Civil Protection Law | ‘Devil is in the detail’ say bill’s critics

Lawmaker Sulu Sou among the opponents of the controversial bill

Democrat lawmaker Sulu Sou has reminded the public to keep an eye on the proposed Civil Protection Bill in general, and the controversial Article 25 – more commonly known as the “rumor offence” – in particular.

“The devil is in the detail of the Civil Protection Bill, including the provision of ‘immediate prevention’ that concerns all people living in Macau,” lawmaker Sulu Sou wrote on his social media page, adding that Macau must be vigilant about the bill.

His argument aligns with the concerns of other critics of the bill, who take issue with the vagueness of some of its articles, and argue that they might be misused by the authorities.

In this case, “immediate prevention” denotes the type of measures taken when “Level 3” of the Civil Protection State (CP State 3) is in effect or activated. It is related to “uncommon” or “unfavorable” situations that trigger rescue, disaster or catastrophe responses.

With regard to the activation of CP State 3, a due procedure is set forth in the bill. The bill orders an advisory board, comprised of officials within the civil protection structure, be set up in such “emergency” situations to consult with the Chief Executive, who have the final say as to whether a situation can be categorized as CP State 3 or higher.

If so, the Chief Executive’s decision must be published in the Official Gazette to formally activate the state.

The provisions are a source of concern for Sou, as he noted in an interview with local Chinese newspaper Cheng Pou, because the definition of the conditions necessary to activate CP State 3 are vague.

“How is ‘uncommon’ defined? How is ‘unfavorable’ so?” asked Sou.

The democrat reiterates that the activation of CP State 3 and that of the civil protection structure are not reciprocal. He worries that the vagueness and arbitrary nature of the definition will become a burden to society if the legislation is successful.

Additional powers given to the administration under CP State 3 or higher include charging civil servants who refuse to obey their superintendents’ orders – no matter the type or nature – with a disobedience offence.

The Chief Executive will also be empowered to implement a series of measures, such as the requisition of any mobile or immobile properties, labor force or equipment, the suspension of transport, communication, water or electricity services under extreme conditions and the closing of certain border checkpoints.

The Chief Executive will also be authorized by the law to suspend any large-scale activities, including in the gambling and entertainment sectors, occurring or to occur in the affected areas.

Information from the legislative committee studying the bill points out that the administration has implied “automatic activation of CP State 3” under three specific circumstances, namely typhoon signal No. 8 or higher, storm surge level 3 or higher, or an outbreak of SARS.

However, some committee members reminded the government that these circumstances would only activate the civil protection structure, instead of CP State 3.

Sou suspects that the bill has been submitted to the Legislative Assembly (AL) in a hasty manner without thorough and stringent consideration.

It is also noteworthy that the proposed bill covers activities related to “internal societal security and economy, as well as sudden security matters caused by or related to external factors.”

The lawmaker has also pressed the government to explain the new investment company that will be initially funded with MOP60 billion from the public coffers.

Some media reports last month suggested that incumbent Chief Executive Chui Sai On would make himself head of the new company. This has caused the government to issue a statement denying the reports.

On this matter, Sou said it has been rumored for about one year that the incumbent Chief Executive will head the new company. Sou has also heard from certain sources that Lionel Leong is among the options for the chairperson of the new company.

Even so, the lawmaker thinks there is a conflict of interest, as the next government will appoint someone from the current administration to head the company. Meanwhile, laws are absent to monitor the funds and operation of these companies.

“These companies lack transparency. The public worries [about] the stability and safety of public funds,” said Sou.

Macau’s next Chief Executive, Ho Iat Seng, said in 2014 that if Macau happens to be setting up publicly-funded investment companies, it has to be done very carefully, citing Singapore’s Temasek’s as a rare success of the investment model. Anthony Lam

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