The sacking of two liberal-minded… The non-renewal of contract of two Portuguese legal advisors, Paulo Cardinal 簡天龍 and Paulo Taipa 戴保祿, who had been employed by the Legislative Assembly for 26 years and two decades respectively, is rightly causing quite a stir in Macao. Not in every circle though and clearly not for everyone for the same reason. A disclaimer: I know both personally, and I keep a friendly relationship with one.
The story was initially broken by the bilingual publication Plataforma on Saturday 18, and was immediately picked up by TDM news in both English and Portuguese. Monday, it made the headlines of the three Portuguese dailies and two English-speaking media, including the present one. All interviewed highly capable and relevant people, who conveyed the same message: one of shock and bewilderment. Some remained more “neutral”, especially the lawyers whose firms are led by partners who keep a cozy relationship with the power that be, but they all praised the soon-to-be-dismissed legal advisors for their flawless abilities and eminent contributions to the healthy legal development of Macao, prior and after the handover. Thanks to Plataforma, we knew that the non-renewal was “unexpected”, and that no reason, apart from a vague restructuration plan, had been given by the authority, the bureau of the Legislative Assembly. Hence the stupefaction giving rise to the suspicion of abusive sacking.
At that point though, not ONE interviewee had been of Chinese origin (leaving aside the three Macanese holding Portuguese passports). This is both sad and damaging: Sad because it shows that the press in Portuguese or English has very limited reach to the vast majority of the population. Are there no Chinese legal advisors, lawyers, legal scholars or community leaders willing to share their bafflement? What about former lawmakers who have less to lose? Damaging because it gave a particular spin to the situation: one of ethnic discrimination. Nationality took precedence over competence. Pushing discrimination towards the Portuguese to the fore risks awakening the demons of the past: prior to 1999, many jobs were reserved for Portuguese nationals and there still exists a level of resentment towards those once favored.
True, the Chinese press paid scant attention to the matter. On Monday, Macao Daily News, ironically made its headlines on the five-year Mainland residence permit benefitting Macao people and the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao bridge. Since then, the matter has only been decently and widely covered in Chinese by All About Macau, Cheng Pou and Macau Concealers.
Cases of abusive dismissal within the legislative branch of power, although not new, are worrisome and raise several questions.
Why does the Legislative Assembly employ these legal advisors on short-term contracts, especially now that we have had a thorough reform of civil servants’ contracts? Their duty is to the law, and leaving them in a precarious situation seems extremely unhealthy, their status being worth less than in the private sector where contracts become permanent upon third renewal. For such positions, employment stability is the safest way to avoid conflicts of interest. These advisors could be blamed, for example, by plutocratic lawmakers for not having spotted, willingly or not, the article of the Land Law that forbids renewal of land concessions after 25 years if plots remained undeveloped.
What also of the legitimacy and motivation of the board that took the decision? None of the four members of the board are truly elected (they all ran unopposed) and three are businesspeople: money presides? Two are at the forefront of Communist united front work, another is a direct relative of the Chief Executive and the last symbolizes the vengeful arm of the establishment against legislator Sulu Sou: politics prevail? It is no accident that Sulu Sou, Pereira Coutinho and Ng Kuok Cheong are the ones asking the board to explain itself.