Gov’t denies allegations in Galaxy land deal

Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Issue 877, Page 3
Word count: 1102
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Secretary for Transport and Public Works Lau Si Io admitted to lawmakers that Macau’s Land Law was outdated, but at the same time insisted that there was no wrongdoing in Galaxy’s Cotai land grant.

The secretary and other principal public works officials attended the plenary meeting at the Legislative Assembly yesterday to give direct responses to the lawmakers, who had previously handed in written interpellations regarding land concession, public housing as well as public transportation.

Secretary Lau told lawmaker Au Kam San in the early days after the 1999 handover, Macau’s economy was in a “bad shape” and no significant change was seen in the overall social and economic situations.

In 2002 the SAR government officially signed gaming concession contracts with other companies including Galaxy Casino S.A., which later applied for land grants in the same year.

Due to the economic condition at that time, the secretary said that construction of large-scale gaming projects would create more employment and business opportunities for Macau, benefit the promotion of diversified development in the gaming sector, and also facilitate the tourism and service industries.

He stressed that the Cotai land parcel was part of the development plans Galaxy presented when bidding for the gaming operating license.

“The government had strictly based on the law and regulations when approving the Cotai land grant application… the project met the SAR government’s city planning to develop the Cotai Strip into a tourism and gaming hub,” Secretary Lau said.

“Moreover, at the time when the SAR government was approving the land, it had consulted other gaming operators if they were willing to invest in the Cotai Strip but none of them showed interest,” he added.

The secretary also told the Assembly the first draft of Galaxy’s Cotai land grant contract was issued by the government back in 2006, which was accepted by the company in the same year.

However, Au in his interpellation also questioned why the government “awarded” Kerry Properties Ltd. for not performing its land development commitments and not paying four installments of premiums totaling at nearly 280 million patacas.

Kerry Properties was granted a piece of some 28,000 square metre land parcel in Cotai in mid-1996 for the construction of an exhibition and convention centre. The land was within the large plot of land Galaxy applied to acquire for its flagship property.

Therefore, in order to void the contract and recall the land, the government promised Kerry Properties a residential land parcel in another location in exchange for the one in Cotai.

Secretary Lau explained that in 2002 negotiations were already begun with Kerry Properties. “In consideration of the integrity of Galaxy’s development project and the advantages it could bring to Macau, the government decided to give the company [Kerry Properties] a land parcel with a value equals to how much premiums it had already paid years ago in order to recall the Cotai land as soon as possible,” he said.

If the government delayed the land approval to Galaxy, Secretary Lau said litigation might be conducted against the government.

He also said that the issue with Kerry Properties was the main reason that made the official land grant contract take almost seven years to get gazetted.

Meanwhile, the officials said that they recognised the importance of having up-to-date law. Due to the rapid development in Macau’s society and economy over the recent years, revisions in land-related law and regulations had already been implemented.

“Since there are discrepancies between the provisions of Land Law and Macau’s current condition, the government has activated reviews and revision works on Land Law and other complementary regulations in early 2008,” Secretary Lau said.

In addition, an academic institute was commissioned early this year to conduct research on the revisions and an expert panel was set up which will submit a proposal to the government in 2010.

The secretary said that the revision bill will first be drafted based on the expert panel’s opinions and research findings, and after that public opinions will be collected to further optimise the content.

Public housing

In response to lawmaker Ho Ion Sang’s written interpellation, Secretary Lau said that in a bid to “listen to different voices in society and come up with quality public housing policies”, the SAR government will carry out a feasibility study regarding the founding of a “public housing affairs advisory committee”.

The initial idea was that the committee will be composed of representatives from the Housing Bureau, other related government departments, professional groups as well as some social organisations, the secretary added.

On the other hand, the new regulation relating to the application requirements of economic housing is already in the legislative process, Secretary Lau said, adding it will be handed in to the Assembly for discussions “as soon as possible”.

He stressed that the existing economic housing waiting list will be maintained, yet the income ceiling and requirements in asset declarations may be adjusted if necessary.

In order to ensure the progress and flexibility in public housing construction, the SAR government has changed to directly fund the construction instead of granting the projects to private developers.

The TN27 economic housing in Taipa was the first project designed and being constructed completely by the government.

Public transportation

Secretary Lau reiterated at the Assembly that the latest public tenders for the management and operating contracts of six car parks were not a means used by the government to raise the parking fees in the future.

According to the existing legislation, adjustments in parking fees in public car parks could only be confirmed by the “Parking Regulations” approved by the Chief Executive.

In addition, the secretary said that the government had “no intention” to modify parking fees through the recent public tenders.

However, he said that the parking fees in Macau were cheap in comparison with neighboring regions, and following the on-going development in society, it would be “necessary” to adjust the fees within the next four to six years.

A social consensus must be obtained before such adjustment is to be introduced, the secretary added.

On the other hand, he revealed that multiple transport and public works departments have already started research on a 10-year work plan in relation to Macau’s transport policy in the middle of this year.

Short-, mid- and long-term goals focusing on the use of public transportation, infrastructure and traffic management will be set and scheduled to be achieved in 2012, 2015 and 2020 respectively.

The secretary also said the Transport Bureau will use one year to collect public opinions by phases which will be integrated with scientific proofs so as to resolve Macau’s traffic problems effectively.

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