Phu Quoc Island will soon get a casino and could potentially become a special economic zone, Chairman of the Kien Giang provincial People's Committee Le Van Thi told Tien Phong (Vanguard) newspaper.

*Do you think that Phu Quoc Island is suitable to develop into a special economic zone?

Phu Quoc has achieved an annual 25 percent increase in GDP in the last 10 years. In 2013 alone, the island welcomed more than 430,000 tourists, an increase of 32 percent compared to the previous year. Its revenue collection was about 1 trillion VND (47.2 million USD) and projected revenue this year will be 100 billion VND greater. From next year on, the island's annual revenue is expected to increase between 20-30 percent thanks to the strong development of infrastructure and services, with annual income per capita hitting 71 million VND.

One of the objectives to open a casino in Phu Quoc is to attract foreign billion/millionaires to come, not Vietnamese people. Our people are still poor. Under the current law, Vietnamese people are not allowed to gamble in casinos.

Phu Quoc has attracted 200 investment projects, of which 112 have been granted investment certificates. They cover 4,850 ha with investment of more than 135 trillion VND (6.43 billion USD). As of now, 18 projects with total investment capital of 6.85 trillion VND have begun operating.

The island is now connected to the national electricity grid. This is a very important factor for rapid development.

The island has four big freshwater lakes. At present only one of them, Duong Dong Lake, is being utilised and only about 5,000 m3 are extracted per day. All the freshwater lakes in the island are much higher than sea level, so there is no possibility of seawater intrusion.

*Phu Quoc Island currently operates under the rural administrative government model. Don't you think it would be too hasty for the island to switch to the special zone model?

The upgrading of a rural area into an urban area has to do with administrative management. Urban governments have ward governments, but we only have communes. This is why we have to switch the rural administrative government to an urban administrative government. Our proposal is now on the table of the Minister of Home Affairs for appraisal. After that, the Prime Minister will make the final decision.

*What powers will be vested in the Chief of the Special Zone?

The Chief of the Special Zone will act as a proxy for the Kien Giang provincial People's Committee. However, some of the power that belongs to the Chairman of the provincial People's Committee, Minister or even Prime Minister could be directly vested in the chief of the zone from the Government or the Party Politburo.

This could enable the island to have a strong competitive advantage and attract investment.

*The proposal to open a casino in Phu Quoc has attracted particular attention from many people. Has the proposal been approved?

The Party Politburo has approved it already and is now in the process of negotiations to select the most capable and prestigious investors to run the casino. Many investors have sent us their applications, but we have not made a final decision.

The most important criterion in selecting the investor is that they must already have clients who are willing to come to the casino. We don't have any plan to open the casino to Vietnamese people.

*After negotiations conclude, what procedures will the island authority undertake to open the casino?

The first activity we have to do is to open a tender to select the best investor. The negotiation mechanism has been approved by the Prime Minister. Once we have drawn up a shortlist, the PM will make the final decision and the successful candidate will then start their investment. However, everything is still being negotiated so I can't say anything more.

*Do many people in Kien Giang go to Cambodia to gamble?

Several years ago, many people from Kien Giang went to Cambodia to gamble. However, most of the gamblers were poor people and women. At the beginning, they went to Cambodia out of curiosity to see how the casino operated. Later on, they were lured by bad people and became laden with debt.

As far as I know, Cambodian casinos along the Cambodia-Viet Nam border have closed as there are no gamblers. These casinos have become cock-fighting venues.-VNA