Tommy Lau Veng Seng, Chairman of the Macao Association
of Building Contractors and Developers, and a legislator

Since its establishment in 1947, the Macao Association of Building Contractors and Developers (MABCD) has been supporting the development of the city’s construction industry, as well as the city’s adherence to the ‘one country, two system’ principle. The incumbent chairman of the MABCD, and legislator, Tommy Lau Veng Seng, talks to Business Daily about the changes he’s seen in the city’s construction industry and real estate development in the past decades, as well as other social issues

How did the MABCD come about?
The association was created based on our antecedents – some of them who were engaged in the fitting out business and some in construction – and gathered other people who were also involved in the same industries to collect opinions in order to voice demands to the former Portuguese government. The association also aimed to build a more approachable communication mechanism with the Portuguese government. We kept on inviting related groups or individuals to join the association and to connect with each other. After the end of the Second World War, Macau’s economy improved and more people were concerned with the improvement of society as a whole and the demand for residential housing. This resulted in the appearance of more people engaged in the real estate industry, many of whom joined our association. Owing to these changes, the name of the association hence became MABCD, whereas before it was called the Macau Building Contractors Association.

What are the objectives of the MABCD?
After the establishment, we have stuck to our objectives, which include connecting other contractors and developers, and to further strengthening the solidarity of the industries which also support the city’s development. Ever since the establishment of the association, we have been promoting the idea of ‘loving the country and Macau’ and having close cooperation with the MSAR Government to push forward the governance. We are very concerned with the city’s development. As you can see, the economy in Macau has been growing rapidly since its return to China. This has brought many impacts to the city’s construction industry, like the many complex projects along the Cotai Strip. Therefore, we hope to encourage members to cooperate with foreign companies and, as such, to improve ourselves. And I am glad that there are some of our members who have improved their construction standards and management through cooperation with companies from outside the city. It has brought a lot of good opportunities for our members to improve.

How has the real estate market in Macau been over the past decades?
Regarding the real estate market, an economic depression happened in 1993, after which the development of real estate remained stagnant for almost a decade.
In 1993, there were many residential buildings being built in the NAPE region, but which were mostly vacant. This is what we refer to as the darkest 10 years. By the time we reached 2003, when SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] happened, the economy hit its worst. But after SARS ended, the overall economy, owing to the city opening its doors to the gaming industry, attracted a significant amount of foreign investment, which led to the development of the city. Because of the economic improvement, people’s purchasing power has improved. With local residents’ purchasing power improved, their demand for residential property or to improve their living standards became stronger, a consequence of which was the rapid growth of the real estate market.

Does the MABCD provide a fund for professional training?
We have a professional certification system for the construction field and the law is already implemented. As a result, the requirement for professionals in the field is getting stricter. And so, aside from the need to improve oneself in terms of skills, things like professional knowledge and business development, for example improvements in construction techniques etc. also need to be improved. We thought we should give something back to the society as well as to make use of our resources, and also with the support from some leaders and members, we set up a training fund.
By using this fund, we will continuously hold training courses. The fund was officially rolled out on July 6, when Master Lu Ban’s (an ancient Chinese carpenter and engineer) birthday happens. Currently, we require members to have at least 20 hours of training. Courses cover 13 areas like architecture, engineering and others, basically areas that are involved in building construction and contractors. We also wish to pay a visit to the Macau Federation of Trade Unions (FOAM) to expand our fund to involve anyone engaged in construction, including construction workers. The courses are not only for members of the association, but for all. The fees for the courses are not high, since we wish to allow more people to have the opportunity to improve.

How will the MABCD celebrate its upcoming 70th anniversary?
This year we will hold a banquet at Macau Tower and invite the Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On, and Edmund Ho Hau Wah, the vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, as well as Ho Iat Seng, the president of the Legislative Assembly to attend the event. The banquet is a traditional celebration, and we wish to invite prominent community members, leaders from the industrial and commercial sectors and also related government officials to celebrate. And also to invite all members to attend. We hope to make it a celebratory event every year, but this year is special because it is our 70th anniversary.
This coming September we will also be holding a discussion forum, one of the celebration activities for this year. We have invited an expert from Singapore to share his knowledge and experience with us on urban planning, as well as urban renewal topics.
The reason we chose the two aforementioned topics is that the city has been having discussions about the planning and renewal of the urban areas, but no concrete conclusions have yet been reached. So we thought we might learn something from others who have succeeded.
The architect we invited has been specially appointed by the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, and has been involved in many projects in Singapore and mainland China. We hope that we can do something to help build the city and to become an internationally recognised city.

Labour shortages in many industries and in particular the construction sector have been a common theme. How can the government or related parties help deal with the issue?
I think there are not many young people engaging in the construction industry as construction workers, therefore, we might still need to depend on non-resident workers for any big projects in the future to fill the inadequacies. Actually, we think that it is the middle management sector that should have more attention on training, in order to allow more local residents to take part in this. I think, no matter whether organising or managing, the improvement of construction skills and the retention of high quality skills have to do with the middle management sector. Even if we have resources for training people specifically in construction skills, the outcome will not be successful because there won’t be people attending the courses.

Recently there have been some fatal accidents on construction sites. How can this be prevented?
We can see that the gaming operators have brought many companies from outside the city to work on the projects, and they have significantly improved the management of the construction sites, especially improvements in safety on construction sites, like the tools for safety, everyone wearing a reflective coat, a safety helmet and shoes. Guidelines are delivered to anyone who is about to perform works at height, like putting on safety belts. Also, the Labour Affairs Bureau regularly inspects the sites, but sometimes accidents happen and it is sad. Accidents can happen, but we wish to reduce the number of them, but workers should also have the awareness of protecting themselves. Workers should not underrate every little step. Many workers worry about losing face, resulting in accidents.
For us, the construction company and the association, we should manage the sites well, making sure there are protective barriers on the platforms for works at height or checking whether the machines are working well. I have been working with DSAT in promoting the importance of construction safety since I came back, and we will continue. Also the construction industry safety card has been launched for quite some time. As far as I know, there are training courses held at centres in Zhuhai for non-resident workers before they start working in Macau, and so they must have acknowledged related safety awareness. Even if they don’t have the card, many employers would have asked them to take the course. I think construction workers are our valuable assets. As the employer and the association, we don’t want to see any injuries happen.

With many large scale projects by gaming operators coming to an end, will this affect future development in the construction industry?
What I can see is that the construction sector will continue to grow in the coming 20 years, it is only a matter of having different types of projects. With the completion of the many projects by the gaming operators, projects from the government will be prevailing.
As you can see, the reclamation of Zone A is going on well and, as previously announced by the government, there will be public housing projects of 28,000 units and 4,000 private units as well as other facilities. In addition, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge will be ready soon, and there will be a need to build infrastructure to connect the Macau side to the bridge. Also, with the high demand for housing, the development of real estate will allow more projects to come. The central government wishes for Macau to become a World Tourism and Leisure Centre, and related facilities are also needed. Therefore, I think there might be some breaks in the market, but the next wave of development will eventually come.

What will the objectives of the MABCD be in the coming year?
In the coming year, we will continue to focus on the policies for the city. For the Board of Directors, we have four groups, each of whom focus on private and public constructions, social-related and labour-related affairs, urban planning and also the real estate development, respectively. The Board of Directors proposes different topics to focus on and follow up on time, in order to correlate with the policies proposed by the government. Whenever the government asks for advice on particular matters from us, our attention groups will carry out research and give suggestions to the government.

Regarding the real estate market, prices for residential units have been growing rapidly in the past decade in Macau and creating difficulties for young people in purchasing their first homes. What is your opinion on this matter?
In my opinion, in a free market, it is preferable to let the market set its equilibrium, and so increasing the supply would be a way to resolve the problem. After the return to the Mainland, since the government had been putting more attention on developing the city’s economy, which meant putting more resources into building large-scale projects, the building of social housing lagged behind. With the sudden increased demand for residential units, there are already projects to cope with the demand, but since the real estate market remained stagnant for over a decade, the demand cannot be met in an instant.
I think young people should not only demand new units – things will get better later on after you own your first house – I think it would be best to save enough money for the first instalment on flats that are 20 to 30 years old. It is more important to resolve the problem of living, and later on save more money to buy a better house. I wish that the government would also provide more land, to simplify the procedures of evaluation and allow more projects to be rolled out, whether public or private properties, and this would definitely lead to healthy development in the city.
But there is one thing that we should be aware of, the improvement of the economy and residents’ demands to follow every procedure and ensure transparency leads to increasing costs. From my experience, every stage and every launch of systems will make the cost increase, and there is never a drop in cost as far as I’m concerned. If you want to buy a house, you don’t have to target for the best. If manageable, it would be best to purchase as soon as possible. There is nothing we can do, like the noise law is prohibiting to work overtime, land returned back to the government once the land concession expires. With so many of these pressures the cost will inevitably grow.

Given that you are also a legislator on the Legislative Assembly, what is your view of the Pearl Horizon case?
It is very limited what a legislator can do [in this case]. It will depend on the decision made by the MSAR Government. I believe a solution will be produced by the Court’s judgement in the near future. For the Land Law, usually there will be problems when transiting from the old law to the new one, but the government is the law executor and they will consider all parts of the case. For now, there is little we can do, but I will pay attention to the issue if I continue in my job as a legislator in the next legislative session.