By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On denied yesterday that the government lacks a long-term public housing policy, stressing that 6,000 more units will be constructed after 2012 but refused some lawmaker’s requests to increase the number to 40,000.
The Chief Executive attended the three-hour plenary meeting at the Legislative Assembly to answer questions from 23 lawmakers concerning a variety of topics from public housing, education, public administration and Macau’s development, to environmental protection, labour affairs and support to small and medium enterprises.
One of the most popular topics was the progress of the 19,000 public housing units the government promised to build by the end of 2012 and whether or not the applications for social and affordable housing would be reopened this year.
The top official reiterated the government’s continuous efforts to strive to complete the task before the due date, adding that the construction of the 19,000 units should all begin by September this year.
He also disclosed that the government plans to build an additional 6,000 public housing units after 2012, of which 3,500 are in the planning stage and land has been reserved for another 2,500.
He pointed out that in the future, social housing will consist of a bigger portion of the city’s public housing, whilst affordable housing will become secondary.
As of the end of 2010, there were 30,890 households living in government-owned properties, the head of the government said.
As the deliberation concerning the draft law on affordable housing was recently completed to be presented for final reading at the legislature today, Chui Sai On promised that once the law is approved, the allocation of the new affordable housing complex in Rua da Tranquilidade do Hipodrómo, Iao Hon, will begin as soon as possible for eligible residents on the waiting list.
Lawmaker Ng Kuok Cheong questioned whether the Chief Executive could make a promise to build 40,000 public housing units and introduce a three-year waiting period for eligible applicants.
However, Chui said he would be “very worried” if the government were to increase the target to 40,000, adding that households on the current waiting lists had already waited a considerable time and promised to give them priority to move into the 19,000 units.
The Chief Executive also said it is “not practical” to make a commitment right now to construct a large number of affordable housing units, as “the government has to balance the interests of residents with private properties”.
He explained that there is “interaction between the affordable housing and private property markets”, and therefore the government needs to take into consideration “the health of the overall real estate sector in order to prevent the interests of locals with private properties from being affected by “any fluctuation in the market”.
Yet the Chief Executive did not comment on when public housing applications may open again, which lawmaker Au Kam San believed would allow the government to understand the demand and ensure better planning in the future.
Meanwhile, Chui Sai On said he had received the petition letter signed by 10 residents on Wednesday who demanded the resumption of their eligibility for social housing applications.
He pointed out that after discussing with Secretary for Transport and Public Works Lau Si Io yesterday, it has been agreed that the government would review the 10 cases “one by one” and attend to them as soon as possible “according to the laws and the actual situation”.
In response to the recent historic downgrade of the United States credit rating and the possible subsequent impact to the global economy, Chief Executive Chui Sai On assured that “Macau’s economic foundation is strong enough to resist external fluctuations”.
He also said a majority of local assets are in Hong Kong dollars and therefore it remains a “relatively better choice” to peg the pataca to the Hong Kong currency.
Thanks to the booming tourism and gaming industries, the back-up from the Mainland’s positive economic prospects as well as the 12th five-year plan, the Chief Executive predicted that there will be favourable conditions to support the territory’s future development and also provide opportunities for regional cooperation.
Nevertheless, despite an optimistic forecast of Macau’s overall performance in 2011, he stressed that the government will be aware of any instability in the external economy as well as carry out regular risk assessments and be well prepared for the implementation of the fiscal reserve system next year.
Asked by lawmaker Tsui Wai Kwan about the launch of livelihood measures, the Chief Executive said he anticipated the city may report an inflation rate of over 5 percent for the whole year of 2011.
He vowed that the government will closely monitor the trend of soaring price levels during the year especially the impacts on the disadvantaged group.
If inflation continues to worsen, he added that measures to aid the 5,300 underprivileged households will be launched and the function of food banks will also be strengthened. The plan to rein in inflation will cost the government MOP 10 billion, he said.
On the other hand, the Chief Executive said the SAR Government has commissioned the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the Institute for Tourism Studies and the Policy Research Centre to examine plans for Macau to become a world travel and leisure hub.
He said Macau needs to step up efforts to diversify the source of visitors, admitting that it is a “hard process” that requires cooperation from the government and society.
Nevertheless, despite continued development in the city, Chui pledged that the government would not fail its commitments to protect the landscape at world heritage sites and the buffer zones, pointing out that the cultural heritage protection law is expected to be submitted to the legislature for discussion “very soon”.
The Chief Executive told lawmakers that the Policy Research Centre will launch a consultation for the 2011-2020 population policy research, which is aimed to investigate the status of the city’s overall population, immigration policy and imported labour management.
Moreover, he said the government has the responsibility to ensure the sustainability of the Social Security Fund (FSS), adding that a new actuarial report is being prepared and the 2012 Policy Address will detail the increase in the employer’s and employee’s contributions to the fund.
On the other hand, he admitted that the government is going to examine whether there is a duplication of functions within public departments and also look into training for senior officials.