Lawmakers put hopes on Secretaries’ responses

Thursday, March 18, 2010
Issue 966, Page 1 & 3
Word count: 1568
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Attention is now on the five Secretaries. After yesterday’s question and answer session with Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On regarding the 2010 Policy Address, lawmakers shifted to hope that the Secretaries will be able to provide more substantive details during the policy debates to be held from today.

Secretary for Administration and Justice Florinda Chan will be the first one to present at the legislature from 3pm to 8pm today and tomorrow, where she is expected to further introduce what the government’s plans are for her policy area in the year ahead.

In the question and answer session from 3pm to 6pm, Jose Pereira Coutinho was the first of the 20 lawmakers to pose a question to the Chief Executive, about when Macau would see an increase in the numbers of the Chief Executive Election Committee and the directly elected seats of the Legislative Assembly.

Coutinho was one of the 300 members of that Election Committee, but in the Third Chief Executive Election on July 26 last year he chose to stay in his seat and did not go to the front stage to cast a vote, as a means to express his discontentment about the “small-circle” election method.

Fernando Chui Sai On responded that the SAR government acknowledged the demands for a democratic political system in society. He said that they will widely listen to public opinion this year and strictly follow the Macau Basic Law’s regulations to carry out analysis and research. He did not give any timetable for the matter.

Officials’ accountability

Fernando Chui Sai On revealed that the government official accountability system will be launched this year, “probably in June”.

He said that the system will define what liabilities government officials have to shoulder, including moral, political, administrative and legal accountability.

Regarding government transparency, the Chief Executive mentioned that the revision of the property declaration system will be carried out by the Commission Against Corruption this year, in which officials’ assets will be required to be declared publicly.

He added that the plan has to balance the concern of individual privacy, but reiterated that the government “is willing and has the sincerity” to increase its transparency.

Civil servants’ benefits

Some civil servants might be disappointed at the 2010 Policy Address since it didn’t mention about a pay rise for them.

However, the Chief Executive yesterday announced that the SAR government decided to amend this year the housing, seniority, and family allowances for public workers which have been in effect for 20 years.

Civil servants’ salaries had been raised three times since the establishment of the Macau SAR. The most recent one was in February 2008 when the value of each salary point grew from 55 to 59 patacas.

Fernando Chui Sai On also said that Secretary for Administration and Justice Florinda Chan will be responsible to initiate the study of a pay rise proposal for civil servants. He did not give any other specific details.

In addition, a mechanism is going to be introduced this year to “fairly” handle public workers’ complaints, and the government will look into another mechanism to take care of civil servants who are forced to quit their jobs because of illnesses, the Chief Executive said.

The SAR government also suggests hiring lawyers to help civil servants who get involved in law suits caused by work, as well as reviewing the number of existing government housing in a bid to determine whether or not part of those units can be provided to public workers in need.

Culture, MICE

In regard to support for the cultural and creative and also the MICE industries, the Chief Executive told Angela Leong On Kei that Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Cheong U is going to be the chairman of the Cultural Industry Committee, which will also include members from related associations and individuals.

In addition to a special fund for the cultural and creative industries, he said a new department will be set up in the Cultural Affairs Bureau to assist the industries’ development.

He pointed out that based on the experiences from other countries and regions, to develop cultural and creative industries contain “a certain risk of failure” depending on the “acceptance of the market”. However, he said the SAR government deemed that it is the “right time to do it”, which is also to respond to the Pearl River Delta development plan and the overall planning for Hengqin Island.

As for the convention and exhibition sector, the Chief Executive said the government will focus on training and also hopes to raise local companies’ level of participation from bidding to hosting MICE events, in order to let them gain more experiences and become MICE organisers lastly.

He also said that the final goal being that the sector can operate independently without the need of subsidies. At present around half of the MICE events held in Macau have some kind of official support, he added.

Lawmaker Kwan Tsui Hang was concerned about the revision of Land Law which has been in use for 30 years.

She said that the government’s land management was “disappointing”, and she hoped that the Chief Executive could “face the challenges, take back undeveloped land and prevent businessmen from selling land resources obtained at a very low price”.

Fernando Chui Sai On responded that the SAR government is working on the amendments, including the method of land grants, land areas, deadline for development, land transfer and the use of land. And this year the government will organise a new round of public consultation – the second one since 2008 – on this matter.

He said after the proposal enters into the legislative process, public opinion will be further gathered.

He also reiterated that recalling undeveloped land will be one of the top priorities of his government, adding it will be done according to the land concession contracts and law, and “lawmakers do not need to worry and have to have faith in the government”.

On the other hand, the Chief Executive disclosed that an internal study has been conducted concerning the implementation of a string of measures to support disadvantaged and low-income groups, when the inflation rate reaches beyond three percent and is detached from the increase in residents’ average income.

Macau reported an inflation rate of 1.17 percent in 2009 and the Chief Executive said it remained steady by far.

Although the Policy Address has clearly stated that the government is determined to build 19,000 public housing units by the end of 2012, lawmaker Chan Wai Chi pushed for more since there are already 18,000 applicants on the waiting lists and around 7,800 households have lodged new social housing applications late last year.

Fernando Chui Sai On responded that the government will first deal with the old applicants who have been waiting for years and at the same time increase private housing rental subsidies for them. He added that Secretary for Transport and Public Works Lau Si Io will give a more detailed introduction later regarding the implementation of a scientific research, in a bid to determine how many public housing units should be built to meet Macau’s future demands.

In response to Ho Ion Sang’s inquiry, the Chief Executive said the reclamation project approved by the central government provides “better conditions” for Macau’s old neighbourhood renewal.

He said renewing old districts is to raise residents’ quality of life, but land resources are the key.

Due to the growth in population since 1999 and the past 10 years’ unbalanced support for the gaming industry, Fernando Chui Sai On said Macau’s land resources will be mainly used for social facilities, improving living space and promoting economic diversification in the next decade.

As for the education policy, the Chief Executive hoped that sponsoring body and society can work together with the government in formulating an education development blueprint for Macau.

He said that the SAR has already provided opportunities for every person to receive education and also 15 years of free education, but developing education “is not the government’s unilateral responsibility”, adding a consensus is necessary including the involvement of private sponsoring body which accounts for 93 percent of the local basic education schools.

In addition, the Chief Executive said higher education institutes in Macau will in the future introduce an evaluation system to assist them in performing their educational mission.

Some lawmakers think…

Kwan Tsui Hang said she wasn’t satisfied with the Chief Executive’s response regarding how to protect local workers’ employment opportunities and to prevent misuse of imported worker applications.

“The government always says it will ensure jobs for local people, but it seems to become a slogan now as it never introduces any concrete measures,” she said.

She also deemed that more detailed arrangements and plans need to be confirmed in order to create a true “sunshine government”.

The lawmaker said she hoped to get more supplementary information from government officials in the coming policy debates.

Meanwhile, Ho Ion Sang told reporters there was a “question mark” in his confidence to the government. Although he said the Chief Executive responded to their questions with strong confidence, he wasn’t yet sure whether officials would follow and be dedicated to the government plans.

Jose Pereira Coutinho also said he was looking forward to the policy debate today as a detailed introduction about the measures to improve civil servants’ benefits is expected from the Secretary for Administration and Justice.

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