The formal inauguration of Ho Iat Seng as Chief Executive during today’s official ceremony offers convenient moment to pause and reflect on the closing of the last chapter in Macau governance: the double-tenure of Chui Sai On.
Given the chance to reflect, political scientists this week told the Times that while the outgoing Chief Executive deserves some praise for overseeing a mostly stable economy and the continuous handouts of annual subsidies, he has not lived up to his earlier promises in other aspects of society.
The exiting top official of the Macau SAR delivered a total of 10 policy addresses during his time in office, most of which failed to impress local political commentators. These very analysts claim that their perception is shared by the general public.
Political commentator António Katchi remarked that, similarly to Edmund Ho, the departing Chief Executive has served well enough the triangle of interests entrenched in the current political and economic system. These include the interests of the local oligarchy, the ruling caste of the Chinese Communist Party and foreign capitalists, including the Americans.
Katchi believes incoming administration led by Chief Executive, Ho Iat Seng will entail much of the same. As for the “broad masses,” Katchi said they “have no shortage of reasons to be disgruntled and to yearn for a totally different government and regime. Unfortunately, what lies ahead, with Ho Iat Seng and his secretaries, is an even gloomier scenario.”
For lawyer and political commentator, Sérgio de Almeida Correia, the past decade represents a missed opportunity for general improvement to the peoples’ living standards.
“Ten years were lost in terms of improving the living conditions of residents, the public works program, [and] advancing the democratization, transparency and accountability of Macau’s political system.”
Perhaps, the recently inaugurated Macau Light Rapid Transit – which was first proposed in the Policy Address for the Fiscal Year 2003 by Edmund Ho – could be considered one of Chui’s achievements. But put to Correia, the political commentator disagreed, saying that the transportation system in the SAR in fact remains one of the territory’s biggest problems.
“Despite the recent inauguration of the LRT services, no public transportation improvements can make the public forget what happened to the revoked Viva Macau, Reolian and the Nova Era’s deadly accidents, or the impunity of local taxi drivers.”
When Chui took over the SAR’s top position in 2009, Macau’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stood at about $21.5 billion. The economy rapidly swelled to $55 billion at the beginning of his second term in 2014, reflecting a double-digit annualized growth rate.
But the growth came to a brief halt in 2015 when the city’s GDP dropped 20% as high-roller gamblers stayed away from the city in a bid to avoid the scrutiny of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. Although the city’s gaming industry entered a period of decline thereafter, its GDP in 2016 was still as high as $45 billion.
The city’s unemployment rate also declined throughout the decade from 3% to the current 1.8%.
In terms of the annual Wealth Partaking Scheme, it was under Chui’s governance that the cash subsidies of Macau SAR Permanent and Non-Permanent Resident Identity Card holders increased to 10,000 patacas and 6,000 patacas respectively.
The first cash handout was distributed in 2008, one year before Chui took office, when 5,000 patacas and 3,000 patacas were distributed to each permanent and non-permanent resident, respectively.
Not all of Chui’s economic policies – or continuation of his predecessor’s – have proven equally justified among his critics. One example is the complementary income tax, which currently all six gaming concessionaires are exempted from paying under a specific policy granted by the Chief Executive on a temporary and exceptional basis, for five-year periods at a time.
A separate tax, the special gaming tax, is calculated for gross gaming revenue at the rate of 35% and is paid monthly.
Last year, Chui extended the exemption granted to Galaxy Casino, S.A. and Venetian Macau, S.A. from paying the city’s complementary income tax related to casino gaming profits for a period of over three years, which will last until June 26, 2022.
For Katchi, such an exemption should not have been renewed.
“He should have discontinued the complementary income tax exemption shamelessly granted by Edmund Ho to gaming operators. Instead, he renewed it for another five years,” he said.
When Chui was seeking a second term as Chief Executive, he announced that the public could expect “a relatively radical change” to his team of secretaries. That in fact led to a complete revamp of his team, replacing all of the policy secretaries.
The Secretary for Administration and Justice, Florinda Chan, who had held the post since the handover, was replaced by Sonia Chan.
Florinda Chan had been accused of losing the public’s trust due to the long-running burial plots saga. Although the city’s highest court had cleared her of the alleged crimes, including the forging of documents, misfeasance and abuse of power, political commentators at the time believed her removal would renew the public’s trust in the government.
As a result, installing Sonia Chan in the role was said to be a “political decision.”
“I saw [her appointment] as a reward,” said Correia. “Sonia doesn’t have Florinda’s connections to the former Portuguese administration and the Catholic Church, I presume. For her, it was easy to implement the recommendations of the Central Government.”
According to the lawyer, choices are always made on the basis of the personal relationship between the Chief Executive and the nominees.
The choice of selecting Wong Sio Chak as the Secretary for Security was said to appease Beijing, since he is one of “Beijing’s men” in the SAR.
In Correia’s opinion, Beijing is interested in “the one who controls the security system, and believes, without questioning, in the virtues of the one country, and the perspective of the rule of law according to the Communist Party of Macau.”
For Correia, that idealized secretary is always ready to follow the orders and recommendations coming from the Central Government.
“Wong Sio Chak at that time was groomed to be the new Secretary, not only by the local government but also by the Central Government,” said Larry So, another political commentator. So stressed that it had been widely expected Wong would continue in the role under Ho Iat Seng.
Secretary for Transport and Public Works, Raimundo Arrais do Rosário, who is also set to serve another term, was another obvious contender to remain due to the several projects that still needed to be accomplished under his tenure.
“[Rosário] has to stay,” insisted Correia.
Larry So agreed. “With all the projects that are going on, whoever will come in to replace him will have a […] hard time. It’s a wise choice to have him stay on and finish the projects before he steps down,” said So.
The outgoing Secretary for Economy and Finance, Lionel Leong, succeeded Francis Tam Pak Yuen in the 2014 reshuffle, promising to bring new vigor to the economy if the city utilized the policies handed to it by the Central Government. Prior to that he had sat on the second and third Executive Councils, the advisory body that supports the work of the Chief Executive.
The final of the five policy secretaries, the departing Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Alexis Tam, began the Chui Sai On era as the Chief of Office for the Chief Executive. According to Larry So, Tam became quite popular while serving in the position, and this helped him to later be appointed as one of Chui’s ministers. “During that time, he was quite popular in the community, especially in the civil organization,” So explained.
For Katchi, among all five secretaries, the “Beijing man’s” duties are deemed the simplest, as Macau does not have any special security conditions, nor is it prone to any special threat that would hamper the safety of its people. “He just had to concentrate on developing the legal arsenal and securing the technological resources to boost […] the Chinese totalitarian regime,” said the analyst.
Meanwhile, both Alexis Tam and Sonia Chan played a prominent role in the government’s crack-down on the so-called “civil referendum” held by the New Macau Association in 2014. Back then, Tam kick-started the official verbal campaign based on the alleged unconstitutionality and illegality of the initiative and hinting at possible, but unspecified, consequences for the organizers. Chan provided the police with an apparent legal basis to disperse and detain the survey organizers.
“In all likelihood, this earned them a very strong political [backing] from Xi Jinping and his entourage, and I believe this political confidence overrode any other criteria,” remarked Katchi. “If any of them was technically qualified for the post – as Alexis Tam seemingly was – it was a sheer coincidence.”
Captured from the Guia Fortress, this view of the city skyline shows some of the changes that have occurred in the past two decades. Some of the tallest buildings in this 1999 view are today dwarfed by the Grand Lisboa Hotel, the Bank of China Macau Branch Building, and the Macao Tower.
Chui Sai On should have done more in the pursuit of universal suffrage, argued several experts contacted by the Times this week.
Despite pledging greater democracy for the SAR, many regard Chui to have failed on this matter, suggesting that he deliberately prompted the National People’s Congress Standing Committee to intervene “prematurely and impose, totally beyond its powers of interpretation, a normative framework for the amendment of the rules laid down in Annexes I and II of the Basic Law.”
Katchi criticized Chui for failing to launch a formal Basic Law revision process intended to push political reform even further. “A parliamentary system should have been introduced in lieu of the current super-presidential system,” he said.
The commentator further said that Chui should have submitted a bill to restore the former civil servants’ pension system, infamously phased out under Edmund Ho.
Echoing the same sentiments, So remarked that in terms of democratic development of the SAR, “he hasn’t done any.”
Elements of the local community have been calling on the government to adopt universal suffrage. One such element, the New Macau Association, has been active in organizing online votes to support their call for democratization.
In 2014, prior to the celebration of Macau’s 15th anniversary of its return to China, dozens of demonstrators marched in the city’s historic center calling for universal suffrage.
Incoming Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng has said that he will not rule out the pursuit or adoption of universal suffrage during his tenure.
Migrant groups have cried foul over the nine-fold fee increase for baby delivery services provided to non-resident parents, describing the move as discriminatory. They consider the bill another piece of legislation that seeks to sideline Macau’s migrants.
Chui allowed public hospital Conde de São Januário (CHCSJ) to increase its fees from MOP975 to MOP8,775 – a decision that prompted many migrant mothers to leave temporarily leave Macau to give birth back in their home country.
Another “discriminatory” move that was permitted was the shortening of the number of days allocated for non-resident workers to find new employment once their work contracts had been terminated.
Reduced from 10 days to 8 days, these non-resident workers face an enormous challenge to find new employment within the limited time given to them. This is irrespective of how many years they have resided within the region.
“He should have pushed for the abolition of the non-resident worker status or, at the very least, for the extension to all non-resident workers the social rights granted to Macau residents,” he said.
“Instead, he even aggravated the discrimination against them by increasing dramatically childbirth fees,” Katchi criticized.
Echoing the same sentiments, So placed the blame on Chui, remarking that his policies – for the last 10 years – were very much in line with the interests of the commercial sector, often at the expense of the needs of vulnerable groups.
It was also noted that the so-called distribution of Macau’s income benefitted the elderly more, compared to the city’s vulnerable groups and low wage earners.
Correia expressed his hope that the incoming Chief Executive will “think more about the welfare of residents than about himself and his family and friends.”
“It’s a lack of social sensitivity. I believe it was not an imposition from [the] Central Government,” he added.
Contestants taking part in the traditional “Tray Race” in front of the Ruins of St. Paul’s in Macau, exactly 20 years apart. Held on September 27, the annual Tray Race invites restaurant workers to balance a bottle of beer on a tray whilst running from the Ruins of St. Paul’s to Senado Square.
Correia hopes that Ho will contribute to an effective improvement of living conditions and raising the wellbeing of all residents, non-permanent residents and blue card holders in a bid to reduce poverty and the gap between the very rich and the very poor.
In February this year, migrant workers’ rights advocates met with the Labour Affairs Bureau to present their request to raise the quality of life of non-resident workers in the region, particularly that of domestic workers.
The groups requested the bureau review several of the local labor policies, including the establishment of a standard contract with a clear definition of the city’s labor standards, as well as the establishment of a minimum wage for domestic workers.
Meeting with government representatives again earlier this month, the Third Standing Committee of the Legislative Assembly unexpectedly cut short a planned two-hour meeting with representatives of the city’s domestic helpers, allegedly due to a translator’s private matter.
Due to such occurrences, these workers agree that they are continuously facing discrimination from the government in the SAR.
“We are just migrant workers, we do not have the right to protest or disagree with what they do,” said one.
“There has been a lot of discrimination against migrant workers with every law that [Chui] allowed to be passed. These include the absence of minimum wages for domestic workers, absence of standard employment contracts, [….] and nothing on democracy for workers’ rights,” the non-resident added.
Political commentators have not forgotten the government’s failure to prepare for deadly typhoon Hato that killed 10 people in the SAR, as well as the its inability to prevent widespread corruption that occurred at the Macau Trade and Investment Promotion Institute (IPIM) and included even the falsification of documents and breach of secrecy.
Political commentator and professor Sonny Lo remarked that the examples of administrative incapability seen during typhoon Hato and the IPIM corruption scandal have marred the image of the government.
In another example of inefficacy, the scandal involving Ho Chio Meng reavelaed just how inadequate the internal auditing work of the Macau government was. Ho Chio Meng faced over 1,500 charges of corruption during his high-profile trial that saw him sentenced to 21 years imprisonment in 2017.
For Correia, the Corruption Against Commission reports were increasingly critical of the administration; lack of leadership and a lack of responsibility-taking were commonly identified issues.
“The arrest and subsequent conviction of the former Macau SAR prosecutor undermined the confidence of the population in the judicial system and Government,” Correia remarked.
This Square, now located between the Macao Cultural Center (CCM), the Handover Gifts Museum of Macao and the Sands Macao Hotel and Casino, was formerly the centerpiece of the handover ceremonies in 1999. Twenty years later the square has changed and there are fewer green spaces. The CCM building has also lost part of its roof, which was severely damaged during typhoon Hato in 2017.