Sat | Oct 24, 2020

Editorial | Don’t let Tapia become lottery regulator

Published:Monday | August 10, 2020 | 12:09 AM

Geography, historic relations and the reality of American power – military and economic – and old-fashioned good sense require that Jamaica pays attention to the geopolitical concerns of the United States. It doesn’t mean, though, that we should cede our sovereignty to Washington.

That is why this newspaper again urges the Holness administration, with the decorum required of diplomacy, to remind Donald Tapia, America’s legate in Kingston, of the line between pursuing his country’s legitimate interests and interfering in Jamaica’s domestic affairs. Mr Tapia is in the habit of losing his balance towards the latter. We fear it may be happening again with his intervention into the regulatory functions of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission (BGLC) as it relates to who that agency should authorise to operate in Jamaica’s lottery market.

Essentially, the United States is seeking to open, in Jamaica, another front in its battle for the technological containment of China. The ostensible premise of America’s action, however, is the protection of national security, including Jamaica’s.

The facts, as they are broadly known, are that the BGLC, over the objection of existing licensees, granted a licence to a new company, of which some of the island’s leading business people are principals, to run lotteries in Jamaica. These persons, including P.B. Scott of the Musson Group and Michelle Myers Mayne of Restaurants of Jamaica, would have met the BGLC’s fit-and-proper test. Further, their company would have demonstrated the financial wherewithal to sustain the venture. And the Mahoe Gaming principals could hardly be deemed subversives, or modern-day versions of Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt or others of the Cambridge Five.

OPEN DOORS FOR SPYING

Mahoe intends to use operating systems manufactured by the Chinese firm Genlot Game Technology, a major provider of such services to China and a few other markets. “We sought a world-rated provider of lottery technology to allow us to maximise enjoyment and improve the experience of the Jamaican consumer,” Ms Myers Mayne said in a statement.

However, Mr Tapia has argued that the use of Genlot will open the doors to Chinese spying in Jamaica, supposedly because Genlot has worked closely with the telephone/communications technology provider Huawei, which Donald Trump has been aggressively attempting to dislodge from Western telecoms markets. Washington was successful, two years ago, in having Australia ban Huawei from its market for fifth-generation (5G) phone technology, while Britain recently did an about-face of its decision to allow UK firms to have the Chinese company supply up to 30 per cent of their 5G systems.

America’s argument is that Huawei could become a Chinese Trojan horse to compromise the West’s communications infrastructure, using their access to databases to spy on people, including stealing business information. “I am concerned, and Jamaicans should be concerned, that you are opening your doors to Chinese intelligence services to access specific personal data on both Jamaican and American citizens,” Mr Tapia told Nationwide News Network.

Perhaps it is true that the United States is concerned about Chinese intelligence gathering secrets, or that they may pinch the proprietary information of Western firms. But many global analysts see these accusations in the context of the emerging Sino-American power dynamic, exacerbated in the age of Trump.

REMAIN SOLE SUPERPOWER

Over the last four decades China, now the world’s second-largest economy, has emerged as a challenger to America’s economic and technological dominance, helped, Washington says, by those alleged thefts. Others perceive in the American trope, Washington’s wish to remain the sole superpower and an intent, therefore, to slow China’s advance.

This, therefore, is to be considered in any analysis of the move against Huawei and Mr Trump’s insistence that the social media platform, TikTok, whose database of its American users is in the United States, must sell its US operation to an American firm. And now Genlot is added to the list of Chinese technology companies in Washington’s firing line.

This attempt to again make Jamaica part of the battleground of Sino-American competition has placed Kingston in a delicate situation, given our historic close relations with the United States. However, China has been a principled and supportive diplomatic partner of Jamaica for nearly a half-century, particularly over the past decade with its investment in, and loans to the island to enhance the crumbling infrastructure.

We have been offered no supporting evidence of Beijing’s malintent towards Jamaica and the Caribbean, or that China should be contained beyond what is provided for by that system of multilateralism that polices global relations. We know, though, that Mr Trump’s policies would dismantle those arrangements which provide protections for small states – some of which Mr Trump referred to as “sh**hole countries” – like ours.