MB March | Government Policy Professes to Protect Public Interests

As an appointed member of the Legislative Assembly (AL) and president of the Association of Engineers, Eddie Wu Chou Kit says in the AL he pays special attention to matters related to his area of expertise. Convinced he was appointed because of his professional knowledge, he concedes that government policy does not satisfy “the wishes of everyone” but that they aim to “protect the general interests of the population”, thus he feels obligated to support the government when he considers that the official decisions are correct.  

By: Rima Cui

In this interview, provided to Tribuna de Macau newspaper, he also feels that given the restrictions imposed upon vehicle circulation on the new Superbridge the impact should not be significant for the Macau SAR, although various positive consequences are anticipated. 

Macau will face changes in transportation with the opening of the Superbridge and the mutual recognition of driving licences with the Mainland. What adjustments are required in this area? 

Eddie Wu Chou Kit – For the Delta Bridge, the percentage of vehicles that each region can accommodate is reflective of each region’s capacity. Macau is very small, so the operation of the Delta Bridge will have a relatively small effective impact upon traffic. Taking into consideration that Macau will be just one hour away by car, many Hong Kong people will favour Macau as a living or business option.  

Housing and shop prices already reflect the impact that the Bridge has had on the local real estate market. Regarding traffic, there are already limits on entry of vehicles from the Mainland or Hong Kong to Macau, with tourism buses also subject to a quota system. There are very strict rules [regarding] the new Bridge and all vehicles must hold a special licence recognised by the three regions.  

In order to fully evaluate the impact the new Bridge will have we need some time of operation to identify the effective impact and conclude if it does or does not improve traffic. Regardless, I’m certain that a functional Bridge will have a positive impact upon the local economy. On the one hand, the mutual recognition of driving licences has been working well in Hong Kong for over ten years.  

If it does not work well in Macau I don’t think it will be fair under the ‘one country, two systems’ policy. The population is worried that this specific policy will lead to an increase in illegal driving. In Macau, the penalties for illegal drivers are insufficient. With the new Bridge, Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau are emerging as no-barriers [areas] which is a positive change.  

Looking at the creation of the European Union (EU), we remember that an identical proposal was met with criticism, but the EU has became a strong economic power. After joining the Greater Bay Area, Macau will become more relevant in the world. 

What role should Macau play in the Greater Bay Area? 

E.W.C.K. – Macau is the smallest region in the Greater Bay Area. We lack human and natural resources. I think we can become an information platform, working as the headquarters for companies and an exchange centre. We have over 400 years of experience as a trading port with the outside [world], attracting bilingual professionals, both Chinese and Portuguese.  

The Portuguese-speaking countries are aware of Macau’s importance and its connection to China, the world’s second largest economy. China and Portuguese-speaking countries share common interests in the area of economic and cultural co-operation and Macau possesses professionals who speak both languages and are familiar with the Portuguese legal system. These advantages are well known to the Portuguese-speaking countries and because many of them are still economically underdeveloped they look to an economic powerhouse to export their products and services.  

On the other hand, China needs a steady source of raw materials, which these countries can provide. The Portuguese-speaking countries need Macau as a platform to enter the Chinese market and China needs the connection to these countries in order to make the ‘one belt, one road’ initiative a reality. The initiative aims to reach Europe and other destinations. 

Will the improvement works of the Border Gate Terminal resolve existing problems? How should the surrounding areas be developed? 

E.W.C.K. – The biggest problem of the terminal has always been the stuffy and hot environment during the Summer months. In order to resolve this the government has made several interventions, but we have the Border Gate monument that must not suffer any changes. There have been proposals to move the monument but if the arch is altered to allow for the construction of high rise buildings the environment and the original historic atmosphere would be affected. So, any improvements must take this into account.  

In addition, we have the football field on one side and the Police Tactical Intervention Unit (UTIP) on the other. The government wants to change both the football field and the UTIP building so that the terminal can handle 250,000 to 500,000 people per day. However, after Typhoon Hato may problems were identified regarding the use of that underground location.  

Some have suggested the terminal be moved above ground but that would conflict with the monument. Now the proposal is that the whole place should become like a valley; but this still requires the football field and the UTIP to move, so the government must start a dialogue with those two entities, searching for new adequate locations.  

Some people support the idea of moving the football field to where the dog racing structure is now but the residents of that area also have their own ideas about the future use of that space. I don’t know whether or not the improvement works will resolve the problems but I suggest the use of electric buses, which would improve the air quality in the terminal, along with more spaces to ventilate the space.  

The buses that previously used the terminal are now distributed around other bus stations and everything is working well. Thus, when the Border Gate Terminal operates again there’s no need to bring back all the routes that stopped there before. The fewer vehicles, the better the air quality.  

On the flip side, the new border access between Guangdong and Macau (Qingmao Border Post) may relieve some of the transportation burden previously shouldered by the Border Gate, thus dispersing the influx of people from the surrounding regions.  

Currently, the high influx of people affects the quality of life of residents. The northern part of Zone A of the new landfills will also have a border, so we can disperse people by these three border posts. 

Is the east line of the Light Railway, projected to link Pac On to the Border Gate, viable? 

E.W.C.K. – That line will need the projected fourth bridge. I’m still confident work will begin this year. In order to make that happen we have to take into account the environmental impact and all affairs that involve water management. The government has already said that all studies are concluded and that all we need now is the Central Government’s approval.   

The East Line of the railway is viable because there are specific lanes for it in the fourth bridge design. The North-South line will have to be built underground, while the East-West is to be constructed at ground level. We at the Urban Planning Council have already asked the government to provide us with more information. 

What solutions should be adopted to rebuild the older parts of Macau? 

E.W.C.K. – I feel we can take advantage of those areas to build higher buildings in order to satisfy demand for, let’s say, ten houses in a single building. As for the remaining spaces, they don’t all need to become buildings, but rather gardens and green areas. The number of residents will remain the same, but they’ll enjoy a better quality of life.  

We also need to increase the width of streets in zones where an ambulance, for example, is [currently] unable to pass. When older buildings are demolished those residents can temporarily live in Zone A housing exclusively built to house them. 

In order to lessen the impact of flooding upon the lower reaches of the city several proposals have been aired such as elevating platforms and floodgates in electrical sub-stations. What is the best strategy? 

E.W.C.K. – A-Ma Temple has over four centuries of history and suffered only minor damage from Typhoon Hato because its builders were surely familiar with all the factors that determine the degree of flooding. That’s the same zone where the first Portuguese settled in Macau. At the time, the Inner Harbour was still just a beach. While developing the city, people fought Nature for the land, but we can’t prevent natural disasters.  

The truth is that landfills create narrower rivers and cause water levels to rise. In the past, large dimension cargo ships could anchor in Macau but we now have boats that remove silt from the water on a daily basis. To prevent flooding, the most important factors are forecasts and information about what will happen. When we think of measures, we might not take into account a very serious occurrence that happens once every 50 years.   

The government announced it will build a 1.5-metre high dam but it’s still impossible to prevent problems. In order for prevention to be perfect we need to build a 5-metre high dam, which is incompatible with Macau’s reality. In the lower zones, we might be able to prevent the construction of buildings and to convince owners to move the piers to a different location. These changes need to happen slowly, but we can’t stop just because it’s hard. Besides, the government must try to convince and help residents move to other areas. The government needs to create a calendar and reasonably compensate residents. 

Will the ‘Smart City’ help solve transportation problems? Or will it just be a waste of resources? 

E.W.C.K. – ‘Intelligent Transportation’ is part of the ‘Intelligent City’. [It] helps us collect and analyse data, thus allowing the extremely fast collection and organisation of information. In terms of transportation, we can adopt a system to count the number of vehicles on each road or street and when that number is too high we can use Intelligent Transportation to divert vehicles to emptier roads.  

The most important thing is to resolve the ‘dispute’ between vehicles and pedestrians. For example, if there is no car on the road but the light is still red for pedestrians it complicates circulation. With the system, we’re able to see a specific situation and adjust traffic lights accordingly. Also, Intelligent Transportation includes automatic breaking and driverless vehicles, which are now being used in the United States and in Europe.  

I believe that the Intelligent City is not a waste of resources. On the contrary, it will contribute towards the more efficient use of resources, time and money. 

A study has concluded that in the next few years there will be a serious shortage of human resources in the construction sector. Is hiring non-residents the solution? How can you attract younger people to this sector? 

E.W.C.K. – Since gaming liberalisation many resorts have been built simultaneously, with the lack of manpower evident. In order to resolve the problem many engineers and skilled workers have been hired from Hong Kong, the Mainland and even from other Southeast Asian countries.   

I believe that study took into account the building of the new landfills and the Light Railway. Every time the sector prospered, it had to do with the new landfills works. In previous years, revenue didn’t come almost exclusively from gaming but from construction, as well, due to land taxes. Now, the work on construction sites leaves people with the impression that they’re dangerous places. All over the world, people are building things and the sector has developed.  

For example, there are tools for construction use that are produced in factories and don’t need to be assembled on-site. Recently, a high rise building was built in just 10 days. What workers do on a construction site is very similar to assembling a model. In the future, we must reduce the number of workers on a site in order to guarantee the safety of all workers. Currently, workers average 50 to 60 years and are approaching retirement.  

Once they retire, there will be a demand for that kind of skilled worker. Many parents want their children to choose a safer and easier job, so the construction sector will not be the first option. In 2013, our Association of Engineers conducted a study, interviewing many high school students: only a fraction said they would work in construction. The government must convert any construction site into a safe place . . . and hygiene is also important.  

The image of construction workers has to be improved. On buses, it’s easy to find workers drenched in sweat and wearing dirty clothes, but in many Western countries worksites have showers so that workers can freshen up after work. I believe it’s time to do better in this area. The government doesn’t invest in training professional workers.  

The Labour Affairs Bureau (DSAT) organises some sort of training courses but not continuously. It only creates a course when there’s a demand for it. The availability of training courses doesn’t depend upon demand. The first step to attract more highly skilled technical staff is to create a higher education programme, which would be publicised in high schools because not all students want to attend university. Frequency of this sort of course and learning new techniques allows people to not only become workers but also technicians.   

Anyway, in such a small city hiring non-residents for the construction sector is inevitable. The government cannot initiate a great number of works all at once otherwise we would need many non-residents. We have to balance the number of construction sites with training. 

How are you bringing engineering into the Legislative Assembly (AL)?  

E.W.C.K. – As an engineer, when I address matters in the AL I pay special attention to any topics related to engineering such as the construction of roads, transportation, housing, coastal works, maritime terminals and tunnels.  

My first public intervention in the AL dealt with the regulation of construction projects because many of them are old and out of touch with present reality especially when it comes to construction approvals. I hope these laws change. On the other hand, transportation has decisively influenced the lives of residents.  

There are too many pedestrian crossings and that’s not suitable for the circulation of vehicles. The streets are too narrow and any pedestrian can cross the street in seconds but many don’t respect the rules, thus creating conflict between pedestrians and vehicles. I suggest vehicles be interdicted from entering narrow streets, with fewer crossings on higher velocity roads. In order to widen the streets, public car parking should be eliminated from them and transferred to underground car parks.  

The government should also create rules for private car parks use, especially the suspension of service two hours before a typhoon hits. We must not abandon the idea of using underground car parks. On the other hand, the construction of housing has been conducted in an arbitrary fashion, being concentrated all in the same period of time and in other periods. The government must launch these projects in a constant way. 

There are some who fear that a certain area may be privileged, following various opinions removed from reality. Besides, the quality of some appointed members of the AL is also controversial . . . 

E.W.C.K. – Each member has a certain specialty and I focus on engineering. Others come from the legal, economic or healthcare areas. As AL members, we must hear all opinions. Even though I’m from the engineering area I will listen to a cook’s opinion, but from a different perspective. I may communicate with him on working safety as part of engineering.  

Each AL member focuses on different things. If someone asks me a question that I can’t answer I will ask someone else from that area. But ‘removed from reality’ is not a correct observation. The Chief Executive appointed us so that we can contribute our knowledge towards the improvement of society and the city. There is no-one, from the Chief executive to any other high official, who doesn’t want a better city. We can contribute towards that and that’s why we were appointed as AL members.  

There are people who believe that we’ll support the government no matter what, but is there any government that doesn’t want to do well? What’s wrong with supporting the government when it makes good decisions? We were appointed because we are professionals from certain areas and I believe that, by nature, the official policies have positive goals which seek to promote the general interests of the population – but it’s normal when everybody doesn’t feel equally satisfied with some decisions by the government.   

Regardless, I have no doubts about its contribution to Macau’s development in the long term.  

How do you rate the AL’s performance so far? Do you feel pressured and challenged? 

E.W.C.K. – I’ve been a member for three months and have already participated in many meetings. I’m still learning but I insist on presenting my opinions according to my professional area, especially in engineering matters. Before, I used to make myself heard through the media, but now everything I say may influence the government and public legislation.  

I also read a large number of legal documents, which constitutes a certain pressure. I have to take into account the opinions and proposals of my colleagues as well as society’s reactions and any dialogue with the government and public officials, which is a challenge. I am an engineer but I work in the AL so I can’t just focus on my area of expertise. To me, it’s a new challenge. 

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