By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
After a continuous battle between individuals, including lawmakers, and the Government over the past few months, the Executive Council announced yesterday that the judicial aid bill will be amended so that civil servants will not be able to sue a third person by using the public funds.
As such, Article 4 of the draft law will be eliminated completely.
In other words, a public worker can apply for the Government’s financial help only when he or she is being sued due to execution of public duties.
The spokesman of the Executive Council, Leong Teng Heng, said that Article 1 will be revised so that the Chief Executive, principal officials and judges will be excluded from the bill and cannot benefit from the judicial aid.
Leong also said that an independent commission will be formed to oversee the applications.
Although the bill has passed the first reading in August, some lawmakers, the journalist associations, as well as former president of the Legislative Assembly Susana Chou have expressed concerns and criticised the bill especially Article 4, fearing that the mechanism would be misused by civil servants and thus jeopardise freedom of the press and freedom of speech.
“After listening to the public’s opinions extensively, the Executive Council has carried out a study on the bill. We understand the concerns in society and respect the opinions. After a thorough discussion the Executive Council has decided to amend the bill,” Leong told reporters.
The Government will submit an updated draft law to the legislature after it resumes meetings starting October 16.
Meanwhile, the spokesman disclosed that the Government is working on a revision on the regular judicial aid system that also covers members of the general public.
He said that the draft will be launched for public consultation in October.
In response to the changes, political commentator Larry So Man Yum told the Macau Daily Times that he is “very happy” to see that the Government has accepted the public opinion and removed the entire controversial Article 4 that had evokes such a strong response from the public.
So said the decision is a demonstration of “a sunshine and open government”, hoping that in the future the Government can continue to listen to what local people think.
However, he pointed out that the incident has shown that the Government had acted “rashly” in launching draft laws without a strong support from the public.
“[The Government] continued to defend [the bill] without understanding clearly the situation. If the article was removed earlier, the disputes would not have resulted in society,” So said.