CE to “pave the road” for his 2010 successor

Friday, August 15, 2008
Issue 436, Page 1 & 3
Word count: 1465
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau Wah said yesterday at the Legislative Assembly that he would create a “favourable governing environment” for his successor who he believed would lead Macau in a “better way”.

Election for the next Macau SAR Chief Executive and their cabinet will be held in 2009, with Mr Ho’s term ending at the end of the same year.

The Chief Executive, for the second time this year since April, attended the Legislative Assembly for two hours to answer questions posed by lawmakers about different government policies and measures.

Yesterday a total of 16 lawmakers raised their questions addressing the government about inflation, the education system and vocation training, public housing, social welfare, the financial reserve system as well as reconstruction efforts for post-quake Sichuan.

According to Mr Ho, Macau’s society had experienced rapid changes in recent years which provoked a lot of new challenges as well as problems “left over from history”.

However, he said the government always had the responsibility to keep reinforcing its governing capability which should not be affected by a change in the cabinet, adding he believed that the new Chief Executive would “better lead” the SAR.

Following April’s announcement of a onetime subsidy for all Macau residents, lawmaker Fong Chi Keong asked the chief what other actions the government could take to relieve people’s hardship under the current high inflation rate.

Mr Ho said the government would continue to review the effectiveness of all measures introduced, and emphasised again that more anti-inflation schemes could be launched if necessary.

He admitted that rising living costs were caused by many external factors in which the Macau government could not do much to solve the problem of.

Yesterday he appealed to society that he hoped retail prices would not increase at the same rate as inflation and companies would not cut staff to try to reduce costs, as he said the government could not intervene in the free market with any regulations or laws.

As for Macau’s economic development next year, the Chief Executive told the Assembly that they could not be “too optimistic” after years of “sky-rocketing” growth.

Thus he said the 2009 policy blueprint would adopt a more “cautious” approach and consider different “uncertain factors” as well as economic impacts caused by inflation.

Education and training

Three lawmakers, Lei Pui Lam, Chan Meng Kam and Ng Kuok Cheong posed questions to the Chief Executive about how to lift local people’s competitiveness so that they could take up more senior positions and what the government would do to retain talent in Macau.

Edmund Ho, who told the lawmakers he also “could not find a good answer” for the question, said no one would like “someone else to come and take away their jobs and still say it’s because their talents aren’t as good as the outsiders”.

However, the Chief Executive said putting more resources in the education system would not help in the immediate future, adding Macau had adequate facilities to make itself a tourism destination but was lacking quality human resources.

Although Mr Ho said he believed Macau’s next generation would have a much stronger educational background, “it will be a [long] time until the youth grow up and enter the job market” and thus imported labourers had to be considered.

“It’s never a perfect solution”, Mr Ho said, adding “someone will lose while the other one will win” under the foreign labourers policy and the government had always been trying to balance the two sides.

He also pointed out that Macau had cultivated local talent in the past, but he said they were not “products” and thus they could choose to go abroad at the time when the city was experiencing slow economic growth.

When comparing the 1996 and 2006 census statistics, Ng Kuok Cheong said the Macau population increased by 21 percent, while the number of tertiary students jumped 152 percent.

Mr Ho said among the 10,000 non technical imported labourers of the gaming industry, 60 to 70 percent worked on construction sites. But he added that those workers would decrease when construction projects began to slow down.

Despite the number of local tertiary students growing significantly over the past decade, the Chief Executive told the lawmakers that the overall quality of residents still had not reached the “mature stage”, but he assured them that it had already been “greatly improved” since the past.

Also, Mr Ho said all residents with a strong educational qualification may not necessarily want to work in the gaming industry and they always had the freedom to choose wherever they wanted to go, to develop their careers.

On the other hand, he said the government would encourage more vocational training for local people especially the middle aged so that their skills could be an advantage when the city was gradually moving towards diversification.

Public housing

Au Kam San made his address to the Chief Executive yesterday on the progress of the construction plan he committed in 2005 whereby 4,000 and 6,000 public housing units would be built in 2008 and 2010 respectively, as well as the announcement of transport and public works secretary Lau Si Io in May that 19,000 units could be built in 2012.

At present, 3,276 units were under construction in which only some 2,300 belonged to social housing, Mr Au said.

The Chief Executive then told the Assembly that the first phase of the construction plan may need to be postponed by half a year due to “various factors”.

He said he was confident that 2,600 social housing units could be built next year, but the construction of the 3,000 economic housing units was likely to be delayed until 2010.

Mr Ho also assured the lawmakers that by 2012, a total of 19,000 public housing units would be built on land the government had already reserved in Ilha Verda, Taipa and Cotai for the public construction.

Moreover, the sponsorship programs for first time home buyers and newly wed couples were expected to be introduced by the end of the year, he said, adding they had taken a longer time to launch because of concerns that the public would assume the government wanted to push up property prices in the market.

Social welfare for the elderly

The Chief Executive said the new social welfare system would be introduced in 2009 so that the elderly could share in the benefits resultant from the economic boom.

Lawmaker Leong Heng Teng, however, asked Mr Ho what the government would do to ensure sufficient welfare for retired or elderly people as the new social welfare system would only benefit the young groups who began joining the provident fund scheme now.

Mr Ho said the government was concerned about the problem but could guarantee including pensions as part of the new welfare system due to technical or legal restrains.

However he also told the lawmaker that the government would not “ignore” the livelihood of elderly people and would adopt measures to ensure they were “taken care of”.

Sichuan quake relief

Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Chui Sai On, will fly to Sichuan tomorrow with the Macau coordination commission to discuss with the provincial government, what reconstruction projects the SAR could work on in post-quake Sichuan.

Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau Wah said yesterday the SAR government planned to put no more than five billion patacas as well as another 500 million patacas from the Macao Foundation in the next three to five years towards the Chinese province’s reconstruction.

As well, Mr Ho said Secretary Chui would this time confirm the projects Macau could take part in during the first phase and also make sure the SAR’s public funds would be used legally and appropriately.

Guangyuan city in Sichuan would be a priority and the Macau government would initially offer 300 million patacas on its quake relief efforts, Mr Ho added.

During yesterday’s plenary meeting, the Chief Executive also announced that the setting up of a financial reserve system was already in its final stages of discussion and would be one of the focal areas in the 2009 policy blueprint.

Meanwhile, Mr Ho said the reclamation project was at the final stage of approval in the State Council and the proposed reclaimed areas were of “no big difference” from the original plan.

Lawmaker Au Kam San, who spoke to the media after the two-hour conference, said he was not satisfied with Mr Ho’s responses as they did not touch on the “core issues”.

Mr Au said if the Chief Executive was “serious” about making “an easier governing environment” for his successor, he would hope that Mr Ho would reconstruct a “better internal system” before he stepped down from the government including improving land concession, the public construction system, employment and public housing policies.

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