Today’s Straits Times carried extensive coverage of the Government’s decision to go ahead with building casinos in Singapore. The Singapore Democrats issued a statement immediately after the annnouncement was made in Parliament. The Straits Times, unsurprisingly, blacked out SDP’s press release. It had to take foreign news agencies to report the SDP’s comments.
Critics Blast Singapore Government for Approving Casinos
AFP, News Factor
18 April 2005
“Truth be told, without a reform of our political-economic system, no free trade agreement or free-wheeling casino can solve our economic problems,” said Chee Soon Juan, who heads the opposition Singapore Democratic Party.
Government critics and church groups on Monday slammed a decision by Singapore’s cabinet to allow casinos to operate in the city-state, saying the social fallout would outweigh the economic benefits.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in parliament that two casino resorts expected to cost billions of dollars would be built by 2009 to spice up the tiny nation’s staid image and attract more international travellers.
“We express our disappointment that the decision to set up the casino was made. We are still opposed to gambling and all the effects of that vice,” said Lim Kay Tham, associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Singapore.
He told AFP the council would encourage its member churches to educate their flocks against gambling. Christian churches will cooperate with the government in dealing with the social fallout and offer counselling for people with gambling problems.
“Now with the approval of the casino, we can expect more people to now become addicted to gambling so this problem may become magnified,” he added.
“Our position remains that values take precedence over economic concerns, and that in the long term we are not sure that we will be better off as a nation,” Lim said.
Singapore’s Roman Catholic Archbishop Nicholas Chia expressed regret over the government’s decision and hoped measures aimed at containing the social impact would be strictly implemented.
“We can understand the economic quantum to the casino but we are very worried about the cost to human, family and social well-being,” he told AFP.
“We will try to dissuade people from being addicted and educate people on the ill-effects of problem-gambling.”
Muslim religious leaders had earlier objected to the establishment of a casino, but they had no immediate reaction on Monday.
Prime Minister Lee took note of the objections by religious groups, but told parliament the government must maintain a secular and pragmatic approach.
“For the government, the key consideration is what serves our national interest,” he said.
Businessman Arthur Tan, co-founder of a group that launched an online anti-casino petition, said he was surprised by the decision to allow two casinos.
“It’s nothing shocking at all (but) definitely we’re disappointed,” said Tan.
He said a 100 Singapore dollar (60 US) levy per entry at the casino on locals was unlikely to be an effective deterrent.
“People are very ingenious, they’ll find ways to break through this, it will not solve the problem,” Tan said.
Veteran opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam accused the government of making it appear there had been a debate on the issue.
“What riles me is all this propaganda that there has been an ongoing debate for the last one year,” Jeyaretnam told AFP.
“Where has the debate been? It’s all a sham being played over and over again in Singapore. They talk about economic gains… but what I don’t think they have really calculated are the social costs.”
Chee Soon Juan, who heads the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, said the decision to allow casino operations was “the clearest sign yet that the government has run out of ideas” on propelling the economy.
“Truth be told, without a reform of our political-economic system, no free trade agreement or free-wheeling casino can solve our economic problems,” said Chee.