AL Plenary

2023 budget approved in first reading but not without remarks

Next year’s government budget passed unanimously yesterday at the Legislative Assembly (AL).

Although 100% of votes were in favor of the budget, several lawmakers have criticized the proposal as unrealistic and generally a repeat of proposals presented in the past two years.

Among topics discussed was the forecast for the gaming gross revenue in 2023, which according to the Secretary for Economy and Finance, Lei Wai Nong, should be approximately MOP130 billion.

As in previous years, many lawmakers considered this estimation exaggerated, and reality has proven them right. Nonetheless, the government has included the figure. The figure is the main source of tax income for the Special Administrative Region (SAR).

Lei said the 2023 budget represented the continuing pursuit of a “pragmatic and proactive finance policy” that prioritizes the central government’s measures announced at the end of September related to the resumption of the issuing of the e-visas and tour groups from the mainland to visit Macau.

Lei added that, with the approval of the new gaming law and new concessions to be attributed before the year’s end, the gaming concessionaires will “promote next year the development of non-gaming elements, according to the commitment made on the public tender.”

Lawmakers Ella Lei and Ron Lam were the most active in questioning Lei Wai Nong on the budget proposal. Lei, who represents the workers’ sector noted that, besides the exaggeratedly optimistic forecast for the GGR, the budget still presented a deficit figure that fell between expenditure forecasts and expected receipts.

“According to the data provided, the GGR occupies a very important share of the government’s forecasted receipts but the Secretary is forecasting [again] MOP130B. In 2020 the GGR was MOP60B and even if we can reach the level of 2020 [in 2023], this [income of MOP130B] will not happen,” Ella Lei said, adding, “Last year we did the same thing [in overestimating the GGR] and this year we have a difference that is basically half [of the estimated].”

The lawmaker criticized the idea that the measures announced by the central government will solve all problems and help the economy recover, noting that, in reality, “not many people can come to Macau and some of those who can are lacking the will to do so [because] of the pandemic restrictions and constant instability.”

“I believe that the government is giving us similar figures for the last two years but that is far from reality. What is the government going to do to achieve this MOP130B of GGR receipts?”

Ron Lam directed similar criticism at the budget proposal, saying, “we have pretty much already had these discussions during last year’s budget.”

The lawmaker is one of several who called on the government to recommence the government’s injection of MOP7,000 into the provident fund, which has been suspended since 2020.

Lam also accused Lei Wai Nong of trying to turn the “financial reserves into magical reserves,” resorting to this backup every time he fails to produce a proper budget and advance measures to promote economic recovery.

Lam called on the government to suspend payment of the annual cash handouts under the Wealth Partaking Scheme to those not living permanently in Macau. He estimated this measure alone could save the government some MOP1B, while the reinstatement of the MOP7,000 for the aged population would cost only half of that.

The lawmaker urged the government to thoroughly revise the “cash handouts scheme.” He said the scheme had completely lost its purpose and the government should develop new measures to support the population.

Lam also attacked Lei Wai Nong’s policies for investment in the education and health sectors, saying he manipulates the figures by significantly reducing the investment in one year only to slightly increase the investment in later years to eventually the original value. In doing so, the policies pretend the government is increasing its investment while actually returning what had previously taken.

Talking specifically about education, Lam accused the government of having disinvested in the sector for the past three or more years and of juggling the figures and policies to hide that reality.

“We have not increased the investment, with the increase we are seeing now [for 2023] we are just leveling to the investment of 2020 and since the classes now have more students, this means that the resources per capita have been reduced,” he remarked, calling on the Secretary to identify the area that will experience the 12% reduction to be reflected in the budget for the health sector.

Replying to the lawmakers, Lei Wai Nong said that as a result of the central government’s reinstatement of tourism-related measures, the government expects that the figures of visitors per day to Macau will be over 40,000 the whole year, noting that such an estimation supports the MOP130B GGR forecast.

Responding to the call to resume the injection of the MOP7,000 into the providence fund, Lei Wai Nong said, “we have used some MOP203.5B over the past years from the [financial] reserves already. This reserve was not easy to achieve and we cannot just throw it away. This year the conditions are not gathered to the attribution of that money. I must explain that, according to the law, this does not apply only to the senior citizens but to all residents over 22 years old who have stayed in Macau for over 183 days this year.” He added, “our goal is to be able to resume [the 7,000 patacas measure] due to a restored economy and positive balances.”

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