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Mooted casino tax shot down by ruling party

Casinos are first and foremost for protecting Cambodia’s border, not for making money, government lawmakers insisted in parliament yesterday when drilled about their opposition to raising gambling taxes.

Seizing on an off-the-cuff comment made by Prime Minister Hun Sen during a speech in August, Finance Minister Keat Chhon rejected opposition Sam Rainsy Party whip Son Chhay’s proposed 50 per cent tax on the net profit of casinos in Cambodia.

“[The reason] why we established casinos along the border primarily was not to collect income. This, Samdech Techo [Hun Sen], had said already is to defend our border territory,” Kean Chhon said.

In Hun Sen’s August speech, he said that though he did not like casinos, they were imposing structures that helped bolster Cambodia’s territorial defence.

Chhay claims that by taxing the more than 50 casinos in Cambodia at a rate of 50 per cent of net profit – a relatively low rate compared to major gambling destinations such as Macau and Singapore – Cambodia would generate US$189 million. 

The SRP and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party were once again sparring in the house over government borrowing, with Chhay pushing for his casino tax along with a $70 per hectare tax on economic land concessions, which he says would bring in about $400 million.

He put Cambodia’s foreign debt at $7.3 billion, said $900 million would be added in the 2013 draft budget and called on the government to wipe of at least $130 million of that borrowing before the bill was passed.  

But Chhon was having none of it, suggesting amendments recommended by the SRP showed the opposition party wanted to “go to heaven quickly”, without explaining what he meant by that.

The SRP also pointed to alleged inconsistencies between national debt figures produced by Keat Chhon and Hun Sen.

One of six chapters in the draft 2013 budget was approved yesterday, with 83 of the 93 sitting members in the National Assembly voting “yes”.

Meanwhile, CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun, who provoked outrage when he last month labelled opposition Human Rights Party president Kem Sokha “Phnuong” – the name of an ethnic minority that is also used as an epithet to imply someone is a backward savage – made something of a qualified apology yesterday.

Vun stressed he was simply using a term from the dictionary and did not mean to cause offence.

“So, I would like our people who are the Phnoung tribe minority to tolerate me, because I have never thought to say offending our people,” said Vun, who after his racist slur last month had claimed the Phnoung did not exist.

“What I said is defended by the dictionary. If what I said was wrong, please, Ministry of Education, take the dictionary and throw it in rubbish can,” he said.  

Pheap Sochea, president of the Cambodian Minority Association, said that the Phnoung want Chheang Vun to personally apologise in front of all their tribes.

To contact the reporter on this story: Meas Sokchea at sokchea.meas@phnompenhpost.com

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