How many times have you heard the assertion “information is power”? Then, if politics is not only understood literally or even figuratively, and yet, on the conservative side — the Bismarckian “art of the possible” — one has to be reminded that politics deals with power relations or, to be more accurate, how power is distributed in society and the institutions it builds for itself.
So, clearly politics and information are connected, and just like a real market economy cannot be functional (in principle) without transparent access to information, there can be no legitimate government with a slight pretense to democracy or minimal claim to rule for the benefit of the community as a whole that will not somehow nurture open access to information.
How can public policies be grounded without an informed decision-making process? What are the chances that these policies will have positive and long-lasting effects if they are not designed from the input of all stakeholders? And how can the community feel engaged and thus fully benefit if citizens are not given access to the whole picture, thus demonstrating that indeed the government went for the “next best” possibility, at the very least?
Finally, without transparency, things will never get better, as policies will not be amended and adjusted as a result of critical appraisal, but rather are liable to be flat out abrogated and replaced based on the whimsical posturing of those who mistake populism for popular sovereignty.
Indeed, we should worry when the former editor-in-chief of Sonpou, Mr Lei Kong, is indicted for slander and fined MOP50,000 for simply having characterized the Pearl Horizon’s fiasco as a “suspected fraud” on the part of real-estate developer Polytec Asset Holdings Ltd, and for suggesting that unacceptable delays were due to constant changes in plans submitted to the Environmental Protection Bureau.
Sonpou is not any newspaper; it is the oldest running liberal-minded weekly in Chinese (born in 1989!) and Mr. Lei is unanimously respected in Macao for his independence of mind. Back in 2008, he was among the few to participate in a round-table I organized on the possible hazardous consequences of the national security law proposal. I remember him bravely stating that Macao would stay safe — the proposal was eventually passed in March 2009, but with several significant amendments — as long as Hong Kong would not enforce it!
In the Pearl Horizon case, key to Mr. Lei’s defense was the very fact that homebuyers had never been informed that the concession of the land plot on which the project was being developed would expire on 25 December 2015! Ever heard of “asymmetrical information”? And then Polytec was suing Mr Lei for MOP2 million and is now considering appealing, as Mr. Lei was declared innocent of defamation even though it was found that he had somehow breached the Civil Code. Even a professional journalist with 30 years of experience now feels deterred, so what impact will this have on aspiring young reporters? And the irony of it all is that Polytec’s defense lawyer is none other than Leonel Alves, a former legislator who helped the very liberal Press Law passed in 1990!
Besides such a blatant indirect attack over freedom of expression, the constant lack of transparency and absence of publicly available and reliable information are proving extremely detrimental to the system as a whole. In the latest survey on Macao politics commissioned to the Public Opinion Program of HKU, the Chief Executive (CE) is registering his third worst ever rating since 2009 — on par with 2014, when the whole government was revamped! And then, if there were “democratic elections” in Macao, only 29.8 percent of the people would vote yes for Mr. Chui (53.9 percent would vote no), which is the second worst result for the incumbent CE after 2017 — remember Hato?
Now we are being told that the two studies commissioned by the government on the possible development of Macao’s gaming industry in the next two decades are being delayed. The first gaming concessions are supposed to be renewed in 2020… will we once again repeat the appalling Interim Review released in 2016?