Macau | Rail issues, again

One day the Light Rail network will be operating routinely, and someone will be able to write the complete and final history of its hard birth labor. At present, nobody seems able to foresee when that day will arrive. Almost every issue we can think of seems to be getting only more complicated as time goes.

The Legislative Assembly is currently discussing a law proposal setting out the norms governing the operation of the system, encompassing its “infrastructure, equipment and services.” The “justification note” submitted with the proposal includes various considerations on the aims of the law.

The proposal recommends the creation of a public capital society to run the system under a concession contract (although more recent comments from the authorities suggest less certainty about the final arrangement.) Further, it mentions, with some emphasis, the need to regulate passenger access and behavior on matters of security, and also touches on the service pricing issues.

Different people may have different opinions about the proposed management model. They may reasonably disagree about the specific security-related regulations or the resultant penalties. Different fare solutions can be examined. We would expect these topics at the heart of the debate, and it is arguable that, prima facie, nothing concerning them seems visibly out of the ordinary.

However, the proposal then ventures on knottier problems, especially those involving land possession and construction works. How and why those topics need to be specifically regulated here – or be included in the concession contract, as it is also admitted – is not clear. The existing norms on these matters are inadequate in this case, so much so that the public interest cannot be served otherwise? It is less than evident that such is the case.

The puzzlement grows when it appears this issue is becoming a central issue of contention for the legislators currently analyzing the law proposal. One might argue that running an existing rail network, and planning and building its future extensions, are separate issues. For clarity and to avoid potential conflicts of interest, it is possibly better that they are kept separate. Lest matters involving land usage and transportation policy might somehow be subtracted from the proper public scrutiny mechanisms.

Those who think otherwise – and that those matters should either be part of the concession contract or defined explicitly in this particular regulation – are welcome to make the supporting arguments explicitly. The debate would benefit.