Obituary – Rui Afonso | Modernizer of local public administration dies in Lisbon

Former lawmaker Rui Afonso has passed away on Friday in Lisbon aged 70, the victim of a prolonged disease. His funeral service was held Saturday. Afonso is seen as a key figure in the modernization of Macau’s public administration.

A lawyer in Portugal since 1976, Afonso started practicing in Macau in 1985. He was a legal adviser to the Secretary of Administration and Justice (1983-1984), and director of the Administration and Public Servants Service (1984-1985). Between 1984 and 1997, he was a lawmaker.

The president of the Macau Lawyers Association, Jorge Neto Valente, stresses Afonso’s role in the modernization of public services in Macau. “Together with Adelina de Sá Carvalho, he kicked off the modernization of the public administration in Macau, and he did that during a convulsed time,” Neto Valente told the Times yesterday.

Lawyer Sérgio de Almeida Correia, who had worked with Rui Afonso since 1989, stressed the late lawyer’s “key role in reforming the public administration” regarding human resources and fine-tuning the services’ legal framework. “Some organic laws were changed. And there was the need to bring more people from the Chinese community to have a role in those services, besides those who belonged to the cultural and economic elite.”

Almeida Correia recalls that around that time Afonso played a role in setting up and recruiting people to a program of studies in Portugal – which became known as PEP in the Portuguese acronym – whereby members from the Chinese community were enrolled in courses in Portugal before returning to work in the local public administration.

Neto Valente, also a lawmaker at the time, remembers Afonso’s 13 years as a directly-appointed lawmaker at the Legislative Assembly. “In the plenary we were always together,” he recalls. “He was an active lawmaker, never ceasing to take a stance on issues [that were debated]. He was a left-
wing man with social concerns.” According to the Lawyers Association head, Afonso “was free and independent.” Neto Valente describes Afonso as someone who had “finesse”: “He thought well and had his own ideas. He knew how to read law and how to arrive at conclusions.”

As a lawmaker, Rui Afonso supported the idea of having the Legislative Assembly operating in autonomous facilities, instead of the Government Palace at Praia Grande. “He thought that the separation of [executive and legislative] powers was needed to avoid promiscuity between the government and lawmakers,” Almeida Correia reflected.

He added to MDT that Afonso had also held a role in reforming the legal status of the Portuguese in Macau and the judicial system in the territory. “During the 90s, appeals of decisions made by the secretaries were trialed in Lisbon. That was unfeasible [after the handover].”

In his legal practice, Rui Afonso Advogados, he also had a role in “mediating between the Chinese and Portuguese counterparts” involved in large-scale infrastructure works that were constructed before the handover, such as the airport. 

Sérgio de Almeida Correia notes that, although Rui Afonso spent lengthy periods in Portugal in his later years, he always kept his legal practice active in the MSAR.

Affability and loyalty were the two characteristics Almeida Correia said he associated with Rui Afonso. “He had strong social concerns. There are countless cases that were solved here at the legal practice free of charge. Either because [these] people were poor or because they worked for the public administration, had a low income and were facing disciplinary procedures, or simply because they were Portuguese. […] That shows his character. He was not in the law field to exploit people. Things had to be straight. ‘We walk the streets everyday,’ he used to say.”

Newspaper against ‘information control’

An apologist  of freedom of speech, Rui Afonso was involved in the foundation of a newspaper named “Futuro de Macau.” Sérgio de Almeida Correia recalls: “Information was controlled in Macau. Every time a newspaper that was more critical of the government sprung up, the government wanted to buy a share in the newspaper through intermediaries. […] Rui Afonso thought it was needed to have a free and independent voice in Macau. He founded ‘Futuro de Macau,’ together with Manuela António.    

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