Galaxy land deal hearing unnecessary, Assembly told

Friday, November 13, 2009
Issue 868, Page 2
Word count: 793
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The motion to conduct a hearing on the Galaxy land grant failed to get the support from half of the lawmakers, who deemed that the proposal was unnecessary and also inappropriate. The result was disappointing for the three pro-democracy lawmakers, yet not too much of a surprise.

The motion, filed jointly by Au Kam San, Ng Kuok Cheong and Chan Wai Chi in an attempt to summon specific government officials and company executives to the legislature and explain about the Cotai land concession, was turned down yesterday.

Of the 24 lawmakers in the plenary meeting, seven voted in favour of the motion, 14 voted against and three abstained from casting their votes.

The motion could only be passed by getting a minimum of 15 votes. Au had told the MDTimes last week he knew that the proposal must not be gone through due to the “structure of the legislature”

Au Kam San, Ng Kuok Cheong, Chan Wai Chi, Kwan Tsui Hang, Jose Pereira Coutinho, Ung Choi Kun and Ho Ion Sang – who are all directly elected lawmakers – were on the same side to back up the significance of the hearing, while Lam Heong Sang (indirectly elected), Melinda Chan Mei Yi and also Lee Chong Cheng (both directly elected) refrained from voting.

All the seven Chief Executive-appointed lawmakers were against the motion.

Chan Chak Mo said although he “appreciated” the three lawmakers’ determination to safeguard the public interest, conducting a hearing would not be a “right approach” since a Land and Public Concession Affairs Follow-up Committee has already been established to specially look into Macau’s land related issues.

Fong Chi Keong said that he did not agree with Au, Ng and Chan who suspected the Galaxy land deal of having involved “collusion between officials and businesspeople”, adding that the SAR government should continue the “preferential policy” in granting land parcels to gaming operators.

“Galaxy wasn’t the only company to enjoy such condition, so shouldn’t we conduct six different hearings?” Fong said.

He also said that a 2.9 billion pataca land premium was “not cheap at all”, and “It’s normal to seek financing for such a large investment… If you build a hotel in the mainland the Chinese government will even give you the land for free”.

Meanwhile, Tsui Wai Kwan told the Legislative Assembly the core of the problem was not about whether the land grant was legal, despite he then added that legitimacy must exist as the concession contract had been officially gazetted.

Tsui said that attention should be paid to the weaknesses of the entire land concession regime, the administrative procedures (Galaxy lodged the land application in 2002) and also the deadline for land development.

“Over the past few years over 300 land concessions were approved, why do we need to conduct a hearing on one of the concessions in particular?” he added.

In addition, Mak Soi Kun, Sio Chi Wai, Lam Heong Sang, Vitor Cheung Lup Kwan, Vong Hin Fai, Tong Io Cheng and Melinda Chan Mei Yi either said that such a hearing would not be the most effective way to solve the problem, or the government’s explanation had already proved legitimacy in the land deal.

Some of them also pointed out that the Venetian was also given the same right to transfer land tenancy to third parties back in 2007, and therefore doubted why no one opposed it at that time if it was unjustified.

In contrast, Jose Pereira Coutinho said he believed that a hearing would be appropriate and effective to give a much clearer explanation to the public.

He said that the SAR government was not equally treating all the six gaming operators, as Pansy Ho Chiu King from MGM Grand Paradise and Ambrose So from SJM had already criticised the Cotai land grant to Galaxy.

The other lawmakers who believed in the necessity of the hearing also said that only by having face to face dialogues between relevant individuals or officials and the lawmakers, could public doubts be cleared and the government’s credibility be safeguarded.

Ung Choi Kun told the Assembly the government had the responsibility to further explain Galaxy’s land deal to Macau people, especially when it was of “national interest” (according to the Basic Law the land of Macau belongs to China).

Assembly’s 2010 budget

The plenary meeting yesterday also saw the unanimous passage of the Legislative Assembly’s 2010 budget.

The total budget is at 82 million patacas, up by 5.1 percent year on year or four million patacas when compared to the initial budget of 2009.

In addition, the amount in recurrent expenditure is more than double than that of last financial year, including monthly allowance to lawmakers, operational expenses for lawmakers’ offices’ as well as expenses to hire lawmakers’ assistants.

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