Opposition demands time to debate exclusive horse racing bills
Passage of two bills that will allow for the granting of geographic exclusivity in respect of a licence to Supreme Ventures, the preferred bidder in the divestment of Caymanas Track Limited, was delayed on Wednesday after some members of the parliamentary Opposition asked for time to review the legislation before making their contribution to the debate.
Finance and the Public Service Minister Audley Shaw, who piloted the bill, told his parliamentary colleagues that the passage of the bills was imperative in order to close the divestment process with Supreme Ventures Limited.
He said the bills, an Act to Amend the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act and an Act to Amend the Jamaica Racing Commission Act, would facilitate the establishment of a regulatory framework that attracts and supports investment in the horse racing industry and pave the way for the development of Caymanas Track into a modern world-class racing complex.
Among the terms of the divestment transaction is the long-term lease of 30 years of Caymanas Park.
Shaw said the Government also gave approval for all-island exclusivity in respect of horse racing to be granted to the preferred bidder for a period of 15 years.
Leader of Government Business in the House Phillip Paulwell asked his counterpart, Derrick Smith, to delay the passage of the bill, saying that some members on the opposition benches wanted to participate in the debate but only received a copy of the legislation on Wednesday.
In a sotto voce comment, Lisa Hanna, member of parliament for St Ann South East, raised concerns about the arrangement whereby the legislation grants a monopoly to the preferred bidder.
However, Shaw argued that if the monopoly were not granted, the divestment would not take place.
"You are conflicted," Shaw shot back at Hanna, sotto voce.
He later revealed that a signing between the Government and Supreme Ventures is scheduled for November 18. According to Shaw, the passage of the bill would clear the way for redundancy payments to the workers of Caymanas Park prior to Christmas and the formal takeover of the entity by January 5, 2017. "If the signing is going to be delayed, then the redundancy payment to the workers will also be set back," he added.
Derrick Smith, leader of government business, who declared interest in the horse racing industry as an owner and breeder, said he was disappointed that the process was being delayed at this stage.
"If the Opposition is strong on not speaking this afternoon (Wednesday) or not wanting the issue to be closed this afternoon, so be it, but I want to advise that they are flying in the face of racing interests - all people in racing who are anxious for the new entity to take over the industry," he said.
He urged the Opposition to reconsider its position. "In other words, to override self-interest."
Paulwell called for his counterpart to withdraw the comment, noting that he was imputing motive to members of the Opposition.
Peter Phillips, former finance minister who initiated the divestment when he was the portfolio minister, supported the granting of an exclusive licence, saying, "Business operations require that people are not going to put private money into a loss-making venture."
However, he said that "in time, Jamaica can support three or more racing operations".
The former finance minister said that members who want to participate in the debate should be allowed to do so at a subsequent sitting.
The House suspended debate on the legislation.