We need more, Mr Howai
Ever since the Patrick Manning administration, the public has been hearing about plans to bring the gaming industry under regulation. Now, in the fourth year of the administration of the People’s Partnership Government, we’re hearing from Finance Minister Larry Howai that it will take another year before elaborate consultations could be concluded toward a regulatory regime. Meanwhile, “casinos” lacking legal recognition but operating as “members’ clubs”, are proliferating, offering popular new lifestyle and night-life options. While heavy-handed action is neither warranted nor expected, the T&T State needs to get its regulatory house in order for the gaming industry, and not await scandalous interventions by foreign investigators and regulators pursuing allegations of tax evasion and money laundering.
The gaming industry operates as a law unto itself, and enjoys the freedom to escape the monitoring and supervision required of other financial operators. For this reason, it has become a favoured enterprise of money launderers and tax evaders.
Given the length of time that has passed since regulation was first raised, it is unacceptable that the Government could still be talking about another year. Minister Howai needs to explain exactly why it is taking so long and to bring the public into his confidence about the state of preparation and the challenges involved in delivering on this issue.
We do have some sympathy with the Minister who lives with the reality that when it comes to the budget and the financial management of the affairs of State, politics invariably trumps all and sets the national agenda. It doesn’t take too much insight to recognise that the Government’s political agenda has pushed the 2013/2014 Budget into fast forward, leaving the minister to catch up as fast as he can to deliver on September 9. In the context of imminent local government elections, the gaming industry is hardly a political priority for him. Even so, no Minister of Finance with a serious interest in regulation of the financial sector could ignore the peril posed by this insidious industry.
In delaying its regulation, Minister Howai is agreeing to forego the estimated ten-fold increase in taxes expected to come from regulating the industry. Given the alacrity with which other regulations and legislation work their way through the legal drafting division of the Government, we find it hard to accept the minister’s open-ended, almost cavalier position of a one-year delay. We expected a lot better. For a career banker, we would expect the minister to prioritise the gaming industry. He has not, neither has he deemed it important enough to level with the public with a comprehensive statement on the matter, especially at a time when a leading industry figure is making international headlines on the grounds of alleged tax evasion.
The Government cannot be allowed to operate in the same kind twilight zone in which the gaming industry operates. We need more than an admission of delay. We need a full status report.