Seize the moment

Macau is about to usher in the 20th anniversary of its establishment as an SAR. The third Chief Executive, Ho Iat Seng, is about to take office. This is a new starting point, presenting Macau with epoch-making opportunities and challenges.

Ho’s background and qualifications are obviously an advantage for the new CE. From his long-held position as a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (2001 to 2019), Ho has been directly involved in national governance issues. This gives him a unique perspective, and will be helpful in communicating with the central government. Moreover, as a member of Macau’s Executive Council (2004-2009), and the Legislative Council (2009 to 2019), which he led as President for the past five years, Ho more than meets the criteria of “having the ability to govern.”

Some might say that Ho’s lack of hands-on administrative experience is a shortcoming. On the contrary, it is precisely his experience outside the executive branch – of monitoring and assessing the executive branch’s achievement and challenges – that qualify him for the task ahead. Improvement of the government’s performance will require someone with a good understanding of what needs to be fixed, especially in the legislative and administrative division of labor, supervision and cooperation. Moreover, Macau’s widely criticized legislative foundations are in most urgent need of attention, and who better to tackle this than the man who ran the legislative approval process for the past five years and who sat on the nation’s highest legislative body for nearly 20? This will be especially important for Macau’s future development under the plan for construction of the Greater Bay Area.

 

Indeed, Macau’s biggest opportunity right now is to integrate its development plans into the overall development of the country. Relying on its own resources, the future is limited. Under the Greater Bay Area plan, especially Macau’s integration with the Hengqin New Area, Macau has been presented with a rare opportunity for development. The key is how Macau can seize it.

Ho has a plan for this, outlined in his election platform. His first priority is to strictly abide by the national Constitution and Macau’s Basic Law, by comprehensively implementing the governing principle of “one country, two systems,” with Macau having a highly degree of autonomy. His second is to maintain social stability. This has become even more important in the context of the challenges being experienced across the Greater Bay by the country’s other SAR. 

Third on his to-do list is perhaps the one that generates highest expectations among members of the public. It is to “improve the level of public governance.” This is not just idle talk. In particular, Ho has said he wants to deepen the reform of public administration and improve the executive branch’s efficiency. This entails:

  • Strengthening the operation of a “clean” government;
  • Raising awareness of public service standards and strengthening the accountability of officials;
  • Improving the government’s decision-making ability;
  • Making good use of public funds, i.e., improving financial efficiency;
  • Further strengthening the legal system;
  • Improving coordination between the executive and legislative branches;
  • Safeguarding judicial independence;
  • Fortifying the civil defense system and strengthening public safety;
  • Improving the public consultation mechanism and thereby promoting the building of democracy and the rule of law.

These are political and administrative objectives. All will contribute toward the most important task facing Macau, which is the improvement of people’s livelihoods.

This will require the pursuit of the goal of a “moderate diversification” of the economy. To achieve this goal, the government under Ho will focus on speeding up its efforts to fulfil its role as outlined by the Greater Bay Area plan, i.e. the construction of “a center” and “a platform”. These are the World Leisure and Tourism Center and the Platform for Exchange between China and the Portuguese-Speaking Countries.

At the micro level, this will translate into how the government under Ho is able to transform the environment not only for the six gaming concessionaires, but also for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Ho has specifically proposed:

  • Promoting the upgrading of traditional industries while also promoting the development of emerging industries;
  • Supporting SMEs to improve the quality of their human resources;
  • Promoting the application of scientific and technological innovation, while cultivating high-tech industries suitable for Macau’s development;
  • Improving the quality of gaming operations while broadening the range of tourism offerings;
  • Actively participating in the construction of the Greater Bay Area, which involves integrating into national development plans; and
  • Making good use of the Sino-Portguese platform to help develop the country’s foreign trade and economic development.

Improving people’s livelihood goes well beyond improving the economic environment for companies. The government under Ho clearly has ambitious ideas for urban planning, especially in improving infrastructure and transportation. Ho has spoken of the need to speed up public housing construction, while researching and constructing a reasonable “sandwich class” home ownership ladder. His team will also strive to improve medical care, both in the services offered as well as the financial security provided to citizens. Workers, meanwhile, can expect better safeguarding of labor rights and improved labor-related legislation. The government will at the same time beef up social security provisions, improving its care for vulnerable groups. And, not least of all, it will strengthen environmental protection while building a “green Macau”.

Doing all of this will need talent. Ho has proposed:

  • Improving systems related to training, recruitment, and employment;
  • Improving policies related to youth development;
  • Devoting more effort to youth work and personnel training;
  • Bringing up the younger generation into responsible roles.

Last but not least, Ho’s government will prioritize the development of Macau as a “cultural exchange base”. Ho has proposed to comprehensively develop cultural and educational undertakings, actively disseminate the best of Chinese traditional culture while promoting international exchanges, thereby enhancing the cultural attractions and competitive “soft power” of Macau.

In sum, Ho’s election platform shows that he has a deep understanding of the challenges facing Macau society. We look forward to seeing how he will lead Macau to “work together, change and innovate.”

The author is the director of the Public Administration Program at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences of the Macau Polytechnic Institute. Professor Li lue.