Insight | It just doesn’t add up

Paulo Barbosa

1. The local parliament is often dubbed a rubber stamp assembly.

Last month we saw more evidence that this assertion is correct. Lawmakers are treated with paternalism, although they don’t seem to mind. Even within constraints allowed by the Basic Law, any attempt to see lawmakers acting with some autonomy is crushed.

This approach is fostered from the top when it is convenient to do so. Last month, days after a controversial plenary session at the Legislative Assembly dominated by appeals to revise the Land Law, the CE’s Office issued a statement “strongly rejecting” the proposal by appointed lawmaker Gabriel Tong to vote on an amendment to the law.

The statement indicated that according to article 75 of the Basic Law, “lawmakers who wish to present bills to the Legislative Assembly involving governmental policies must obtain written consent from the Chief Executive.”

Article 75 also states that “bills which don’t involve revenues or expenses, the political structure or the government functioning, can be presented, individually or collectedly, by lawmakers.”

A strict interpretation of the Basic Law article strongly limits the autonomy of lawmakers to present bills. If they can’t present “bills which involve revenues or expenses,” then what significant legislation can they propose?

The system is “presidential” and the CE made a point of showing that he is the boss at the first instance when lawmakers (even some appointed by him) threatened to form a majority that would go against his view. His statement treated lawmakers with undisguisable paternalism.

According to Chui Sai On’s interpretation, lawmakers are at the assembly to approve the government’s proposals, preferably without a debate that rises above Fong Chi Keong’s tirades.

Besides rhetoric, lawmakers have no power. In September, new actors will be elected to this parliamentary farce.

Rubber stamp. Lex dixi plus quam voluit. 

2. The 28th Macao Arts Festival (MAF), organized by the Cultural Affairs Bureau, kicked off on Friday with a lukewarm dance show. I had a detailed look at the program, comprised of 25 shows and exhibitions. Compared to previous editions, it seems to me that the program is clearly inferior. Last year, for example, the program included names like the great theater stage director and actor Robert Wilson (with “Krapp’s Last Tape”). Following an established tradition, the festival last year showcased several performing arts shows from Portugal (I saw a wonderful concert by “Coppia”), which nearly doesn’t happen in this year’s edition, pretentiously titled “Heterotopia.”

I could name many other great cultural events brought to Macau by previous editions of the festival, like the exhibition “From L’orient to the Orient – Port Cities of China and France on the 18th Century Maritime Silk Route” in 2015 or Laurie Anderson’s performance at Mount Fortress in 2014.

A budget cut was announced this year. Looking at the program, there are fewer international artists and the usual overrepresentation of dance shows, including the opening show and several other acts. As a well-known Portuguese journalist in Macau pointed out, this apparent liking of dance in Macau is a bit puzzling or perhaps convenient… Many of these performances don’t have a clear political or social charge. 

The festival brings people from Hong Kong and elsewhere to town. It is a substantial attraction, unlike the street parades on which the Cultural Affairs Bureau spends millions, as the Times reported (see our feature: “Parade Bonanza – Annual parades entail budget similar to larger cultural events”).

I wonder if budget cuts in events like the Arts Festival match the government’s continuously stated aim of diversifying the tourist offerings beyond gaming. Again, it just doesn’t add up.

Categories Opinion