Tuesday 26 May, 2020

Imbert: UNC colluding with gaming industry, rejects own Bill

The Government is accusing the United National Congress of working in tandem with members of the gaming industry who do not want the sector regulated.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert made the claim at a media conference on Friday, moments after the Gambling (Gaming and Betting) Control Bill, 2016 was defeated in the House of Representatives. The Bill needed a special majority but only received 20 votes with 15 abstentions and zero against.

“It’s clear to us in the Government that the persons involved in this industry clearly have lobbied the opposition and notwithstanding the fact it was a UNC bill, UNC regulations, it’s clear that they have been got to.”

Addressing members of the media, Imbert noted that the $16 billion dollar gaming industry has been operating largely unregulated for 20 years, costing taxpayers an estimated $500 million annually. He said legislation to address the glaring issues was first proposed in 1999 but was never passed. The Finance Minister went on to remind the population that this latest Bill was proposed by the UNC in 2015 and was passed with the support of the then People’s National Movement (PNM) Opposition. However, it did not move to the Senate since Parliament was dissolved for general elections. Now that the tables have turned, the Opposition has effectively voted against legislation they once piloted.

“We never expected them to reject their own bill, which they’ve done. So that, what we’re going to do now, since this bill requires a special majority, we’re going to have to come with some other regulation of the sector that would not be as powerful as this Bill but certainly, we’ll be able to close some of the loopholes that currently exist in terms of tax evasion and that sort of thing.”

If passed, the law would have addressed issues surrounding the vulnerable being exploited including a lack of proper wages, long working hours without appropriate compensation, employees being banned from forming or joining unions, the leakage of foreign exchange and tax evasion.

Imbert said Government will now be forced to tackle weaker legislation to seek to prevent criminal conduct within the sector.  

“We will now have to go to a less powerful form of legislative amendment and see what can be done to the Members Club Act to see how one can address the problems of criminality and money laundering and so on.”

As to why he believes the Opposition rejected the Bill, the Minister expressed concern that they might have been wooed by those who run the industry.

“That could be the motivation for persons not wanting to support the legislation. The only way to deal with the issues of tax evasion and white-collar crime is that we’ll have to go and look at other legislation but without a special majority, no authority or body would have the teeth to deal with its problems. You need to have this special majority because you need to regulate it to a certain extent where you keep people out. You don’t want the criminals to run this industry.”

Imbert added that there is a lot of intimidation in the sector, referencing protests that had taken place outside his home in October 2017. He suggested that the demonstrators might not have wanted to picket outside his house, stating that they were encouraged or forced to do so.


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