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FRED MITCHELL IN PARLIAMENT ON THE GAMING BILLS

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fmitchellNotes by Fred Mitchell MP Fox Hill

On the Gaming Bills

House of Assembly

11 September 2014

Nassau

 

I wish to pay my respects to the family of Stephanie Martin Mackey. She was the daughter of the late Elon Sonny Martin and I want express my condolences to Strech, cialis generic ambulance to Sheila, generic cialis April and Ricardo.

A former Miss Grand Bahama; and good friend from my days in Freeport in the 1980s has passed. Gone too soon. May she rest in peace.

I wish to state that I support these bills in their entirety and without exception or equivocation. This matter is impatient of debate. We are only here because the enemies of progress have one philosophy that of stall delay and defer.

I asked the leaders of the party that I speak near the back end of this debate because I wanted to see what direction this would take. This for me is a political matter; it is a rights issue.

It is political because we need to get all of this stuff behind us and concentrate on the campaign for 2017. The Progressive Liberal Party needs another five years at the helm post 2017 to so shape the values and ethos of this country; that it is reset firmly on the base on which Bahamian nationalism was begun.

There is no question in my mind that the governance of the Free National Movement for 15 years represented a concerted effort by fair means or foul to de Bahamianize the ethos of this country and that severe corrective action was needed. We are now on our way.

I believe that we can more profitably spend the rest of our term trying to get to the issue that in my view bedevils are success, the inability for us to get the bureaucracy to do what we want it to do in a timely, courteous and accurate fashion. If we can fix that at the end of this term, we will have left a great legacy to this Bahamas.

The matters which are before us: the tax bills, the amendments to constitution, the bills on gaming are all impatient of debate. They are simple. There is nothing complicated about them. We have spent too much time trying to get this done and it is simply time to put it behind us.

What I continue to marvel at, and I have so much experience with it now that I should no longer marvel at it, is the propensity for the opponents of these measures, the usual suspects of anti PLPs, who are able to deflect and derail the public by the injection into these campaigns of silliness.

We have only to look at the recent debates as an example: sex which we have always known what it is, has become same sex marriage. Left to these naysayers, women would lose their right to equality, an historic wrong going uncorrected, because of that foolishness.

With regard to these bills some emotive words have been used. Some people have used the word: “Apartheid!” Interesting! This is the system of organized racism by the Afrikaners of South Africa of separateness or apartness that was used to keep the races separated in South Africa and to oppress black people. It is quite an emotive word. So when someone compares this gaming bill and what it seeks to do, knowing that the architects of the anti-apartheid fight in The Bahamas are the designers of the legislation on gaming that is very serious accusation indeed.

I would invite the critics to re-examine that comparison and resile from that position.

The accusation is that the comparison is apt because the bill continues the discrimination, so the critics say, between Bahamians and non-Bahamians and their ability to gamble in the casinos.

Here are the facts on this matter of who cannot gamble in casinos.

The prohibition first of all is not against Bahamians but against those who are ordinarily resident in The Bahamas. So for example, my sister who is Bahamian but lives in the United States comes to Nassau and can and has gambled in the casinos in The Bahamas without offending any law. So as a fact, Bahamians are not excluded from the casinos, even though in most cases being Bahamian and ordinarily resident may be coterminous.

 

Secondly, the bill has in fact conceded the point of the young people of the country that the provision in the law which would tend not to allow them to gamble in casinos is now outdated and indefensible. The Minister for gaming will tell you that I am among the libertarians in the cabinet. I do not understand, nor do I accept these nefarious arguments that people have getting into matters which are people’s bedroom business, their faith, their morals and their habits and seeking to impose their views on others. That in my respectful view is none of their business. Yet people are all over the place getting up on their moral high horse about gambling.

I agree with Bill Bennett, the former Education Secretary of the United States, who said there is no moral element to gambling. There is none of course unless it offends your personal morals. If it offends your personal morals then that is your business, not mine and provided the issues of gambling do not offend the public interest then again the individual is free to do as he or she wishes. It is simply not my business.

This evolving of the public policy on this matter is a textbook case for the students of public administration at the College of The Bahamas.

First it is another warning that I gave when I spoke on the bills to amend the constitution that when you pass a law you have to be careful that it does not burden or tie the hands of your successors that makes it impossible for them to administer or govern without difficulty.

Such are the citizenship laws of The Bahamas in our constitution: a veritable nightmare of arcane provisions.

When Pop Symonette and his men put this law in place as a sop to the church way back in 1963 or thereabouts, it may have been fine then. I was a boy then and I resented it then. Judge now. However after 41 years of independence such a proviso is not acceptable to the kids who we have been telling for 41 years that this is their country and they are free to develop it and do as they wish within its borders.

However, it is not always that easy when you are in power to dismantle what has been established. These policies are compromises. I am from the school that says just do away with it. But I also know that you have to know the consequences of what you will do.

Yes some people will be happy. But what if what we do results in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs because we act too precipitously. What if what we do ends up killing the thing we love, to paraphrase the words of Oscar Wilde; the very gambling sector we seek to save.

What if what we end up doing is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

So the bill now provides for one simple thing: the minster can with the stroke of pen remove the distinction between those who can now gamble and who cannot gamble. It gives the power to do so without coming back to the Parliament. The Parliament is saying by this act, you have the authority to remove it when you feel that it is appropriate.

So no I do not think that the bill perpetuates discrimination against Bahamians.

I am advised that some are saying that the policy of restrictions on who can gamble in casinos is a sign that the big casino operators are yanking our chains; that this makes us therefore indistinguishable from the FNM. With the greatest of respect, that is simply untrue. The casino operators care not one whit whether the locals gamble or they do not. They made no such insistence. Secondly, this legislation was developed not as two regimes but one regime with taxation and oversight being an equal opportunity. What you see here is the result of work both with the domestic gaming sector and the traditional casinos.

No one got any particular advantage and no one was excluded.

The opponents have practiced the art of political sucker punching to a science but when you strike back at them with the words that aptly describe their behavior: intolerant bigoted and prejudiced, well you are called unfair.

Take the argument advanced by the Leader of the Opposition in the public domain that this will only assist a select few; the DNA is in the press today saying that this is a political payback. Anything of course to make headlines. Yesterday, we were treated to a tour de force of inaccuracies and half-truths which demonstrate more than adequately the maxim: don’t bore me with the facts, I have my story and I am sticking to it.

The regime of the bills is open, pellucid and transparent. The criteria for applying are laid out specifically. The fees are laid out. Who can qualify is laid out.

Yes there will be market limitations. But right now there are limitations on the number of taxi drivers we can licence. It’s been so for years. Right now there are limitations on who can open a port in New Providence and the last administration picked select families and gave them that benefit and put a poison pill in it to prevent the PLP or any of their successors from doing anything about it.

The last administration did the same thing with the sale of BTC.

They also plucked an obscure company out of Canada and gave them a monopoly to run a Cable TV company for 15 years. They did not see anything wrong with that either.

The argument isn’t that because they did it we are doing it. The argument is this: who the heck are you to come preaching about a select few when that is the modus operandi of the FNM.

What the PLP is saying is that it is time for a new group of people to share in the wealth, not the same chosen few. This policy promotes Bahamianization; it promotes spreading the wealth. It is an equitable solution to vexing issue.

Then I add this. Let us say that the FNM succeeded with their no vote to stop the present policy that we have established on gaming.

What would the result be?

The local result will be either the continuation of the unregulated, untaxed sector that we have now which we all know cannot continue without consequences both domestic and foreign.

Or alternatively, it would mean that the police resources would have to be used to close the sector down

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. We all know that is impossible. We all know that that it would be a serious misallocation of the finite resources of the country to engage in such an exercise. Like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. We also all know that thousands of people will be put out of work.

So the result then of the FNM’s no vote if it were successful would be to drive money underground and increase the criminality in the country; increase joblessness and all the attendant problems that causes; and erode the already precarious financial state of the country by the misallocation of valued resources into law enforcement.

Why then should we engage in such tomfoolery, when with the simple passage of this bill we can have the best of both worlds. There will be a strong well regulated, healthy domestic gaming sector with money in the bank and people in work prospering, with the government getting its share. We will eliminate the potential for more criminality. Sounds like a win win to me.

For all of those reasons then, I support this legislation.