Subsidies aside, residents still have cause to rally

Friday, May 2, 2008
Issue 331, Page 1 & 4
Word count: 756
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung & Sara Farr

Despite the government’s recent measures of allocating subsidies totalling three billion patacas, between 800 and 1,000 people yesterday still took to the streets.

In two separate protests which later ended together, locals gathered at both the Triangle Park and the Iao Hon Park yesterday afternoon, demanding the government keep a tighter hand on imported and illegal labour.

Also at the Iao Hon Park, pro-democratic lawmakers and members of the New Macau Association held a public forum.

Last week Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau Wah announced the government would be allocating 5,000 and 3,000 patacas to permanent and non-permanent residents, respectively, as an “immediate solution” to inflation.

Such a decision will see the government’s budget increase by two billion patacas, while earlier in the year, Ho also said the government would allocate an electricity subsidy for locals, totalling one billion patacas, to help ease the hike in prices.

The government will introduce more measures to relieve inflationary pressure borne by the working class wherever necessary, Ho said Tuesday while addressing a reception hosted by the Macau Federation of Trade Unions.

He said the government had introduced a string of measures both in March and last month, including subsidies for different sectors, to help enhance people’s livelihood, and added that the government was well aware of the difficulties faced by the working class as prices climbed.

The government is also aiming to guarantee residents a basic living and allow them to share Macau’s economic gains, he added.

Although pro-democratic lawmakers such as Ng Kuok Cheong, Au Kam San and Jose Pereira Coutinho, had previously said they thought the government’s move would ease public dissatisfaction, Pereira Coutinho said Wednesday he wasn’t expecting many people to turn up to the rally yesterday.

Ng said he was very surprised with the number of people who turned out for the rally, adding that the number was far greater than he had initially expected.

The pro-democratic lawmaker said members of the New Macau Association were surprised with the large number of workers coming to the forum and speaking up their demands and discontentment.

“The government has spent about three billion patacas on introducing the relief measures and so we expected there would be only around a hundred people coming to the event,” Ng said, adding that the public’s demands were all “expected” and “anticipated.”

When compared to last year’s Labour Day demonstration-turned-protest, which saw thousands take to the streets and clashing with police officers, one of whom shot five live rounds into the air injuring a passer by 300 metres away, yesterday’s rally was similar to that of December 20 – cool, calm and collected.

However, demonstrators’ demands remained unchanged.

The government subsidy is seen as only to “cool down” social discontent, Ng said, “but cannot solve the problems.”

“For example, the government needs to gradually dismiss half of the 19,000 non-technical imported labourers from the gaming industry so that the jobs can be returned to local people,” he added.

Protesters were also demanding the government build 40,000 public housing units by 2010, approve universal suffrage next year, as well as improve the Labour Law.

Meanwhile, one of the three people who organised the rally at the Iao Hon Park, Ung Kam Fong, who lives in Zhuhai, was stopped at the checkpoint for some eight hours when coming over to Macau.

Ung said she is living is Zhuhai because she “can’t afford the rent or property prices in Macau,” and works in Macau as a porter in a transport company.

“It was my first time to be stopped by the mainland police at the immigration checkpoint and detained for about eight hours from about 7am to 3pm,” she said, and added that “they [custom officers] went through my bag, looked at all the documents and asked me what I was doing in Macau, but never explained to me why.”

“I felt there was no democracy and personal freedom.”

However, Ung said she thought her ordeal had been a “conspiracy,” because “they knew I was staging a protest [yesterday] and wanted to make me cancel it.”

“I never staged a protest before and this year I can’t tolerate any more. The government’s three billion pataca measures are a waste of public fund and involve collusion between the government and businessmen,” she added.

“Problems can never be solved and thus people will start to come out on the streets,” Ng added. However, police said yesterday that it had sent some 250 officers to the rally to maintain order.

“The whole rally went smoothly,” police officers said.

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