By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
FNM Chairman Darron Cash said yesterday Prime Minister Perry Christie “failed miserably” as the nation’s leader and minister of finance by neglecting to explain to the public the ramifications a “no” vote in the gaming referendum would have on the Bahamian economy.
In a press release, Mr Cash said Mr Christie knew before the referendum that the Central Bank had concerns about money laundering and the impact an unregulated gaming industry could have on the Bahamian economy.
Yet he still failed to educate the public on the importance of a “yes” vote, Mr Cash argued.
Mr Cash was criticising the prime minister’s wrap up of debate on the Gaming Bill, which was passed in the House of Assembly Monday night.
“It is now clear that before the gambling referendum in 2013, the prime minister should have been acutely aware of the major money laundering concerns harboured by the governor of the Central Bank.
“And as the prime minister pointed out in Parliament, any government worth its salt would not have had to rely on the governor of the Central Bank to say anything.
“By his own admission, the money laundering concerns and the implications for the Bahamas’ relationship with international agencies such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and others should have been self-evident,” Mr Cash said.
“This admission by the prime minister underscores the fact that Mr Christie failed miserably in his job as minister of finance. If he was a competent minister of finance and had taken the time to do his homework, he should have been well aware of what he describes as the best practice necessity of regulating webshops.
“Consequently, a competent prime minister and minister of finance would have had a horse in the race and would have gone to great lengths to educate the people as to why voting ‘yes’ was important.”
The FNM chairman said it is regrettable that the nation’s chief did not take this step before the gaming referendum.
“By his own inaction it is he who put at risk the Bahamas’s reputation in the international financial community.”
Before the Bill was voted on, Mr Christie told the House the government could generate as much as $30m a year in taxes and other fees on webshops.
The government also expects $25m from webshops in penalties and other fees as the sector transitions into a regulated environment, he said.
Mr Christie also referred to the controversy over his government’s decision to ignore the results of last year’s gaming referendum in order to regularise the webshop industry.
He emphasised that his views on the matter have changed overtime.
“As I stated recently during the last Budget debate,” he said, “my government’s position on the regularisation of webshop gaming has evolved as a result of certain realities which have emerged, following the outcome of the referendum on this issue. It is misleading and most unfortunate to suggest that the government in proceeding with the regularisation of webshop gaming, is being undemocratic and ignoring the outcome of the low turnout of registered voters in the consultative, non-binding referendum.
“As explained to religious leaders and others whose views, advice and counsel I greatly respect, the economic, social, law and order, national interest and international obligation realities which have developed, make it absolutely necessary and the right thing for the Government to regularise web shop gaming in the manner being proposed.”
The legislation will overhaul the country’s gaming industry by modernising games offered in hotel-based casinos and regulating web shops owned by Bahamians.