Another bill put under emergency procedure

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Issue 894, Page 3
Word count: 860
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The bill to restrict the Chief Executive and key officials from working in private business after leaving the government finally entered discussions at the Legislative Assembly. However, the government once again requested to approve the bill under an emergency procedure which put some lawmakers in a dilemma.

The emergency procedure, proposed by the Chief Executive, exempted the bill from being deliberated within a standing committee and therefore, the first and final readings were carried out in just four hours during the plenary meeting on the same day yesterday.

The bill was passed unanimously and will come into effect the next day after it is published in the Official Gazette.

According to Secretary for Administration and Justice Florinda Chan who presented the bill at the legislature, the second term of the SAR government will end on December 19, and “in order to restrain the outgoing Chief Executive and key officials from getting involved in private business, push forward the integrity building in the SAR, safeguard public interest and the government’s impartial image, enhance the SAR’s legal system, and also to avoid a legal vacuum”, the Chief Executive based on Article 156 of the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure requested lawmakers to discuss the bill under an emergency procedure.

However, a number of lawmakers admitted that the request had put them in a dilemma.

On one hand, they said they should support the request since there is less than a week left until the next term of the government takes office, and the bill had its “rightfulness” from the political perspective and also been urged in society for a long time.

Yet on the other hand, they said the emergency procedure put them in a “passive position” and left them no choice, as well as gave them not enough time to optimise all the eight provisions in depth.

Principal officials refer to any of the five secretaries, Anti-Corruption Commissioner, Audit Commissioner, Commissioner General of the Unitary Police Service and also Director-General of the Customs Service.

According to the bill, departing Chief Executive and key officials are not allowed to work in private business at all for one year immediately after their duties are being terminated in the government.

However, the former Chief Executive can start doing so in the second and third years only after an approval is obtained from the incumbent Chief Executive. That means he (refers to Edmund Ho Hau Wah to date) will only be completely free to choose a job starting from the fourth year after leaving the government.

As for former principal officials, they can apply to get the same work approval from the Chief Executive as early as in the second year. And starting from the third year, all the job restrictions applied on them will be lifted.

Yet jobs appointed or assigned by the Chinese central government or the Macau SAR Government; to work for charitable, academic or non-profit institutes appointed by regional or international organisations, or officials who used to be appointed for a 36-month term in the government and are returning to the original post will not be subject to such limitations.

If the job restrictions are being violated, the person could face up to one year imprisonment or a 120-day fine and also be prohibited from holding a government post for five years.

In addition, officials who do not obey the decline to work in private business might be jailed for maximum two years or given a 240-day fine.

Moreover, ex-Chief Executive and key officials will be prohibited from disclosing confidential or non public information acquired when they were still working in the government without a Chief Executive approval.

If such obligation of confidentiality is being breached for personal or third-person interests, the person could be sentenced maximum to three years in jail or fined an equivalent amount.

The officials on the other hand cannot testify as witnesses in criminal procedure if they will be asked about confidential or non-public information in the government, prior to the consent from the Chief Executive.

Ng Kuok Cheong, Au Kam San, Chan Wai Chi and Jose Coutinho were the lawmakers who opposed to adopt the emergency procedure.

They criticised the government for always handing in a bill to the legislature so late and then claiming how necessary it is to exercise the emergency procedure.

Despite there were only four votes against the government’s request, Chan Chak Mo, Ung Choi Kun and Kwan Tsui Hang pointed out deficiencies in the bill.

Chan questioned the absence of “special welfare” to protect the departing officials’ retirement lives while they are restrained from work, and Ung questioned how interactions between the administration and the legislature could be ensured and whether the quality of legislation would be affected if the emergency procedure was used.

Meanwhile, Kwan said the government gave her “no alternative” from the political point of view that she must have to support the use of an emergency procedure.

She stressed that in this situation the bill would be passed “with a lot of room still needing to be improved”, adding she hoped that the government could “make it up” by introducing supplementary regulations to go with the legislation.

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