Leong Heng Teng: Macau cannot copy what neighbouring cities have done

Thursday, August 26, 2010
Issue 1099, Page 2 & 3
Word count: 2020
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Since the establishment of the SAR almost 11 years ago, Macau has had lawmakers who are also members of the Executive Council at the same time, and society has often questioned the possible conflict between the two posts more than agreed with this political phenomenon.

Leong Heng Teng, who has been an executive councillor since 1999, was also a directly-elected lawmaker representing the General Union of the Neighbourhood Associations (UGAMM) between 1991 and 2009.

During his 10 years experiencing what it was like to be an executive councillor-cum-lawmaker, Leong told the Macau Daily Times that the ‘dual role’ can facilitate information exchange and communication between the Executive Council and the Legislative Assembly, making draft laws more complete and able to meet the public’s expectation.

However, even with an executive-led political system that does not mean that Macau doesn’t need the legislature, which “in fact is very valuable”, he argues, stressing that Macau cannot copy exactly what the neighbouring cities have done.

In addition, being the chairman of UGAMM, Leong’s daily contacts with local residents told him that the Macau Government’s primary task at present is to tackle the housing issue, adding that it’s their responsibility to improve people’s livelihood.

Reporter: In what ways has your performance in the Executive Council changed since last year after you’re no longer a lawmaker?

Leong Heng Teng: For sure I can stay more concentrated on my work in the Executive Council.
From the time perspective, my work schedule wasn’t as tight as before [when still a lawmaker]. I would say right now it’s easier for me to allocate my work and time.

The Basic Law has stated the structure and role of the Executive Council which is formed by key Government officials, lawmakers and social figures. So it’s necessary to have people who are an executive councillor and also a lawmaker at the same time.

Some analysts say that there is role conflict between the two posts, but some also say that it is beneficial for the interactions between the executive and the Legislative Assembly.
Through the executive councillors, the legislature can learn more deeply about the draft laws and policies of the Government. Executive councillors-cum-lawmakers act as a bridge between the two institutions.

The executive councillors are to assist the Chief Executive in making major policies, as well as to present opinions, based on their work experiences, in deliberating administrative regulations and draft laws in order to make them as good as possible.This is a responsibility that we must have to fulfill in the Executive Council.
As for the Legislative Assembly, its responsibility is to monitor the Government and make sure that it is governing Macau in line with law.

R: What did you learn from your “dual role”?

Mr Leong: During the 10 years of my executive councillor-cum-lawmaker experience, I found that the public opinion wasn’t necessarily different from that of the Government.
Government policies have to reflect residents’ interests and the needs arisen from social development.
When I was a lawmaker, I had to express the demands of local people and in the social service area – which are the work of UGAMM that I represented for. Thus in 2005 I presented to the legislature the concept of a double-tier social security system, which later became a major Government policy and was submitted back to the legislature in the form of a draft law for deliberation.

There is common ground between residents’ demands and policy making, since the Government has to know what the public are thinking when formulating policies.
Of course an executive councillor has to comply with the rules in the council, but in the meantime, a lawmaker needs to work hard to fulfill his/her commitments and political platform announced during the electoral campaign.

R: Did you ever encounter a dilemma?

Mr Leong: There could be a real problem – if a Government-drafted bill is completely against the public’s view, how should we cast our votes at the legislature? Of course at the end we must have to make a choice. We need to execute our political platforms and fulfill the commitments we’ve made to the voters.

During my 10 years fortunately I didn’t see a bill that was completely opposed by the people.
It’s a topic that is very much worth discussing. Sometimes a political system is not designed to have an absolute yes or no. During the process the “yes” may account for 70 percent and the “no” for 30 percent. There are advantages and also disadvantages about it. So what we can do is to expand the advantages – enhancing the interactions between the executive and the legislature. The ultimate goal is the same that Macau can be made a better city and we can contribute to the people.

R: But it sounds that the duties of a lawmaker and an executive councillor are somehow overlapping, since in both cases responsibility is to express opinions to the Government?

Mr Leong: Yes I think they overlap but it doesn’t matter.
Lawmakers usually focus on livelihood issues in their speeches before the agenda of the day begins in a plenary meeting, such as the light rail, transport or regional cooperation.
These are exactly the areas that the Government has to deal with.

The Legislative Assembly doesn’t only make laws, it also has to oversee the Government.
The Executive Council is more or less the same. Councillors have to think about what kind of impact an administrative regulation or a draft law may bring to social development and to what extent the public will accept it.

For example the minimum wage may give workers higher income, but it may also cut some jobs and even make a group of people become jobless.
The large enterprises may have stronger capability to afford a minimum wage, but the small and medium enterprises may suffer a lot.
During the process, lawmakers can make use of their backgrounds and knowledge to make suggestions in order to complete the policy.

We cannot copy exactly what the neighbouring cities have done, it’s impossible. It’s exactly why we need the Legislative Assembly. After the Executive Council finishes discussing a bill, it will then be delivered to the legislature [for further discussions]. So the legislature acts like the second watchdog.

Macau has an executive-led political system but it doesn’t mean that we don’t need the legislature, which, in fact is very valuable.
But there is quite a lot of room for cooperation and interactions between the two organisations.

R: So how will you comment on the level of cooperation between them now?

Mr Leong: The Government submitted the draft bills concerning public school teachers and six medical professional/ personnel’s career regimes not long before the Legislative Assembly had to enter the summer break.
The president of the standing committee that was responsible to deliberate the bills, Cheang Chi Keong, is also an executive councillor-cum-lawmaker so he was more familiar with the bills and his role could facilitate information exchange and communication between the two sides.

The highly efficient deliberation and the ability to obtain a relatively high consensus despite a lot of different points of view in society showed that the current interaction between the legislature and the Executive Council is working.

R: How about the quality concerns when a bill can be passed within such a short period of time?

Mr Leong: Lawmakers have to be responsible to society and we need to have confidence in them. They won’t cast an irresponsible vote.
No matter how rush the discussion process is, if there is no consensus the bill can’t be passed. For example the bill to lower the criminal liability age was set aside eventually because a lot of lawmakers questioned it.

But of course, as the legislature has mentioned a lot of time, the Government has to give the lawmakers enough time and conditions [to discuss and pass a draft law].
Also there are some background information and statistics that the Government should have provided to the lawmakers in the beginning.

Yet, we can see that the Government has started to take the initiative to present policies to the legislature such as the new reclaimed land project and light rail transit. I would say that communication between the two is getting more active nowadays.

R: There are comments in society that some Government officials are being appointed too many posts simultaneously. What do you think about this?

Mr Leong: Part of the appointments are overlapped but we can also see that there are new and young faces in different committees since the commencement of the third-term SAR Government. But of course I don’t agree that an official can be assigned to work in a lot of different committees or offices. It’s not beneficial [to the Government or society].

A reform or optimisation in public administration is a major project. Many issues nowadays require the effort of many different departments but the Government can’t set up a cross-department committee each time or otherwise the administrative structure will keep expanding.

However, it also depends on what kind of appointment it is. For example the Cultural Industry Committee is an advisory body which requires the expertise of economic and tourism departments as well. It only holds two big meetings in a year so it’s different from a post that needs you to work in the office all day long.

People are mostly commenting on the situation of Alexis Tam Chon Weng [head of the Chief Executive’s Office]. Seemingly he has a lot of posts but in fact he isn’t the one who needs to be physically there and handle the matters day by day. He is the one to make decisions, and liaise and communicate with different parties. Macau for sure is having more and more talents nowadays, but we don’t yet have many who are really familiar with and can understand Macau very well.

R: What do you think Macau people need the most right now?

Mr Leong: Overall speaking it’s housing. There are more job opportunities in Macau nowadays, but private property prices have been climbing rapidly and already exceeded what most local people can afford. Therefore the demand for public housing has increased, yet there were some deficiencies in the public housing construction and policy implemented by the Government in the past years.

Community facilities including green areas and recreational facilities are also what local people are longing for. Nevertheless, housing is still the hottest issue especially in a Chinese community like Macau.

Currently the biggest hole, or deficiency, in our social security system is housing. Therefore, if the housing problem can be tackled, I believe the whole social security system in Macau can become more complete.

R: Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On has in his Policy Address said that a public consultation on a democratic political system will be launched this year. Is the promise going to be met?

Mr Leong: Secretary for Administration and Justice Florinda Chan will represent the Government to answer this question when responding to interpellations. I won’t be able to answer that.

A man devoted to social service

Born in 1947 in Macau, Leong Heng Teng was a lawmaker since 1991. In 1999 after the transfer of sovereignty of Macau to mainland China, he was also appointed executive councillor assisting the Chief Executive in formulating administrative regulations and draft laws.

By 2009 he decided not to run for the 4th Legislative Assembly election, marking the end of his 18 years of life as a lawmaker. Yet, he remained in the Executive Council and on December 21, 2009 he became the council’s spokesperson, succeeding Tong Chi Kin.

Holding a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Jinan University in Guangzhou, Leong has been seriously involved in Macau’s social services work for years and is the chairman of the General Union of the Neighbourhood Associations (UGAMM), the largest non-governmental social service organisation in Macau.

In December 2009, Leong was one of three recipients of the Golden Lotus Medal of Honour, a recognition of his individual achievements, social contribution and outstanding performance in serving Macau.

He has been recently appointed vice-president of the Cultural Industry Committee, which is an advisory body led by Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Cheong U aiming to assist the Government in outlining development policies, strategies and measures for the industry.


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