By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
Secretary for Economy and Finance Francis Tam Pak Yuen said the creation of a world travel and leisure hub in Macau will be able to meet the international market development, as he predicted that developed countries in Asia will enter a “leisure era” in the coming decade.
When questioned by a number of lawmakers about the components or facilities Macau still lacks in order to become a world travel and leisure hub, the secretary stressed that after years of development, the territory has acquired “certain conditions” necessary to achieve the goal, which is “widely recognised by China and local people”.
Tam forecast that in the following 10 years, a “new wave of service economy” will emerge and evolve into a “trend” in developed countries. “Travel, leisure and entertainment will gradually be brought from Europe and the US to Asia, following the rising of a new economic body in Asia,” Tam said.
However, he also pointed out the importance for Macau to meet international standards in the development process.
He said entertainment activities in the SAR have already reached a “relatively high level”, while tourism services and products will also continue to upgrade to meet the market development.
The next important step, the secretary said, is to cultivate a “leisure atmosphere” and consolidate the image of a “south European city” in the territory.
Yet he stressed that if Macau has to maintain its competitiveness and develop in a sustainable way in the tourism and leisure sectors, it is necessary to explore “new elements” and “be well prepared” for the challenges and the “influx of tourists” in the near future.
The secretary also disclosed that China’s Ministry of Science and Technology has recently approved the establishment of a state key laboratory of traditional Chinese medicine in Macau.
Tam said the SAR Government has decided to make it an “open base for international Chinese medicine cooperation” in a bid to help boost the expansion of the industry in Macau.
More gaming regulations
Lawmaker Ho Ion Sang questioned the secretary about the plans to relocate slot machine establishments from residential areas and to raise the casino age limit to 21.
Ho said the number of slot machines and the revenue have jumped at least four-fold since 2005, and retired people and housewives are prone to getting addicted to slot machine gambling.
The secretary clarified that the plans were not put on hold, disclosing that the two draft laws have already entered the legislative process, with the one relating to slot machine venue relocation currently being deliberated in the Executive Council.
Lawmaker Melinda Chan Mei Yi suggested prohibiting casinos from sending promotional text messages to Macau residents and the operations of casino courtesy buses. Tam said they can be taken into consideration but did not comment further.
In response to a number of lawmakers’ concerns about the labour shortage problem among the local small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), Tam encouraged SMEs to hire more skilled workers, in addition to unskilled imported labour, to help expand the business and assure sustainable development.
He denied that the Government has given priority to gaming operators or other large-scale enterprises in the approval of migrant workers.
“The number of imported labour, including those working in the construction sites, hired by the six gaming operators is about 14,000, less than 20 percent of the total employees,” he added.
The recent Policy Address announced that the Government will review the Labour Relations Law and the Imported Labour Law in 2011.
The secretary said the Standing Committee for the Coordination of Social Affairs and the special Imported Labour Law working group will be responsible to study the implementation of the two laws and make suggestions for their revision. However, no further details were disclosed.
The inflows of hot money were another issue that concerned the lawmakers. The secretary stressed that the Government will keep a close eye on the situation.
Property invested by non-residents accounted for 18 percent of the total, and the residential mortgage loan granted to non-residents was below 3,000 cases to date, he said.
Furthermore, Tam told lawmakers that the Consumer Council Organisation Act will be revised and the legislative process has already begun. It is proposed that the council will be given the power to assist consumers in lawsuits caused by consumption disputes.
The Tax Code will also be updated in 2011, he added, so that it becomes “highly efficient and transparent” and keeps up with the social and economic changes in the territory.
The secretary also discussed the fiscal reserve system, which the draft law proposes will be managed by the Monetary Authority (AMCM), saying that it must adopt a “cautious and conservative approach” in its investment policy.
He assured the lawmakers that the AMCM has sufficient experienced professionals to manage and invest the public revenue.
Tam also said that Macau’s foreign exchange reserve, which is managed by the AMCM, did not post a loss but a “reasonable profit” during the global financial crisis between 2008 and 2009.