super luxury tourist resorts, one along D. R. Wijewardene Mawatha in Colombo 10 and the other in two phases along Glennie Street and Justice Akbar Mawatha in Colombo 2. The concessions given to them include tax holidays for up to ten years and duty concessions on the import of project-related goods.

When similar regulations were introduced in Parliament last October, our sister newspaper the Sunday Times published an article by its Hong Kong correspondent senior journalist Kapila Bandara who visited the casino sincity of Macau and exposed what is happening there. In the article headlined, ‘Millions burn billions in gambling town Macau’ Kapila Bandara gave some shocking details about the vices in Macau, a tiny island of 586,000 people to the west of Hong Kong.

This island of just 29.9 square kilometres has 35 casinos. Macau has 56 sauna sex centres and 21 night clubs. For Chinese, whose national pastime is gambling, Macau is the playground where some pay with their lives when in debt, the journalist wrote. Macau has deposed Las Vegas from the top, but not without the aid of Nevada heavyweights, especially two Jewish billionaires, Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson, who have faced various lawsuits and the scrutiny of US federal investigators. Wynn’s former partner Japanese Kazuo Okada, who runs Universal Entertainment, is facing criminal charges in the Philippines for using front companies.

Macau has members-only clubs with women thrown in for good measure, as well as events such as adult sex expos, toilet expos, and funeral undertaker conventions, Kapila Bandara wrote.

Despite its stature as the big cheese in gambling, Macau is not Disneyland. Thousands live in decrepit public housing. Some buildings have been condemned as unsuitable for habitation. There are 2,543 buildings that are 30 years old. Out of a workforce of 360,700, 6,400 are jobless. There are shortages of nursing homes – 1,300 beds for 40,000 elderly. Problem gamblers increased 50 percent in 2012, and 13,000 are gambling addicts. Since November 2012, one gambler a week sought help from the Social Welfare Bureau. Labour protests are not uncommon. The back alleys of Macau resemble any Chinatown, smelly, messy and filthy, the journalist wrote. Macau’s casinos are taxed at an effective rate of 38 percent to 39 percent on gambling revenues.

This includes a 35 percent tax on gross gambling revenues, 1.6 percent to a foundation, and 2.4 percent to a social security fund.

With government MPs approving the regulations yesterday, is Sri Lanka taking a step in Macau’s direction?  

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