MB Aug | Time to avoid a mistake

To a ‘normal’ citizen this news headline could not be more strange: ‘Macau’s policymakers will soon consider whether to end Air Macau’s privileged position as the sole home airline.’

Time to avoid a mistake 

What exactly is there to consider? Not the benefits, that seems easy enough to determine. You don’t need to be an expert on aviation matters. Or even very smart, for that matter. 

We’ve said it here more than once. When the airport was created and Air Macau got its privileges it was a different time. Who cared about Macau in 1995? A decade later the case was completely different: the handover happened, the liberalisation of gaming was starting to reshape the city and the central government was unloading, slowly, its tourist difficulties onto both SARs. 

The protection of Air Macau was justified when it was a way of protecting the airport itself, finding a way to give it meaning. But everything changed and it quickly became apparent that Air Macau’s protection was somehow blocking the development of the airport. 

Today’s Macau now needs liberalisation of the skies as much or more than the gaming industry needed its own liberalisation. 

Not wanting to see that only means that one is again protecting hidden interests and unconfessable wills. 

In a city with more than 30 million tourists a year, what is wanted is ease of movement, not bottlenecks. Macau needs more connections and other airlines that explore niche markets that Hong Kong cannot reach. 

Chinese University (Hong Kong) aviation policy expert Law Cheung-kwok recently stated the obvious: The general trend in aviation is to liberalise the aviation sector. Airlines, airport services, etc. Liberalisation brings competition, better services, cheaper services. The general public is better served. Obvious to those who want to see. Does the Aviation Authority really need a report to make a decision? 

Why would Macau continue to be blind to the obvious? Well, we can only think of one reason. But hanging on to that old trend is a mistake. A huge one, as probably some policymakers and other politicians will realise. Sooner or later. 

Whistling at the sky 

Time bestows such lessons, impossible to belittle. 

In time, the weak virtues are eventually revealed. With some luck, that will still happen during the life of some of these unspeakable creatures that swarm the planet. 

Although in Macau, for lack of good virtues and the tangle of interests, silence is the main virtue of those who corrupt and who are corrupted, because no-one cares about the fuss. And then it will be late. A couple more history lessons that almost no-one will be interested in learning. 

There are, however, some who force history; and for one or another turn of the wheel of fate is unlucky. That of Ng Lap Seng will have been to drive the intentions for which he has now been condemned. To conduct his businesses in person. And on American soil. Had he stayed in Macau, certainly none of this would have happened to him, as some here could have advised him. There are those who are really expert in this type of advice. 

Funny old world. This mess reminds me of something that I had long forgotten: almost two decades ago it was this same Ng Lap Seng, successful businessman, who first tried to trip me up with the law. 

It may be said that it is my fault, this very individual propensity to meddle in the affairs of the powerful, to reveal what I should not, to put my nose in other people’s business hidden by the usual layers of complicity of many of the powers that pull the strings in the city. 

Honestly, I cannot even remember the story that made the businessman so nervous. Only that I was called to the Public Prosecutor’s Office to reveal my sources that supported the article. True, of course. That’s why it created so much buzz. 

On several other occasions that would continue to happen throughout my career; not being able to pick up on the truth of the story, there were always these attempts to intimidate, to try to squeeze to discover – and perhaps sacrifice – the sources of the journalist. 

Ng Lap Seng’s lawyer could have prevented him from the trouble because he knew very well what would happen. Or perhaps because he did know, he didn’t even bother to advise him, in order not to put himself in question. 

And let things run. And they ran, of course. With the journalist refusing to reveal the sources of the news, a right that is enshrined in law. And the case died a natural death. 

There were other cases where the blackmailers succeeded to create greater difficulties, due to their economic power, but from the perspective of editorial truth obtained the same failure, to their shame.  

After all, if we give in to any kind of blackmail we relinquish the best that there is in us. The right to self-esteem. 

You may ask why I recall this little episode now. Petty revenge after so many years? Not really. By mere chance. For registration as a footnote in the book of history. 

It’s strange, but sometimes life does make sense. 

PS – Despite the many friends and associates that Ng Lap Seng has in Macau, including Portuguese, I have not heard a word of support from any of them. Perhaps the strange thing would be the opposite, that there was someone who at this difficult time for the businessman was not distracted whistling at the sky… 

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