Give me five: residents get subsidy, casinos get squeezed

Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Issue 322, Page 1 & 2
Word count: 1252
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Every permanent resident and non-permanent resident of Macau will receive a one-time government subsidy of 5,000 patacas and 3,000 patacas respectively in July, Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau Wah announced at the Legislative Assembly yesterday.

The Chief Executive also announced a series of policies to freeze any new expansion of Macau’s gaming industry including no more land approval for future casino construction applications.

Mr Ho attended the Assembly’s plenary meeting where he addressed questions raised by lawmakers regarding social issues and related government measures.

Due to the hardships faced by the public under the influences of growing living costs, Mr Ho said  apart from the measures announced last month such as the electricity and income subsidies, the SAR government would spend about two billion patacas on giving 527,000 Macau Identity Card holders a subsidy of 5,000 patacas or 3,000 patacas by the end of July at the latest.

According to the Identification Bureau, Macau’s permanent residents and non-permanent residents account for some 461,000 and 66,100 respectively, which include 67,000 residents who are studying or living aboard.

Secretary for Economy and Finance, Francis Tam Pak Yuen, said at a press conference after the Assembly meeting that a draft bill to amend this year’s government budget would be submitted to the Legislative Assembly as soon as possible so that eligible residents could receive the one-time subsidy in July.

Secretary Tam added that only simple registration would be required and the government would announce more application details after related administrative procedures were completed. 

Further casino development frozen

As all the six gaming concessions and sub-concessions are already in full operation, the Chief Executive said the government decided to adopt measures in bid to ensure Macau’s stability and sustainable development. And the move was in immediate effect starting from yesterday.

First of all, Mr Ho said the current “3+3” concessionaire and sub-concessionaire operating model would remain unchanged “in a foreseeable future”. That is, the existing six concessionaires will continue to share Macau’s gaming market.

Apart from constructions which have already begun or are waiting for government approval, land resources, including any new reclaimed land parcels, will no longer be granted for any gaming purposes, the Chief Executive added.

The government would strictly control the growing number of slot machines, gaming tables and casino VIP rooms, and also demand slot machines centres to move away from residential areas.

Mr Ho said a licensing system would be introduced for casinos’ senior management staff so that their qualification could be assessed before being imported from overseas.

As well, regulations would be set up to restrict the amount of commission junket promoters will receive.

At present, Macau has 29 casinos and about 4,200 gaming tables.

Secretary Tam admitted that the local gaming industry had been growing at an unexpected speed which created tension for land and human resources, and therefore it was an appropriate time to evaluate the development model and implement some regulations so as to assure the industry’s long-term and healthy development.

Besides the already approved casino constructions such as the City of Dreams and the Galaxy Mega Resort on the Cotai Strip, the Secretary said other projects awaiting government approvals were also located in the same area and “there are only a few”.

Social housing construction and subsidy

Secretary for Transport and Public Works, Lau Si Io, said at the post-Assembly-meeting press conference that 12 land parcels covering 42,300 square metres in Coloane’s Seac Pai Van would be reserved for building social housing units.

Estimated at a total floor area of 306,000 square metres, public facilities and green lands would also be part of the construction in the island’s newly developed area, the Secretary said.

The Chief Executive said he was confident that the previously committed 19,000 social housing units could be built by 2012, adding that the introduction of the home ownership scheme designed for newly wed couples was progressing smoothly.

He also told the Assembly that suspension of the property investment immigration scheme would not be lifted “within a short period of time”.

Meanwhile, the 6,400 families who are currently in the social housing waiting list will be distributed an one-year accommodation subsidy of 750 patacas or 1,100 patacas monthly depending on the number of family members.

During the period if applicants are being allocated public housing or purchase their own property, such kind of subsidy distribution will be terminated immediately.

Secretary Lau added that false claimants would need to return double the amount of the subsidy received, be eliminated from the waiting list, as well as be prohibited from participating in any housing programs launched by the Housing Bureau for a period of three years. 

Local construction workers’ employment

Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau Wah admitted that although the government had put in a lot of effort in tackling illegal workers and reducing the number of imported labourers upon the completion of certain construction projects, there were still a number of local workers being deprived of employment opportunity.

As a result, Mr Ho announced that the SAR government would introduce a pilot scheme in which a bidding condition would be imposed on all public construction projects less than 10 million patacas, that winning contractors must have to hire local workers except for positions involving special work tasks.

Although government expenses would be increased, the Chief Executive said the measure could create more employment opportunities for local workers.

As for recruiting non-local labourers to take up special work tasks, he said concrete reasons must need to be provided by contractors and then analysed by the Labour Affairs Bureau to confirm that no local supply was available before the applications would be approved.

Quarantine fees waived, increased rice stocks

Businesses’ operation costs will be cut following the Chief Executive’s announcement that all kinds of quarantine charges imposed by the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau will be waived.

The government estimated that less 12 million patacas of revenue would be received but Mr Ho said the move could help relieve merchant pressures in raising retail prices.

In addition, Mr Ho said the government would make use of the warehouse facilities in the Zhuhai-Macau Cross-Border Industrial Zone near Ilha Verde and lease them to rice merchants at low charges in bid to boost the local stock volume of rice.

The SAR government had also reached an agreement with the Thai and Vietnam governments to ensure a safe and stable supply of rice to Macau.

Monetary policy maintains

Lawmaker Chan Meng Kam posed a question at the Assembly suggesting the peg of patacas to Chinese Renminbi and to remove the link with Hong Kong dollars.

However the Chief Executive affirmed that the SAR government had no intention and also would not attempt to abolish the current peg to Hong Kong dollars, adding that Macau’s monetary policy would continue to remain.

Secretary Tam said that modifying the monetary policy could not create long-term impacts to relieve high inflation, by contrast it might damage a society’s financial system and economy.

Despite the value of patacas had been depreciated to Chinese Renminbi, the Secretary said it did contribute some benefits to Macau such as for its export and tourism industries.

Although some of the measures introduced will last for only a year, the Chief Executive did not rule out the possibility of extending their duration in the future depending on society’s actual conditions and the government’s financial ability.

Yesterday was the first time this year Mr Ho attended the Legislative Assembly’s question and answer session with the next occasion occurring in August.

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