The law that will regulate the operations of the Macau Light Rapid Transit (LRT) system was yesterday approved at the Legislative Assembly (AL) on its first reading with 31 votes in favor and one against, by lawmaker Ng Kuok Cheong.
Although passed by the plenary, the bill produced a heated discussion with the interventions of several lawmakers, who wanted further clarification and explanation from the government.
One of the issues that several lawmakers wanted to see clarified was the relation between the to-be-created government-
owned LRT Company and the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Company, with which the Transportation Infrastructure Office (GIT) recently signed a contract.
In the response of the government, the Secretary for Transport and Public Works, Raimundo do Rosário, explained that the contract signed by the GIT refers to a certain number of services that the GIT had no capacity to develop and not for the general operation of the LRT, which will be managed by the government-owned LRT Company.
“Some services we are not capable of developing, [so] we have to acquire those,” Rosário said, noting, “this is just like [acquiring] cleaning and security services; these are not matters of public utility.”
Rosário provided the example of the Macau airport, for which the Macau International Airport Co. Ltd is also allowed to acquire several services that are not performed by the company itself but by service providers, independently of the CAM being the entity that manages the airport.
The Secretary acknowledged that the LRT would be managed under a system closer to the one applied to CAM and to the airport and not the public transportation system.
The Secretary justified the use of this type of contract by citing time limitations and a lack of qualified staff by GIT to perform such tasks, adding, “when we close the GIT, the contracts signed by [the entity] will be transferred to the operating company.”
On the topic, lawmaker Sulu Sou questioned whether the LRT might be a “white elephant” that the Macau population will forever feed but never profit from. Sou remarked that he has been hearing about the LRT since he was “a little boy.”
The lawmaker wanted to know how the government might turn the operation of the LRT profitable, referring to an assumption made by the government that the operation will not be so.
Referring to opinions from citizens presented during the public consultation of the system, Sou wanted to know if the government plans to follow the suggestions of using the stations as locations for advertising and or small businesses.
Replying to such questions, Rosário noted, “we know that there are problems in our design and that it is impossible that the fares can cover the costs [of the project] but in the currently built stations there is no place to install coffee shops or other things,” he said. “They are very small and it is useless to insist on things that are done already.”
Nevertheless, the Secretary left the promise: “In the future [and for the future stations to be built] there will be more space.”
Another topic that provoked discussion concerned a law stating that the government can expropriate land in the case of future expansions of the LRT, including new routes.
On the topic, the Secretary said, “again this is the same as the case of the airport. We are guaranteeing the safety of the project and safeguarding of the people. I can guarantee that we are not aiming to demolish any constructions that are already done – although, theoretically, we have the power to decide that. But I can assure [you] we are not going to do that, as far as possible.”
Others like Leong Sun Iok, Chui Sai Peng, Agnes Lam and Wu Chou Kit, among others, were interested to know about the inspection and supervision mechanisms that the government plans to enforce and the consequences for the operator company should it fail to comply with the rules.
Rosário explained that fines or penalties in the event of non-fulfillment of duties will be clearly defined in the contract with the operator company with the government, but would not be included in the law.
“Today we are discussing the law of the transport system. When the government signs a contract with the concessionaire, the fines and penalties will be noted on that contract, not in the law,” he said, noting that such details could be discussed at a later stage, such as when the bill reaches the standing committee for a more detailed discussion.
Provisionally, the Secretary noted, the government wants the company to pay a deposit to be used as a guarantee to cover fines as needed. He noted that since the contracts are paid on a monthly basis there is always a chance for the government to retain some amount or deduct the fines from the deposit.
Meanwhile, inspection and supervision will be conducted by the Transport Bureau and problems occurred must be reported to this entity, Rosário said.
Coutinho criticized government for ‘torrent’ of bills
In the period before the agenda in yesterday’s Legislative Assembly (AL) session, lawmaker José Pereira Coutinho took the opportunity to criticize the government for presenting what he named “a torrent of law proposals at once.”
The lawmaker noted that, at the start of the legislative year, the lawmakers had on the agenda a total of seven bills and two more projects for deliberation.
Coutinho accused the government of overburdening the legislature intentionally, saying, “this situation seems to have been done on purpose. On the one hand, lawmakers do not have enough time to analyze them [the bills] and on the other hand it limits their interventions due to lack of time.”
Continuing to develop on the topic Coutinho noted, “surprisingly, I received on October 8 the presentation of seven bills, many of them of a very high level of complexity and related to fundamental rights protected by the Basic Law,” he said.
“Matters such as the law of the Light Rapid Transit system, ‘Public Security Police Force’, the Cyber Security Law and the legal regime of qualification and registration for health related professionals’ were all scheduled at once for the plenary on the 16th [yesterday] of this month.”
In the words of the lawmaker, “citizens will pay a hefty bill due to this defect of the AL,” adding, “let us not forget that the AL and the lawmakers will be evaluated by the citizens not only for the […] quantity of work done, but mainly for the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of such work including their omissions or dismissal in the exercise of main duties of government oversight.”
The lawmaker concluded his diatribe with a famous Macanese expression – “Macau sã assim” [Macau is like this].