Veteran legal advisers of the Legislative Assembly (AL) Paulo Cardinal and Paulo Taipa were dismissed by the board of the AL, headed by President Ho Iat Seng, early last week.
The news broke Saturday on Plataforma Media news outlet and caused a generalized sense of incredulity and shock in the community, particularly within the legal fraternity.
“Mr Cardinal and Mr Taipa are two ‘living encyclopedias’ on the historical and legislative developments over the last crucial three decades,” lawyer and political commentator Sergio de Almeida Correia told the Times yesterday, reflecting a common perception among peers that both advisers possess extraordinary professional qualities and are “men of character and high work ethics.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Cardinal and Taipa each received a letter informing them that their contracts were not to be renewed and that their work would cease at the AL by December 31. The short and laconic letter also stresses that the board is extremely grateful for the exceptional contribution the advisers have given to the Legislative Assembly. However, neither letter stated the reasons for the terminations.
Cardinal and Taipa, both taken by surprise with the sudden and unexpected dismissal, requested a meeting with President Ho Iat Seng and Vice-President Chui Sai Cheong, which took place the next day. On the occasion, Ho talked about a “vague idea of a restructure of the legal advisers’ team,” six of them Portuguese nationals. For that reason, “it is time we part ways.” “We [AL] go our way, you go yours,” said Ho. The presidency of the AL reiterated a tremendous respect and admiration for the positive contribution to the “work of the Legislative Assembly both have given.”
None in the legal community and beyond accepted this reasoning as valid.
“They invoked as a reason a certain renovation or restructuring [of the legal team]. Well, I don’t know if this ‘restructuring’ is going to happen or not. But one thing I know for sure, Mr Cardinal and Mr Taipa should have a place in any possible restructuring that may occur,” because of their qualities and vast accumulated experience, top lawyer Jorge Neto Valente told Radio Macau yesterday, from Portugal.
Paulo Cardinal, 53, came to Macau in 1990 and Paulo Taipa, 50, arrived here in 1997 to work in the Legal Affairs Bureau (GAL, as per the Portuguese acronym).
Cardinal moved to the AL in 1992 when Anabela Ritchie, who succeeded the revered Macanese lawyer cum politician Carlos D’Assumpção, was at the helm. He holds the position of coordinator adviser and teaches in the Faculty of Law at the University of Macau.
Taipa followed his colleague’s footsteps and joined the Legislative Assembly in 2001, when Susana Chou was presiding over the first legislature post-handover. Taipa, who is also a coordinator, taught at the UM for a period of ten years.
In total we are talking of 43 years of combined experience at the legislative branch of the government and during a period of dramatic change in Macau and its legislation.
“They were both involved in the ‘localization’ of crucial legislation in an historic moment of Macau’s development, as well as of the localization of legal practitioners,” Correia noted. “Cardinal and Taipa helped in the training of many local legal experts, prosecutors and even judges, that you see now sitting in our courts, MP and government departments.”
Truth or dare
Amélia António, lawyer and president of Casa de Portugal, told the Times that a thorough clarification is needed on the nature of the dismissals, because “what we know at this stage is little and it doesn’t make sense.”
“It was with great perplexity that I heard the news. When highly competent professionals [at the peak of their careers] are dispensed in the course of a restructuring or renovation of cadres, it is worrying; because the most qualified and experienced professionals are always very important in the process of integration of new legal advisers.”
The president of the Casa de Portugal thinks and hopes the dismissals hold no implication for the stability of the Portuguese community, but stressed that “these kinds of situations, when poorly explained – and it may take some time for us to know what really happened – creates anxiety in people because we don’t know if this is an isolated case or if it is some kind of a signal for the future. We don’t know at this stage.”
However, lawmaker Pereira Coutinho speaking to Radio Macau, was adamant in saying that there will be spillovers.
The sacking of the two most respected advisers “has to do with several legal opinions the duo had submitted to the specialized commissions” that went against the interests of the pro-establishment camp and the will of the house board. “And there will be more [cases like this]!”
Neto Valente somewhat corroborates Coutinho’s words with a note of cynicism on how legal opinions are generally treated at governance levels: “It’s against? So, it’s rubbish.”
“I don’t see this as politically motivated because as of now that reason was not invoked … but I admit that it could be interpreted as such, moreover because in the termination letter of the two advisers [the AL Board] recognizes the merits of their work,” Almeida Correia told the Times.
“So, if from the standpoint of personal qualities and of professional qualities, they are untouchable, the plausible explanation is that there are reasons of a political nature, or there is a hidden agenda to the dispensing of competent individuals, in order to approve legislation in violation of the Basic Law.”
Sergio de Almeida Correia named many a pressing piece of legislation to be discussed and approved during the next legislative session which ends in August next year: the new gaming law, the internal security law and the electoral reform. Paulo Taipa has been in charge of all gaming- related legislation since 2001 to date.
For Correia, “this is another disastrous decision by the President of the Legislative Assembly as others during the current legislature, when he displayed lack of competence for the job.”
Lawyer and commentator Miguel de Senna Fernandes holds a particular opinion on the damage that the dispensing of experienced advisers such as Cardinal and Taipa may cause to the MSAR with all the projects currently under way, namely the Greater Bay Area.
“At a time when Macau is on the verge of an exceptional turning point, having in mind the practical implementation of the policies of the so-called Greater Bay Area, which is a process of integration of Macau into the area, matters of a constitutional nature will arise and have to be addressed. Replacing now, at this sensitive period, Cardinal and Taipa is a heavy loss for the interests of Macau.”
The Portuguese Consul General, however, is confident that Cardinal and Taipa will continue to live and work in Macau.
“Mr Paulo Cardinal and Mr Paulo Taipa are examples of the best Portugal and the Portuguese have here contributing to the development of the Macau SAR of the People’s Republic of China,” Vítor Sereno told the Times.
The outgoing consul also said that he is following the case with utmost attention and commitment.
Sereno spoke to the Times on the sidelines of a farewell dinner Saturday evening hosted by the community where the case of the two Portuguese AL advisers was a prime topic of conversation and great cause for consternation.
“It is a very somber day for Macau,” a participant lamented to the Times.