By Azhar Ghani
THE Government should make the casino an election issue, opposition MP Low Thia Khiang said yesterday.
“They can delay the decision so that Singaporeans have a chance to express themselves at the ballot box,” added the Workers’ Party chief, questioning the Government’s plan to announce its stand next month.
He spoke to the media after a forum on the casino issue organised by the WP at its headquarters in Syed Alwi Road.
His call for the Government to put the casino issue to the vote first surfaced during the 2 1/2-hour forum. Mr Low’s challenge comes days after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong put his foot down on allowing Singaporeans to vote on the issue.
During last week’s Budget debate, Mr Lee rejected a proposal to put the matter to a referendum, and another calling for the Party Whip to be lifted to allow ruling party MPs to vote freely.
His reason: It is a policy matter, not an issue of “national survival or sovereignty”, nor of “conscience or fundamental principle”.
But, Mr Low told reporters that it is not a simple policy matter. “I believe if it is a normal policy issue, you won’t usually have a split in the Cabinet,” he said.
“The decision will have some fundamental implications for our society. If it is just a simple policy issue, they could’ve just gone ahead,” he added, pointing to the extensive consultations the Government has initiated.
Asked for his own stand on the casino issue, Mr Low said that it is better for Singapore not to have a casino.
Saying that he looked at the issue in a “pragmatic” way, he felt that there are just too many unknowns in the benefits and pitfalls, especially in the long-term, to take the risk.
“Many people are not very sure whether the impact will be adverse, not just in this generation, but in the future. When it’s too late, there’ll be no return.”
Yesterday’s forum was attended by about 40 people.
They included former and current opposition figures like WP chairman Sylvia Lim; Non-constituency MP Steve Chia; and former Singapore Malay National Organisation member Mohammed Rahizan Yaacob, who lost at Jalan Besar GRC in the 2001 General Election.
Mr Rahizan called for MPs – especially the Malay-Muslim MPs – to state openly their stand on the issue and vote accordingly in Parliament.
Mr Chia, who believes that the Government has already decided in favour of a casino, said Singaporeans should focus on “pressing” it to channel the casino spin-offs into tax cuts.
Others were worried that, in the absence of other quality attractions, the casino might become Singapore’s tourism icon – and sully its image.
A paper based on the forum, plus other feedback the party has collected, will be presented to WP’s central executive committee (CEC) ahead of its meeting on April 5, said WP second secretary-general James Gomez, who chaired the forum.
In his opening remarks, Mr Gomez said that views within the party’s CEC are varied. When asked, he declined to elaborate on if it meant that there was a split.
The party will announce its formal position before the Government decision is announced in mid-April.