MB December Special Report | 20 + 20 = the most influential
Jorge Neto Valente
The influence of the president of the Macau Bar Association will always be greater than a similar institution in another part of the world – the legal and political local specificities so determine.
Neto Valente has been the president of the Association almost uninterrupted since 1995 and the longest serving lawyer.
In parallel, Neto Valente is also the most influential Portuguese (has been in the territory for almost 50 years), but this has never been an objective, nor does he want to be identified as such.
He soon realized that he had to leave European boundaries to remain influential in the MSAR.
He was therefore one of the first residents to study Chinese and ask for Chinese nationality.
Today, for example, he is part of the Electoral College that elects the Chief Executive (incidentally, just did not participate in the first election) and is the only one born in Portugal.
As president of the Bar Association, Neto Valente seeks a balance between pro-Chinese positions and those closest to Europe’s system of freedoms, rights and guarantees. Just recently the Secretary for Security used Neto Valente’s arguments to legitimize the decision not to authorize expressions of solidarity with the Hong Kong protests.
This pragmatism has earned him some criticism among his peers, but in the elections this ‘resistance’ is not confirmed. However, he has already said that this will be his last term.
But if, as president of the Bar Association, he predominates the conciliatory positions with the executive branch, as business lawyer and manager, he gives everything for clients, even if that means criticizing the government – as is the case of the reversal of the lands of Praia Grande Bay, owned by Nam Van Society, for which he is one of the main faces.
As Macao’s most experienced and well-known lawyer, it is no wonder that he was called upon to perform other duties.
He has been Chief Executive Officer of Venetian Macau, S.A. and is currently Chief Executive Officer of Galaxy Casino, S.A., the two largest gaming operators in Macau.
Ng Kuok Cheong
In 2015, the deputy Ng Kuok Cheong told Macau Business that he would like to be reminded “as a democrat icon in order to point out the hope of liberty and democracy in local Chinese community continually.”
When he will have served for 30 years as a deputy (in 2022), Macau will not have had the level of democratization that Mr Ng Kuok has dreamed of, but at the same time he has become not only the oldest pro-democrat in the Assembly but also the main local icon of democratization.
When he arrived in the Legislative Assembly in 1992, there was no tradition of making speeches before the agenda, something that almost all members do today. Then the same member began to address questions to the government. The “initiative” was badly received, so much so that the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure were amended to limit the number of questions that could be asked. But today, more than half of the Assembly’s MPs regularly ask the government questions. Even the televising of the plenary sessions – now a reality – sprung from the actions of the deputies of the so-called “pro-democracy sector,” who are now requesting that the debates of the standing committees be open to the public.
In these almost 30 years there have never been any easy moments. In the beginning, Ng Kuok Cheong stated that, because of his pro-democracy outlook and critical attitude, his former employer, Bank of China, sacked him.
In the 2017 elections, he ran outside the New Macau Democratic Association, of which he was one of the founders and the main spokesman. The truth is that, even so, it managed to keep the two places it had before the younger ones took over the Association’s direction.
Why has democracy not reached Macao in these past 30 years? Ng Kuok Cheong explains: “Macau is a small society, and residents tend to have a close relationship with each other, so people who openly make critical comments or espouse democratic ideologies may be in danger of losing their jobs and affecting their family members, or even of losing their access to the Mainland.”
Pansy Ho just has to get into politics to become Macau’s most influential woman.
To this day, Ho has limited her intervention to business, which is not a few, while managing several companies in the universe created by her father, Stanley Ho, such as STDM or Shun Tak, she still has a relevant position in MGM China, a gambling (sub)concessionaire, in association with MGM Resorts International (she is co-chairman).
Pansy Ho appears on Forbes ‘Billionaires 2019’ list at 413th and on Hong Kong’s 20th richest list.
Stanley Ho’s eldest daughter seems to be preparing to succeed her father. Not only for what she has already done and received but also for what she prepared:
Earlier this year Pansy Ho (through Shun Tak Holdings) and the Henry Fok Foundation made a deal to control 53 percent of Stanley Ho’s gaming empire in Macau. STDM controls 54.11 percent of SJM Holdings.
With this agreement Ho reduced the influence of Stanley Ho’s fourth wife, Angela Leong, who is executive director and major individual shareholder of STDM.
But in fact, Pansy does not need to enter the Legislative Assembly to show influence.
Recently she hit the spot by becoming the first Macau casino boss to speak out for the Hong Kong government on protests. In a speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council, on behalf of the Hong Kong Federation of Women, she defended the actions of the Hong Kong government in response to recent city-wide protests. Ho accused radical protesters of hijacking the issue of extradition and using it as “propaganda to undermine the Hong Kong government’s authority to protect the rights of one of its citizens even in her death.”
This intervention, on top of such a flashy stage, surprised to the extent that, until then, Pansy Ho was known to intervene primarily on issues that have to do with gambling and tourism.
And the only known criticism to the Government had to do with the gambling dealings, namely when (2009) the government granted a large plot of land to Galaxy, while other operators, such as MGM, waited a long time to receive land.
Sam Hou Fai
Everywhere, judges of the highest courts are always ones to watch out for.
In Macau, the President of the Court of Final Appeal (TUI) is elevated to a prominent position, mainly because there are only three judges in this important post.
Fai is also President of the Council of Judicial Magistrates and a member of the Independent Commission for the Appointment of Judges.
After working with the Portuguese administration, having studied law in Portugal, Sam Hou Fai joined the Public Prosecutions Office of Macau in 1995. He has been the president of TUI since its inception 20 years ago.
Nevertheless, Fai is neither a clairvoyant nor a protagonist.
But – inevitably, for the functions he occupies – this has not prevented him from finding controversy and hearing criticism.
The biggest rebuke came from the President of the Macau Bar Association, when Neto Valente expresed his disapproval about the courts’ and judges’ lack of evaluation and inspection – Sam Hou Fai just couldn’t hold back.
Further controversy sparked from the fact that the TUI is the only instance in Macau that is called upon to rule on cases involving holders or former holders of public office, who thus have no right of appeal.
Called to rule on sensitive issues, Sam Hou Fai, who studied and practiced law in China, has shown some alignment with pro-government positions, whether on fracturing issues such as Land Law resources, or political issues such as the recent decision to consider illegal the demonstrations intended to denounce police brutality in Hong Kong and which PSP had already banned.
The Chief Judge also believes that Macau has done little in the area of judicial cooperation in criminal matters with China, notably with a view to establishing the Greater Bay Area.