Eilo Yu Wing Yat: Improve answerability – the first step to accountability

Monday, February 8, 2010
Issue 936, Page 4 – 6
Word count: 3107
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Dr. Eilo Yu Wing Yat, a public administration scholar, hoped Macau’s officials could enhance their level of answerability, which he believed is one of the basic components of accountability in the government.

The Assistant Professor and Coordinator in the Department of Government and Public Administration at the University of Macau (UM) told the Macau Daily Times in an interview that in order to improve officials’ ability to give quality answers in respond to enquiries from lawmakers or society, the government has to first introduce a scientific approach in the policy making process, which will then provide officials with solid and specific information to back up their responses.

Besides accountability, the scholar highlighted the lack of institutionalization in Macau’s public sector. He said that Ho Veng On and Fong Man Chong’s appointments by Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On would not be a concern, as long as the internal rules and operations of the Audit Commission and the Commission Against Corruption can remain the same despite changes in their leaders.

Nevertheless, Dr. Yu said that people are now awaiting Chui’s very first Policy Address which is going to be revealed in March.

“Much importance is attached to the blueprint”, he said, since Chui’s political platform during the election was quite “superficial” and did not tell the people exactly how he is going to fulfill his commitments and solve the problems in Macau.

Reporter: Chui Sai On has assumed office for one month, do you think his “sunshine government” is in good progress?

Dr. Eilo Yu Wing Yat: During the election campaign last July Chui was already facing a lot of problems regarding collusion between businessmen and government officials or integrity building in the government. However, recently he has mentioned about disclosing principal officials’ asset tests so as to give more channels for the public to monitor the government. It to a certain extent has responded to the public demand. I believe no one will object this plan at this moment, but we still have to see how it is going to be executed and what the specific details are. And for these we have to wait until the Policy Address is announced [in March]. But the direction is quite clear, that he is willing to talk about the asset test issue. When Ao Man Long case was revealed, there were discussions about whether or not key government officials’ assets should be made clear to public. But at that time the reactions were quite big and people said it wasn’t necessary as it was a privacy issue. Although it is obvious that the government’s attitude has changed, I believe there are still some obstacles ahead such as what kinds of assets have to be declared or which officials have to declare their assets? Apart from the Chief Executive and the five secretaries, do directors from bureaux and even Executive Council members need to make such declaration? It’s a very complicated matter. It now depends on how “wide” the mechanism will be introduced.

Also, I did not see a clear mechanism for avoiding conflicts of interest in the government. Public servants may not even know the rules very well, or these rules are just very basic and not operational. I think the government will have to put more efforts in this aspect.

(Reporter: How about a principal official accountability system? Does it form part of a sunshine government?) Overall society did not seriously talk about the accountability issue – what do people want key officials to do under the accountability system? Does the restriction of working in private sector after leaving the government count as a kind of accountability? I can see that the public would like government officials to answer their questions more directly, especially during the five secretaries’ individual question and answer sessions at the Legislative Assembly after the Policy Address is announced. Many lawmakers and civilians often were not satisfied with the secretaries or other related officials’ responses. Some lawmakers even told me the answers from the government to their interpellations were not what they were asking about. One of the most basic things of accountability is answerability – how capable a person is to answer enquiries. It seems that Macau is still weak in this area. Former Legislative Assembly president Susanna Chou has also said that officials’ abilities to answer lawmakers’ questions are very different between one and the other.

Perhaps, firstly, the officials aren’t very used to explain policies externally, and secondly, if the policy isn’t made scientifically, the officials won’t be able to completely explain why the government has to do things in a certain way.

Therefore, when we’re talking about accountability, officials have to first learn how to improve their answerability and more importantly, the government has to be determined to implement a scientific decision and policy making mechanism.

R: There are many voices urging the government to increase its transparency. How difficult will that be for the government?

Dr. Yu: A good policy usually doesn’t come out all in a sudden. We foresee some problems or we hope to solve some problems and therefore we will plan various solutions ahead. Before or even after the plans are introduced, the government can seek opinions from the public and it doesn’t have to be a very formal public consultation. Through the media or speech by someone, the public can learn about a upcoming policy which allows the government to ‘test’ people’s reactions. And when the policy is finally being implemented, the government can further consult the public. This is also what we call transparency. Will the government through different channels let the public know what it’s thinking? But I think officials have been too cautious because they’re worried about leaking confidential information of the government. Therefore, after a policy is rolled out, the public may not be so satisfied with it or feel difficult to adapt to it shortly. Government officials have to start learning how to listen to the people and different voices during the policy-making process.

In addition, I think the level of policy research in Macau is still slowly developing rather than in a mature stage. Most of the time solutions are proposed when problems occur and thus the government might not have thought about the solutions thoroughly and they are not at its best. Of course it’s unavoidable sometimes in emergency situation that problems occur unexpectedly. But if we want a stable society, it is necessary for the government to prepare in advance a series of measures or policies based on different situations or problems they predict would happen sooner or later. It’s what we call a ‘garbage can model’ of policy making – a lot of people in the government are already thinking a variety of solutions and forecasting future problems, so that whenever one of these problems become a reality, they can easily search for a corresponding solution in the ‘garbage can’ and solve the problem. It doesn’t mean that those solutions are ‘rubbish’ because they’re from a garbage bin, they are completely ‘usable’ after just some small amendments to meet the real situation. I know some government departments are doing this [‘garbage can model] but not in a large scale.

R: Has a lot of attention been put on Chui Sai On’s first Policy Address to be out in March? Why?

Dr. Yu: During the election campaign, Chui Sai On’s political platform was generally superficial. People couldn’t see any specific details and what measures would be given priority. And therefore, a lot of importance is being attached to this Policy Address, which even signals how Chui is going to fulfill his commitments during the next five years of office.

However, people cannot expect that the government can solve a lot of problems within a short period of time, they were a bit unrealistic in the past. Yet the government still has to give the public a picture or a vision about how it is going to solve all the contradictions in society, improve living standards and enhance integrity step by step. I think his policy blueprint should mention about these few aspects.

R: Were the statements given by President Hu Jintao on Macau’s 10th anniversary celebrations influential to the future development of the territory?

Dr. Yu: He had said a lot of things at the time but if you look back not long ago in December during the Macau Basic Law conference in Beijing, Wu Bangguo [Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress] has said clearly that the Macau government has to administrate the city in line with law and build quality systems. This is exactly the main problem Macau is facing – having an unsound system. There have been a lot of loopholes in Macau’s systems since the Portuguese administration. The legal system is lagging behind and only people can improve the situation, but then you may find corruption or collusion between officials and businessmen when you rely on people too much. After the Ao Man Long case, the public started to doubt such operation model.

Hence, institutionalization and a system reform are getting more and more significant in Macau. However Chui Sai On didn’t talk much about it during his campaign. I am worried about whether the government has the determination to make its operation more institutionalized, because it will get a lot of vested interests in society involved. The central government has already highlighted the problem but it’s very hard to be solved.

Institutionalization in politics means that the systems will not change because of the people. To be simple, we will have a lot more rules and regulations that everyone has to follow and will not vary among people and situations. Macau has a lot of rules and regulations but many of them allow government officials to interpret in their own ways, which is also known as discretion. Most of the time civil service corruption occurs because of the increase in this discretionary power.

Of course when we have rules and regulations with lesser discretion we will need to sacrifice in return as things will take longer to process, but it seems that many places in the world also have to deal with the same situation and opt for institutionalization.

R: The former head of the Chief Executive Office Ho Veng On is now the Audit Commissioner. Do you think there is contradiction in the two roles as his new position is mainly to inspect Edmund Ho Hau Wah’s performance?

Dr. Yu: This is exactly what I was just talking about the issue of institutionalization. Is that the function of the Audit Commissioner will change once the leader is changed? If we believe that our systems are healthy and will not vary among people, I don’t think your question will be a concern. Recently society has posed a question which I found is interesting – Is the audit system having problems and too much discretionary power so that it can’t be well monitored and thus arouses such suspicion [regarding Ho Veng On’s appointment] in the public?

Yet at this stage I believe the current audit system is good. I only got worried about the Audit Commission’s work when lawmaker Vong Hin Fai said that the commission should not announce its audit reports to the public. From the administrative point of view, the government would be moving backward because it’s not transparent anymore and is completely contradictory to a sunshine government.

R: How about the new Anti-Corruption Commissioner Fong Man Chong? Shouldn’t have the government promoted one of the deputy commissioners in CCAC instead of appointing a judge with no practical experience in such field?

Dr. Yu: First I won’t comment on the person himself because I also can’t explain why the government has appointed Fong Man Chong to lead the CCAC.

Cheong U also did not have any experience when he started and in fact not many people in Macau do have related experience against corruption. I have no idea after 10 years of establishment whether or not there are other personnel inside the CCAC who might have greater ability to be the Commissioner, but it’s an option that the government could consider.

However when you look at Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), the Commissioners also don’t come from within the force necessarily. As I have said the key is whether the system or operation will always remain the same despite changes in key personnel.

The problem here is the public do not trust the appointment. Actually it’s acceptable to appoint a judge because we usually see judges as neutral and independent, but his sister is allegedly involved in the Ao Man Long case. If the government really did not have other candidates, it should have done better in explaining to the public why he was chosen. The background of the Anti-Corruption Commissioner is even more important than that of the other principal officials due to the nature of the position. So now how could people have confidence in his ability to enhance integrity in Macau?

R: The Hong Kong SAR Government is currently holding a public consultation on the methods for selecting the Chief Executive and for forming the Legislative Council in 2012, which Donald Tsang said is to “pave the way for universal suffrage elections of the Chief Executive in 2017 and the entire Legislature in 2020”. Do you think the results of this reform will pose any impact to Macau’s democratic development?

Dr. Yu: Certainly yes I suppose. You can see the “after-eighty generation” in Hong Kong and in Macau is very different from each other. Nevertheless, whatever happens in Hong Kong there will be direct or indirect influences on Macau.

It is also time for Macau to talk about political reform. In the last direct legislative election, almost all the candidate lists talked about it. During Edmund Ho Hau Wah’s governance over the past 10 years, I think both the government and some traditional powers in society were trying to avoid this topic. But right now the atmosphere has been changed seemingly as more people are willing to talk about it. I believe there will be more and more voices in society joining this force but it’s hard to say now whether or not Macau will eventually make a big step towards democratic development. It is because we don’t see many new rising associations apart from the New Macau Association and recently the Civic Power headed by my colleague Agnes Lam Iok Fong. We should encourage more different people in society to join the discussions.

R: Chui Sai On’s Mandarin proficiency level has been mentioned, or somehow criticized, by the South China Morning Post and CNN Hong Kong, and “remixed” videos of his inaugural speech on December 20 are also available on YouTube. What did all these show here?

Dr. Yu: First, I’m not qualified to comment on his Mandarin level as I don’t speak very well either. But I think there is an implication: the problem isn’t only about his Mandarin, but is whether or not he has the capability to finish the job better. We understand that we may not speak Mandarin as good as our mother tongue, but are there ways to remedy the performance? Could we try our best to improve the pronunciation of the speech that last perhaps just 30 seconds? I believe this showed that how Chui Sai On looks at and handle problems. I’m also worried about the capability of his think tank because the incident showed that they could not assist Chui in solving the problems. Their thinking maybe too simple and ignores things that actually have a deeper meaning behind.

R: Let’s move on to the Legislative Assembly. The seven Chief Executive-appointed lawmakers are generally believed to be pro-government, do you think this description is justified?

Dr. Yu: I think for sure they must be [pro-government] under such political system. Who appointed them? The Chief Executive. Their power and the reason for them to enter the legislature came from the administrative authority, so certainly they have to support the Chief Executive and the authority. You can say this system is not fair, which makes the legislature dominated by pro-government voices. However, if you look at the root of the system, it’s not surprising that these lawmakers are on the government’s side. Nevertheless, I don’t think Macau needs Chief Executive-appointed lawmakers. Why we need them? Some people say that the government wants some professional voices in the Legislative Assembly, but it’s not the reason in the current environment. We do need professional opinions, but they should be fully reflected in society before a bill is to be passed. Even among the professionals they could have different points of view, and it’s not necessary that there is only one single side of professional opinion. In contrast, we should have a platform to gather and encourage professional opinions which will then be viewed by lawmakers.

(Reporter: How about lawmakers who are also an Executive Council member?) This is a very interesting topic. It involves how their relationship with the government is. When the government appoints a lawmaker, regardless he or she is directly or indirectly elected, to join the Executive Council, it means that the government agrees with his or her mindset. Therefore, I don’t think lawmaker cum Executive Council members must be pro-government. Their political stance is to a certain extent recognised by the voters and they are supported by a number of people in Macau.

R: The government has last year set up three Community Services Advisory Committees responsible for Macau’s central and north districts and also Taipa, which are to encourage young people to discuss politics and get involved in it. How effective are these committees so far?

Dr. Yu: Some opinions in society deem that their effectiveness is limited. I don’t oppose the system but it needs to be adjusted continuously so as to make civilians’ voices truly enter the government’s policy-making process. Currently the members of the committees are from the few same associations, which is fine. But the problem is, what I heard is that in the meetings the secretary records what the members have discussed and proposed, afterwards the government will give a response and that is it. As such, the committees cannot help further upgrade the quality of policies. There is no solid communication between the committees and the government. Not only does these committees’ function has to be reinforced, but also the many other advisory committees in Macau. The files usually close after the talking is finished. The government doesn’t make good use of this platform to solve problems.

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