Mr Low Thia Khiang (Hougang) (in Mandarin): Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, the pot of porridge that was being cooked by the MTI Minister one month ago is now ready and is being served on the dining table. The Government said that certain medicine with special efficacy has been added to the porridge, and it can better fill our stomachs.
Notwithstanding the fact that this special medicine may cause some of our people to suffer diarrhoea, dehydration and even lose their lives, PM Lee said that for the collective interest of our people, even if they have objections, they have to swallow it and he will do what is necessary for the after-care.
For the last few months, Singaporeans, including the Workers’ Party, who opposed this idea have expressed their concerns. All that needs to be said has already been said. The Government sought the opinion of the people but it does not go along with the opinion of the people and it has now made a unilateral decision. Eventually, will it turn out to be a blessing or a curse to our people? We have to wait and see.
When the Government announced this decision, it tried to package it and has brought forward some specious arguments. First, the Government said that the casino is only a small portion of the integrated resort. We cannot reject the IR just because of this casino component, considering that the IR is the trump card in the development of tourism. This is just an attempt to divert the people's attention. If the IR is the most important part, then why do we not just have an integrated resort? If it is said that building an integrated resort without a casino is not feasible, then the key consideration is really on the casino. In other words, the investors' real interest is in the casino that can bring huge profits to them. So long as the Government allows them to build the casino, it will have an integrated resort to boost tourism without having to pay a single cent.
However, the PAP Government, which has never allowed its people to have free lunches, should know very clearly that nothing can come so cheap and easy to them. If you allow them to build a casino, you have to pay a social cost and the Government is prepared to pay the cost, allowing our people to suffer the damages that may be brought about by the casino. On the other hand, the Government will just sit back and reap the harvest without having to pay a single cent and yet have this integrated resort to boost its tourism.
Secondly, the Government said the problem that can be brought about by the casino is not a big one. We have not seen the problem, but the Government is already saying that the problem is not great. The Government bases its premise on a survey that shows only 2.1% of our people are problem gamblers. Furthermore, in any event, Singaporeans are already gambling. It is just that we do not have a casino here yet. The logic is that since they are gambling, whether they gamble at the casino or at the betting station or the Turf Club, there is no difference. If we use the same logic, then since our people are smoking, we should also allow the people to take drugs and legalise it. We all know that there is a great difference in the attraction, excitement and the thrill between buying lottery and gambling in the casino, just as smoking and taking drugs are two different matters altogether.
In 1999, a report by National Gambling Impact Study Commission appointed by the United States Government pointed out that within the radius of 50 miles, the number of pathological gamblers is double that of the national average. The Australian Productivity Commission also published a report in 1999 confirming that proximity of the casino to the residential areas has a direct effect on the rise of social problems relating to Gambling.
Thirdly, the Government said that we will have adequate measures to mitigate the impact of gambling on our people. We all know that the PAP Government has all along been practising stern and serious governance, adopting the policy of having the family as a nucleus and advocating the Confucian traditional values in our society. Now they are allowing casinos. In future, if they are pressurised because of the changing environment, will the Government not relax the safeguards, citing pragmatic need and people’s maturity as its rationale? Moreover, by that time, people are used to frequenting the casinos and accustomed to all the problems that are created by the casinos. They will accept the fact that this is a matter of course. This will indeed be lamentable!
A few days back, PM Lee's younger sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling wrote to the Straits Times' Forum page. She openly criticised the so-called "successful" surgery carried out in the Singapore general Hospital in 2001 to separate a pair of Nepalese Siamese twins and said that it was indeed a mistake. This could serve as a useful reference in the Casino case. The sisters are now five years old. One became a vegetable and the other has yet to walk. The grandfather of the sisters said that their future is very bleak. Dr Lee felt that at that time, had we allowed the sisters to pass away naturally, the family would be better off. They could have gone along to have more healthy children and live a normal life without having to go into the predicament they suffer today.
No doubt this separation of the twins was a breakthrough in our medical sciences in Singapore and we have made a reputation in the world-wide medical fraternity. But the ultimate duty of a doctor is to safeguard the well-being of the patients. Judging from the suffering of the sisters and their family members, this surgery is really a mistake from the beginning. Analogically, a government has the responsibility to maintain good social character and value, and the people’s well being should be the ultimate consideration in deciding whether to go ahead with the casino project.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, who was then the CEO of the Singapore General Hospital, is now in the Cabinet which collectively made the decision to open the casinos. This casino decision is similar to that of separating the twins, the difference is that the sisters may leave this world soon if the procedure was not carried out, but are we saying that if we do not have a casino, our economy will collapse and that Singapore will have no future?
Just like the Singapore General Hospital has its own consideration at that time, but ultimately, the risk was undertaken by the patients. Would the economic benefit that is going to be brought about by the casino in the long term cover the social costs? We cannot tell. The Government would have no control over it. In order to attract more tourists, more budget surpluses, the Government is leading our people into taking this risky path. Do we have no other alternative but to open a casino, without which we would have to just sit still and wait for the end of our day?
The Government has always emphasised that family unit should be the fundamental core to our society, thus it has been harsh in implementing policies such as barring single mothers from applying for HDB flats and negating homosexuality, etc. Then, why is the Government now taking this risk to open casinos in Singapore which could destroy thousands of families here ?
Not long ago, I asked the Government to review its social safety net and enhance the welfare for our people, The Government said that it would erode our people's work ethics and bluntly brushed it aside. Would not the opening of the casino undermine the diligence of our people too?
The government also argued that by having a casino, it will encourage our people to be responsible individually and enhance our maturity as a society. Again, the government has abdicated its responsibility to safeguard good social character and value.
From all this inconsistent logic, we can see that the basic trait of this Government is one which will weigh economic profit above everything else.
Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, we are now being pushed into the surgical theatre although there is no life-threatening crisis, and we are even not given the right to sign a consent form., forced to undergo a surgical operation which shows no definite long term benefit but high risks. We try hard to struggle but failed to escape. The only thing we could do now is to take care of the aftercare work and mitigate the adverse effect of gambling on our people. We should actually learn from other countries.
In 1997, Michael Belletire, the Chairman of the Illinois Gambling Effects Commission concluded that the Government should legislate to regulate the casino operators, and that such regulations should include the following:
(1) Establish an independent agency to over-see the gambling industry, such as issuing of licence, promulgation of regulations, etc.;
(2) Control the expansion of the gambling industry, and strictly confine the casinos to certain localities;
(3) Investigate into the political and financial background of the casino operators to ensure that they are proper ;
(4) Approve the list of casino management staff, and allow the regulator to investigate into their background;
(5) Issue permits for suitable people to work at the casino;
(6) Strictly ensure that the operators abide by the regulations laid down by the authority;
(7) Empower the regulator to conduct surprise raids on the premises;
(8) Punish and indict anyone who violates the regulations;
(9) Supervise to ensure fair-play in the gambling process to protect the interest of the customers;
(10) Require the operators to disclose the source of their capital; and
(11) Carry out public education to prevent gamblers from being addicted. Counsel and help the addicts. This may include mandatory public education and counselling of the casino staff.
I think the Government should also look into the confession of Mr Chia Teck Leng, the former Financial Manager of Asia Pacific Breweries who wrecked his future through compulsive gambling, and his suggestions based on his own painful experience.
Since the people is unable to stop the Government from opening the casino, what we can do now is to try our best to ensure that the Government will proceed with and complete the legislation to regulate the casino. Yesterday, the Minister for Home Affairs said that the Government would set up a supervisory agency to oversee the operation of the casino. Why not legislate in Parliament instead of administrative supervision? Is it because the Government wants to make it easier to amend the rules, whenever necessary, without having to come to Parliament to publicly justify any amendment in the future?
PM Lee said that in order to be an outstanding cosmopolitan city, we need to have the X-factor. Now that we have decided to open the casino, maybe allowing casinos is the X-factor we need to make ourselves a cosmopolitan city. Now I understand that gambling for everyone is the X-factor.
Over the past one year, our people have been very active and vocal in giving their views on the opening of the casino in a so called consultative exercise initiated by the government. Now a full-stop has been inserted to end all the discussions. We should pause to reflect on this consultative exercise. Under the current situation, where a party is dominant and the civil society is very weak, the people cannot sway the Government's decision on such a matter that concerns the fate of the people. If the Government's judgment is wrong, it would lead the nation and our people on to the "river of no return", where the cost would be very real and very heavy.
第二， 政府认为赌场所带来的问题呢？ 问题不大。我想，我们目前还没看到问题，但政府已经推断问题不大。政府所持得理由是政府对本地赌徒的调查结果显示病态赌徒的百分比大约是2.1 和反正新加坡人也已经在睹了，只欠本土没建赌场而已。政府的逻辑是反正都是睹，到赌场睹和到赛马工会的投注站去睹没什么两样。用同样的逻辑，那人民吸烟成性，我们是否也该允许吸毒在新加坡合法化、公开化呢？毕竟买买马票比起赌场的赌局，其诱惑性，刺激性，心理上的冲击性，和上瘾的程度，就如吸烟和吸毒，是两码子事。
此外，美国政府委任的国家博弈影响调查委员会1999年发布的报告指出在赌场的50英里内，病态赌徒有增加约一倍的现象。(Charter 4, Pg4, Para 2) 澳洲生产力委员会1999年所提出的报告也确定赌场和住宅区的距离和赌博有关的社会问题的增加有直接的关系。(Charter 8 Pg 31)
议长先生，李总理曾说过，新加坡要成为一个卓越的国际都会，必须拥有 X因素，决定开赌场大概是为了使新加坡拥有成为一个卓越国际大都会的 X 因素吧！我现在才明白，原来全民开赌就是 X 因素。