EPA/Thorsten Wagner

Changes in airport management point to increased Gov’t oversight – Analysts

Changes to the management of Macau International Airport Co. Ltd. came shortly after a scathing report by the Commission of Audit, a clear sign from the current administration that it will be closely watching expenses in the public company, analysts told Macau News Agency (MNA).

On March 17 of this year, the CA published an audit report on CAM’s operations between 2008 and 2019, with critiques over the expenses incurred by the public operator over baggage handling security, and in the development of a temporary hangar for business jets maintenance.

The report specifically addressed that MOP70 million (US$8.7 million) was spent on an unused baggage handling system, while MOP240 million was disbursed for a temporary hangar which will have to be demolished within nine years.

The audit revealed that there were ‘obvious weaknesses’ in the management of the CAM, as well as in the decision-making process, especially in the financial risk investment return assessments of some of its projects.

Just some days after the report, several dispatches announcing changes to CAM’s management were published in the Official Gazette, but revealing that the decisions had been signed by Secretary for Transport and Public Works Raimundo Arrais do Rosário on March 16, one day before the public release of the audit report.

CAM is the public concessionaire of Macau International Airport, which it has built and has managed under a 50-year government concession, valid until 2039.

One of the most significant changes announced this month involved the appointment of Iong Kong Leong, Financial Services Bureau (DSF) Director since 2015 for President of CAM’s Fiscal Council, replacing businessman Eric Ho King Fung.

A committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Executive Director of O Luxe Holdings and president of the Macau Money Exchangers’ Association, Eric Ho had replaced Liu Guo Bin in 2017, with Liu having been a member of the fiscal council as far back as 2006 according to government documents.

Meanwhile, Vong Man Kit, a Representative of the Secretariat for Transport and Public Works at the Tourism Development Committee was also appointed this month to CAM the Fiscal Council, together with Mimi Lui Wai Man.

At the same time, José Manuel de Oliveira Rodrigues and Henry Leung Yee Hang are not part of the fiscal council anymore.

According to political analyst Larry So Man Yum all these changes so close to the audit report “definitely” point to increased government oversight.

“The CA made quite a number of recommendations to different departments that many departments did not follow […] The government, especially the last administration, has talked about streamlining and not waste public funds […] I think they would like to demonstrate how that they mean business,” the analyst told MNA.

Concerning the top management of the company no substantial changes were announced, with Charles Lo Keng Chio seeing is term as Chairman of the General Assembly, the same happening with Administration Council Ma Iao Hang and Executive Director Deng Jun.

Charles Lo replaced Henrique Rodrigues de Senna Fernandes as CAM’s Chairman of the General Assembly in 2010. Lo is also President of the General Assembly of the Automobile General Association of Macao-China and is part of the Grand Prix organising committee.

The son of late businessman Ma Man Kei, Ma Iao Hang is also on the board of public broadcaster TDM and integrates several advisory bodies and associations, in the area of sport, tourism and economic development.

Ma replaced Deng Jun as Administration Council President in 2012, with Deng having also occupied the Executive Committee Chairman position since 2004.

Other current members of the CAM Administration Council include businesswoman Pansy Ho Chiu King, the daughter of gaming tycoon Stanley Ho – also a former board member of the company – and her sister Daisy Ho Chiu Fung, both also board members in transport giant Shun Tak.

Administrators Lei Si Tai and Henry Leung Yee Hang also saw their terms renewed however, there were three new appointees to the administration council, Ng Kam Wa, Chu Tan Neng, and Ronald Kan Cheok Kuan.

Ng Kam Wa has served as deputy of the Commander-General to the Coordination and Civil Protection Center of the United Police Services since 2017 and was appointed the last year the new Public Security Police Force Commissioner, while Ronald Kan worked as Executive Director in local bank BNU.

Businessman and former directly appointed legislator Tsui Wai Kwan is also no longer in the executive and administrative boards.

Concerning the main CAM heads, which remain unchanged, the analyst would not consider that they are “untouchable” but that due to the intricate relations between the sector and the community it is not that easy to operate such changes.

“To a certain extent, the government has changed some of the personnel. I think this is a clear indication that they will really look into the matter but you don’t need to change or remove everybody. It’s an indication that ‘we are watching'”, So added.

According to economist Jose Duarte this could be a sign that the current administration will give more importance to the CA audit report suggestions, which have so far remained largely unfollowed by public departments.

The CA also recently published an evaluation on how departments acted after audit reports were published, which concluded that in about 93 per cent of the cases the level of implementation was “weak or partial.”

“Could be a sign, but this still remains to be seen,” Duarte told MNA.

Thinking of a future without Covid-19

The new management appointments also come in a time were operation numbers in the local aiport are in free fall due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Today the Macau International Airport revealed that passenger numbers have fallen by 45 per cent year-on-year until March 30.

For the University of Macau Integrated Resort and Tourism Management Associate Professor, Glenn McCartney this is a good opportunity for the airport management and local authorities to think about how they want to re-position the airport.

“It might be a small airport but it still has an important role to play in the tourism development of Macau […] I do believe there’s a lot of potential for the Macau airport and many people have commented the same for the last years and for more to be done,” McCartney told MNA.

Concerning business aviation and private jets – one of the issues mentioned in the report – McCartney considered it “one pillar” for the local airport given its positioning near the Cotai strip.

The tourism expert considered that by working in partnership with integrated resorts and by bringing high net worth VIP players, a “luxury component” could be added and enhanced.

“I believe that many people have mentioned for many years the potential for the private jet business at the Macau International Airport. It could be quite a unique positioning for the local airport and is an area that should be pushed,” he noted.

McCartney added that this was a good time to “reflect” on what kind of tourism industry the city wants when the Covid-19 crisis reaches its end and the tourism numbers bounce back.