Macau | New Legislative Assembly hire contradicts reasons offered for dismissing experienced lawmakers - Legal experts

Legal experts told MNA that the recent hiring by the Legislative Assembly of a Portuguese judge to serve as a legal advisor does not coincide with the reasons indicated by its Executive Board that the dismissal of two of its most experienced lawmakers, Paulo Taipa and Paulo Cardinal, was for personnel restructuring and rejuvenation purposes

Macau (MNA) – Legal experts and legislators told Macau News Agency (MNA) the recent hiring of a Portuguese judge to serve as a legal advisor to the Legislative Assembly (AL) does not coincide with the reasons indicated by the AL Executive Board to have dismissed its experienced lawmakers, Paulo Taipa and Paulo Cardinal.

On August, 2018 it was revealed that the AL had decided not to renew the work contracts of veteran Portuguese legal advisors Paulo Cardinal and Paulo Taipa, with their recent two-year term expiring on December 31, 2018.

At the time the AL president Ho Iat Seng denied that the decision had been made due to political disagreements with the two lawmakers.

Cardinal had made some previous public statements denouncing perceived attacks to the Macau Basic Law.

Ho had claimed that the decision was purely a normal restructuring of the legislative body legal personnel, with the number of legal advisors at the time being sufficient.

However, almost a week after the two lawmakers’ contracts expired, TDM Radio reported that Portuguese judge Maria José da Costa Machado had been hired by the AL as a legal advisor, with functions starting from January 9.

Paulo Cardinal

Legislator and legal expert Jose Pereira Coutinho told MNA that this decision seems to be an attempt to appease some of the controversy that arose after the AL decision to dismiss Taipa and Cardinal was made public, but that this hiring went against Ho Iat Seng’s statement that the number of legal advisors was sufficient.

As of the end of December and after the decision to dismiss the two lawmakers the AL employed 24 legal advisors, four of whom are Portuguese nationals.

“It seems an attempt to control the flames […] Experience is not bought, it is acquired with time so it’s a shame [Taipa and Cardinal were dismissed],” he told MNA.

Meanwhile lawyer Sergio Almeida Correia said that it is “natural” to expect that if two of the most experienced legal advisors in Macau” are dismissed from the AL, then any new appointment should have an equal amount of knowledge and experience with the Macau basic law and legislative process.

Correia also points out that Ho Iat Seng had claimed there was the need for a restructure of the AL.

“From what I know, a judge is coming from Portugal, and I don’t know if she has already been in Macau or has any knowledge of the city, if it has any knowledge of the Macau legal system, if she speaks Chinese […] I have serious doubts [replacing Taipa and Cardinal] will be possible from what I know so far,” Correia told MNA.

The AL Executive Board includes Ho Iat Seng and Chui Sai Cheong as its President and Vice-President, together with legislators Vong Hin Fai and Kou Hoi In

“I also don’t know how she was hired through public application or if she has any experience in legislative works since judges normally apply laws but they don’t produce them. To create laws you need special qualifications for it, you need to be inside the local legislative process. I’m waiting to be clarified about these doubts,” Correia added.

Having started legal functions in 1988, Judge Machado worked all her career in Portugal, having held a position as judge of the Lisbon Court of Appeals for the last seven years.

Political reasons

MSAR Basic Law expert, Antonio Katchi, told MNA that the the fact that AL, a week after the termination of the contract of the two lawyers, had hired a new Portuguese-speaking legal adviser, reveals that, contradicted what Ho Iat Seng had said.

Katchi believes that the sudden hiring showed that the departure of the two jurists caused a lack of Portuguese speaking legal advisors at the AL.

For the Macao Polytechnic Institute (MPI) academic, the lack of justifications and explanations provided by the AL President, to the two lawmakers and media on the reasons for the dismissal for two such experienced legal experts indicated “with little doubt, that the reasons [for the dismissal] are political”.

“Why would two lawmakers so familiar with the Macau Basic Law and the political and social reality of Macau and with so much experience in legal advice to the AL be dismissed to be replaced by a judge coming from Portugal?,” Katchi questioned.

When asked if the hiring of a Portuguese legal advisor was a way to “clear the image” created by dismissing two experienced Portuguese lawmakers, Katchi said the only way the AL would be able to do so would be to rehire them and apologise to them.

“Then if in need of more lawyers, including Portuguese speakers, the AL President would have to hire them in Macau, Portugal or in another country of the same legal matrix, using fair and transparent procedures and based on objective, reasonable and prior criteria advertised,” he added.