Emilie Tran: Macau behind the global trend of well qualified civil servants

Monday, July 13, 2009
Issue 761, Page 10 – 11
Word count: 1923
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Believing the civil servants in Macau are in need of an upgrade in their level of professionalism, Emilie Tran said the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Macau SAR is a good time for the government officials to review their performance and start to face the reality that nowadays they have to progress on the same pace as society and the economy.

As an Assistant Professor in the School of Management, Leadership and Government at the Macau Inter-University Institute (IIUM) and a scholar specialising in social sciences, Ms Tran told the Macau Daily Times in an interview that China could provide valuable experience for Macau in regard to raising the standard of civil servants.

Reporter: In what ways could China be a successful example for Macau?

Emilie Tran: I did a PhD dissertation about Chinese politics in the 21st century. My perception towards Chinese politics is that China is going to continue with the one-party rule as long as it advances. It has been proven that the one-party rule has been very very successful in China. When China started the economic reform policy to open up to the outside world, many Chinese scholars were saying might be the one-party rule couldn’t uphold for long and they were always opposing the models of the former Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries. They said that after the economic reform you always had to have a democratic transition. But China has proven this very big theory of political science wrong, saying that it’s possible indeed to have a market economy under one-party rule, or some would say a dictatorship.

We’ve seen other countries such as America and Africa where you had had democratic transitions in the 1980s and 1990s and they were all shifting back towards a more authoritarian rule. Indeed we’re looking at China which has market economy and at the same time a kind of authoritarian rule.

You have many foreigners, businessmen, politicians as well as scholars visiting the Party Schools to give conferences, but I was the first foreign scholar to have been accepted in the Shanghai Party School and to mingle with party officials in the training period. That was very interesting for me to mingle with them and try to understand what was going through their minds studying at those Party Schools.

What do party officials, civil servants basically, learn in a Party School? We expected them to learn about Marxism, the Party’s history and all this propaganda stuff. But I was very surprised to see that in Party School today what we learn is more or less close to what other people learn in non-governmental studies programs like what we have here in IIUM.

Nowadays one thirds of what party officials learn in Party Schools is about propaganda I would say. But this propaganda is always according to the political atmosphere in that particular time. So in the 1950s the propaganda was very much about Mao Zedong, but then in the 1980s and 90s it was the first decade of economic reform in China, there was a lot of Marxism in ideology courses. But then from the late 1990s to now the propaganda had totally disappeared. Party officials no need learn about the Party’s history or read Karl Marx in the text, but they read things like major intellectual works from Western Europeans or Americans. So the Party has shifted totally its ideology. As for the other two thirds of the curriculum, officials learn about public accounting, management and international relations – all these things that were totally impossible in the past in Party Schools. The Party Schools have transformed into schools of public administration in China.

It was also to say that the Communist Party has engaged into a form of professionalization of party officials so there are less party officials but more professional civil servants.

R: This year is the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Macau SAR? What special implications does it have to society?

Ms Tran: It surely has as an anniversary is always a good time for reflection. The Party Schools had dropped their ideology and turned students into more professional government officials who were very well educated and trained with a very strong outlook of the outside world. Macau is always waiting for the central government’s guidelines. But there is one major guideline that Macau has to raise the level of education of its civil servants and government officials in general.

Nowadays if you want to progress and be promoted within the civil service, you have to put forward a better education by undertaking further studies.

I may say a few words about our Master in Government Studies program at this point. In Macau, there are three tertiary institutions, the University of Macau, the Macau Polytechnic Institute and IIUM that offer master’s degree in public administration or government studies. To what extent our master program is different is that we teach in English as our teaching staff are invited from internationally acclaimed scholars from all around the world such as the US, Australia and Europe in which English is a common language.

We want to have access to all the resources including outside people. We would like to invite them to come to our university to share their knowledge. It’s more practical for the best interest of our students to use English as the medium of instruction.

R: You’re saying the civil servants in Macau should raise their level of education?

Ms Tran: I think they should be, because it’s been the trend in China for the last 15 years. When Macau is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the handover, it’s wise for Macau’s civil servants to also look at China in this regard. It’s actually a global trend.

R: Do you think the quality of the local civil service have room to improve?

Ms Tran: Yes of course, I’m very much convinced about that. We’ve seen the economy of Macau changed from one world to another. The public administration here should follow closely the development in the economic world. We need decision makers and civil servants who are able to comprehend the changes. They cannot stick to the old mindset of civil servants – a steady job, nice pay and working environment – this is over. They need further training and to adapt themselves to the new times of Macau.

R: What kind of studies did you do on Macau?

Ms Tran: When I was associated with the University of Macau, I did two studies about the psychological values of Macau people, especially the social impact of the gaming industry on society. We did that study from 2004 to 2006 in the early stages after the opening of the gaming licenses in Macau. In those years many high school students left secondary education to be engaged as croupiers and in the casino industry.

We also found out that apart from the leaving schools issue, when you have both parents working in the casino, maybe they somehow make good money, it means that the children are very much left alone. In traditional Chinese culture, when parents work, the grandparents will usually look after the children. But in Macau that is another case for a very simple reason. Those Macau people with low education working in casinos are rather new migrants to Macau. They’re Macau residents but their parents remained in the mainland. So they cannot provide this kind of family support in terms of child care. In the very first stage, we interviewed many social workers who said that some parents came to them at 10pm and wanted them to look after their children during the night when they were working.

When you leave your children after school without any adult supervision in urban districts of Macau, you have those triads who try to recruit young members by inviting them to play video games and buying them things, and eventually they would be slowly engaged into those minor illegal activities. That was a big concern that we were trying to raise at that time in Macau.

R: Are you working on a project about Hong Kong people’s perception of their identity? Could the same findings be applied to Macau?

Ms Tran: I’m currently engaged in a big survey in Hong Kong which has a think tank called Central Policy Unit or CPU. I’m part of the team who got sponsorship from the CPU for a huge survey. It’s trying to understand the perception of Hong Kong people regarding their identity. How do Hong Kong people perceive themselves as Hong Kong person or Chinese.

Part of the team is doing a survey in a major mainland city targeting at two age groups – Hong Kong students studying in the mainland and Hong Kong people working in the mainland. We want to try to understand whether spending a few years in the mainland, regardless for work or study, does change your identity perception – so you feel more Chinese or closer to China, or maybe you totally dislike your mainland Chinese experience and feel like more a Hong Kong person.

I’m in charge of the part of Hong Kong people in Hong Kong, those who have limited relations with the mainland. I’m trying to find out whether living in Hong Kong does give you a stronger Hong Kong identity or a stronger Hong Kong feeling. And it’s actually no true.

Those are preliminary conclusions as we’re supposed to hand in our final report in February 2010 so I’m not allowed to disclose too many of our results at this stage.

But it seems to me that living in Hong Kong or in the mainland isn’t a major factor that affects our identity but the age.

The older generation who was educated in Hong Kong under the colonial times when textbooks had a strong focus on the United Kingdom and Western Europe, and then pursued tertiary education outside mostly in the UK, Australia or Canada, those ones feel strongly a Hong Kong person. But when you come to a younger age group, who went through the secondary education after the 1997 handover, textbooks had changed a bit and the focus was more on the mainland. And for those people who arrived in the job market at that time when Hong Kong developed a closer link with the mainland, their professional future goes towards the mainland and they feel more Chinese than Hong Kong people.

My aim is to reproduce the same project in Macau but we’re looking for sponsors. In Macau the findings will be very much different because so far we still have more than 50 percent of the local population who were born not in Macau. In Hong Kong, such situation changed in the 1960s when more than half of the Hong Kong people were born in Hong Kong so those people had a strong Hong Kong identity.

Demographically Macau people’s background is very much different. I’m not sure whether we will obtain a similar result that it’s the age group that matters, but in Macau you have most of the adult population who were born in the mainland and came to Macau in their childhood, they might still think themselves as mainland Chinese instead of Macau people. The young Macau people may tend to identify themselves more as Macau people because they grew up in Macau where is now offering more entertainment and fun to the people. So it might be a reverse result as the context is so much different.

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