FNM: Scrap January’s Gambling Vote
Free National Movement Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis yesterday called on Prime Minister Perry Christie to abandon the upcoming gambling referendum and put off the poll for potentially more than a year, claiming the issue is being forced on the Bahamian people in the absence of unbiased information.
Last week, Christie postponed the referendum from December 3 until January 28, 2013 amid protests from the FNM, and other groups, that he was rushing the vote.
The delay will also allow the government time to pass the necessary legislation in Parliament to allow for the lawful carrying out of non-constitutional referenda.
However, the FNM still believes the promised referendum is being hastily foisted on the voting public.
“We call upon the government to immediately abandon the referendum which has been initiated by the prime minister, who has already set a date before the law has been changed,” Minnis said at a press conference at FNM headquarters.
“It is irresponsible and unfair to the Bahamian people for a government, which is itself in an apparent state of ignorance, to foist a referendum on a people who are similarly without basic information to make such a choice.”
Minnis urged the government to appoint an independent board to research the socioeconomic benefits and pitfalls of legalized gambling and present the findings to the Bahamian people before they are asked to vote on the issue.
The Killarney MP said the vote should be pushed back another six to 12 months after the commission has begun its work.
Minnis also criticized the government’s reliance on advice from a UK-based consultant from the firm Dixon, Wilson & Co., who he said had no expertise with gaming or any knowledge of how web shops operate.
“It is a disservice to the Bahamian people for the prime minister to receive non-expert advice on a matter of such grave national importance and intricacy,” Minnis said.
“Such an undertaking calls for a responsible government to obtain the best possible advice from the best experts in the gambling industry, not from a firm of tax accountants whose halting presentation on television could not inspire any confidence that they had any degree of familiarity, much less expertise in the gaming industry.”
Last week in the House of Assembly, Prime Minister Christie outlined the economic contributions of web shops over the past few years, based on data from the Ministry of Finance.
But Minnis said neither the government nor the Bahamian people have an impartial expert assessment of the annual gross revenue of web shops, their annual profit margins, the extent of their wire and money transferring operations or how much money they make from different aspects of their operations.
Minnis also took aim at the prime minister’s proposal to add a grandfather clause to the legislation that would govern web shops, if the market becomes regulated.
He said because existing web shop owners have broken the law they should not be offered any special consideration which is typical of a grandfather provision.
The FNM leader also called on the prime minister to disclose whether any number houses contributed to the Progressive Liberal Party’s election campaign, considering the fact that government will have to decide which operations become legal depending on the outcome of the referendum.
“If he proposes to grandfather in, meaning grant effective legalized gambling monopolies to his [alleged] campaign donors he is morally and ethically bound to disclose this fact and their identities,” he said.
Minnis also accused the prime minister of using concerns over the web shops unregulated financial transactions and possible money laundering as a reason to “rush” the referendum. However he said the government could use the Financial Transactions Reporting Act to ensure that web cafes were not violating financial regulations.
The prime minister has said there is an urgent need to address the web shop sector because of the large amount of cash flowing through the operations and the unregulated quasi-banking systems set up by some of the operators.
By Tankea Thompson
Guardian Senior Reporter