By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
The government and the Legislative Assembly have decided to change the definition of illegal inns in the bill, so that people who provide accommodation to tourists without a hotel operation license could be prosecuted more effectively.
The First Standing Committee and government representatives continued discussions on the bill to prohibit operations of illegal inns yesterday.
According to committee president Kwan Tsui Hang, after studying the court judgments of alleged illegal inn cases in the past, the standing committee and the government agreed that a “unified understanding” on illegal inns is necessary among Macau’s judicial officers, so as to give greater certainty that operators could successfully be prosecuted.
Hence, Kwan said major amendments will be made in Article 2 of the bill regarding the definition of illegal inns.
Instead of trying to define what an illegal inn is, which the standing committee deemed earlier is a “big challenge”, the bill will change to look at the business activities and related signs to determine whether or not it is illegal hostel accommodation.
“As long as it appears that a person is providing rental accommodation to tourists and without a license, he or she can be punished in line with the new legislation,” Kwan Tsui Hang said.
“We won’t look at whether or not the venue is an inn anymore. This way we can avoid what the courts usually think that since the flat doesn’t fulfill enough legal elements to be regarded as an inn, the allegation of ‘illegal inn’ thus can’t be established,” she added.
Kwan said that there were 34 appeals related to illegal inns filed with the Court of Second Instance as of the end of 2009. The number did not include cases which were rejected by the court on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
Only six appeals were processed to date but the government lost in five of the cases.
Kwan Tsui Hang said the standing committee had spent a long time studying the court judgments in order to find out how illegal inn operations can be tackled in Macau.
At present it is “very unlikely” for the government to punish illegal inn operators, she said, and new legislation is therefore essential in order to effectively combat such kind of malpractice in Macau.
As the definition of this illegal business activity has been decided, Kwan Tsui Hang expected that the discussions will then be moving on a faster pace.
The provisions will be made “clearer” after the amendments and also be able to “fill the existing legal loopholes”, she added.
Kwan stressed that the bill only targets at tourists or transit passengers who don’t have an approval to stay or temporarily live in Macau lawfully. Imported workers holding blue cards thus are excluded from the bill.
In addition, the bill will give the authorities more power and conditions to enter private places and collect evidence.
Kwan Tsui Hang said the standing committee must “try its best” to complete the deliberation as soon as possible, since illegal inns have been “influencing residents’ lives” in Macau.