Scholar Agnes Lam from the University of Macau (UM) argues that the Macau government should resolve public distrust over current housing policies through improving transparency in future land granting, especially in the planning for the new reclamation Zone A. She also suggested that the administration needs to show the logic behind its policy-making process and further improve its measures in understanding public sentiment.
The assistant dean of UM’s Faculty of Social Sciences made the comments on the sidelines of a symposium on “Policy Review for the Third Term Macau SAR Government” held by the university.
“I think, after all, [Macau society] has yet to recover from the Ao Man Long case. The public confidence that was lost due to the Ao Man Long case still cannot be regained through the policies in the past years”, she said.
The scholar believes that the major problem is in current land and housing policies and suggested that problems will arise if the government still lacks transparency. She added that the administration has to demonstrate to residents that the government’s every land granting and urban planning move is for the public interest, instead of an act of crony capitalism.
Moreover, Ms Lam questioned whether the government has provided the public with enough information so that the latter understand the administration’s decision-making. “I think that it is not always easy for the public to agree with every move of the government. But it is still important [to ask] if the government has well-founded reasons to explain their actions”, she said. “To resolve the mutual distrust between the government and the public, it has to start with the land granting. If the government cannot handle this issue, it can never resolve the public’s impatience on housing, and they hence will not trust the government any more.”
The assistant dean suggested that the fastest way to rebuild public confidence in the administration is through the planning on reclamation Zone A.
The government is currently carrying out a large-scale reclamation project that involves five areas off the east and south coast of the Macau Peninsula, as well as the north of Taipa. Reclamation Zone A is on the east of the Macau Peninsula. Apart from housing the entrance to the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the Chief Executive Chui Sai On announced in July that the government will significantly increase the amount of private and public housing built in the Zone from 18,000 to 32,000 units, with 28,000 of them public housing apartments.
Apart from the trust issue, Agnes Lam also suggested that the executive has to show the public its administrative logic. She said that some of the government’s policies lack details and there were often abrupt changes on public policies.
“The administration of the MSAR government is not stable. Sometimes there were significant changes [in policies], with changes to the plan of the reclamation Zone A as an example. Also, it has to gradually demonstrate its logic of administration. I think that in the past few years, there were some sudden [announcements of] policies and decisions. Sometimes, it seemed that [the abrupt changes] were made after the government listened to public opinions, just like the case of the plan to set up a night market next to the Sai Van Lake. But why didn’t it listen to other opinions as well?” she questioned.
The scholar said that the public still failed to identify the administrative logic of the government. She believes that it is important for society to understand the rationale of its actions, because it enables people to comprehend public policies and what factors officials would consider when drafting policies, or which groups in society the administration wants to help.
Furthermore, Agnes Lam believes that the government’s efforts in consulting the public are lacking and it has failed to communicate with stakeholders when making decisions. She also suggested that the authority should change its way of communicating with the public and collecting opinions, and should instead start utilizing modern technology such as the Internet and instant communication software.
MSAR ‘lacks awareness of crisis’
Mr Li Chao, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Macau Studies, said that Macau, unlike mainland cities and Hong Kong, is not very aware of the competition and crisis it may face in the future. While the Hong Kong government was keenly aware of the free trade zone set up in Shanghai and had sent a delegation to Beijing, there was a lack of response from Macau.
He also pointed out that the Macau government should contemplate on how best to utilize the territory’s advantage as a platform for Lusophone countries, especially in the current period where Portugal is suffering from a credit crisis, while there are not enough investment channels for capital in mainland China. Mr Li believes that Macau should act like a suction pump that collects the capital and channels it to Lusophone countries.