Ho Iat Seng cabinet picks an attempt to improve administrative efficiency – Analysts

Analysts consulted by MNA observed that the new cabinet list appointed by Chief Executive-elect, Ho Iat Seng, seems to indicate an attempt to improve the efficiency of the public administration by relying more on career public servants, while projecting an image of a tougher stance on government malpractices and corruption.

The Chinese central government has approved the 10 top officials nominations suggested by Chief Executive-elect Ho Iat Seng on Sunday, with only four of the previous administrative heads reappointed.

“For the new cabinet, I believe that Mr. Ho would like to have new members in the cabinet in order to give an impression to the Macau public that his government will be different from the past. Particularly, the members seem not to be close to the business sector and can avoid the public perception/image for possible government-business collusion. Interestingly, all members of the cabinet are from the civil service. It may imply that Mr. Ho will heavily rely on the civil service to govern Macau,” Eilo Yu, an Associate Professor at the University of Macau Department of Government and Public Administration.

The Secretary for Transport and Public Works Raimundo Arrais do Rosário, and the Secretary for Security, Wong Sio Chak, will remain in their positions, while the former Commission Against Corruption (CCAC), André Cheong Weng Chon has been appointed as the new Secretary for Administration and Justice.

However, the appointments of the former Municipal Affairs Bureau (IAM) Vice President, Lei Wai Nong, as the Secretary for Economy and Finance and the former Identification Services Bureau (DSI) Director, Ao Ieong U, as Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture have been met with some surprise, due to their low public profile and lack of professional background in the areas they will now oversee.

Locally-based political commentator Larry So Man-yum told MNA that, although these two choices could be seen as “surprising”, he considered them a “bold and new attempt” by Ho Iat Seng to bring people that might offer a fresh perspective to policymaking.

“Mr. Ho is trying to have a new standpoint and a new angle when looking at public administration. The newcomers are unfamiliar with these areas, and their outside perspective may turn out to be advantageous. Ao will be concerned with the well-being of the community, and Lei with finance. Maybe having someone with a new point of view and who has never been involved in these areas before can provide a new outlook on our policy-making. It’s a bold and new attempt”, the political commentator told MNA.

Hong Kong and Macau political affairs expert, Sonny Lo Shiu Hing, told MNA that how Lei – an official used to dealing with municipal affairs deals – will deal with local economic issues remains to be seen.

“Given Macau’s previous and ongoing efforts at economic diversification, it is likely he will persist with the current reforms while tackling the issue of the likely renewal and continuation of casino franchises in the coming years. The challenge for Lei is how to attach conditions for any renewal of the existing casino franchises and to consider whether any new franchises would be allowed so that competition in the gaming sector would produce a win-win scenario,” he noted.

The new Secretary for Economy and Finance did not reveal much on his views for the future gaming concession process when he first publicly commented on the matter today, only noting that the administration will first revise the local gaming law, and expressing his focus on developing policies to assist local SMEs.

Meanwhile, concerning the appointment of Ms. Ao – the only female appointee in the cabinet – Larry So noted that the local community, especially the powerful local Kaifong [neighborhood associations], have expressed the DSI as been doing a “good work” and is a “very efficient” department, with the new appointee also praised by the new CE as someone with “heart, patience and is a fast-learner”.

He considered that the two Secretaries might take some time to “pick up” their new work and get used to their new competencies, but adding that Ho himself does not have many experiences in the actual day-to-day of public administration work, as his cabinet picks “kind of complement each other”.

Trust in familiar faces

Concerning Andre Cheong as the new Secretary for Administration and Justice, Sonny Lo told MNA that he is expected to fulfill Ho Iat Seng’s campaign platform for the building of an efficient administration in Macau and to establish a civil service accountable to the members of the public. 

Meanwhile, the re-appointed Secretary for Security Wong Sio Chak will likely “continue the consolidation of national security work in Macau under the PRC sovereignty”.

“[Wong] is expected to tackle all these matters, including the need to safeguard the lives and properties of Macau’s citizens in the event of another strong typhoon. Flood-preventing measures must be installed and built as soon as possible to address Macau’s weaknesses in the face of typhoon attacks,” Sonny Lo added.

Lo stated that Rosário was again left with a large portfolio of public projects, including the public demand for better transport systems and the difficult issue of urban renewal.

“In fact, the urban renewal will likely test the capability and efficiency of the new Ho Iat Seng administration because close coordination and cooperation will be necessary between the different government departments and the new Urban Renewal Authority,” the veteran political commentator noted.

The Vice-President of the General Assembly of the Macau Architects Association and university professor, Carlos Marreiros, told MNA that the new CE has chosen an “experienced group” and if he decided to maintain Rosário and Wong is because he has confidence in them.

“Secretary Wong has faced and solved many problems. He also has many communication channels with the residents. The police have the exclusive on maintaining public order and must know how to serve the population, so modern police forces worldwide have invested in improving public relations, something in which he has had a positive role,” Marreiros told MNA.

Meanwhile, the architect considered that Secretary Rosário “inherited a heavy baggage” of issues and public projects and “of course could not finish one-fifth of what he wanted”.

“He will now be able to appoint the directors he trusts. Local developers have moderate confidence in him and starting from this month what they hope from Rosário is much more investment and capacity to finish works […] He has proved he takes the shots and for that, he needs good wingers to assume the responsibility and provide the chances. […] I have a feeling Ho Iat Seng wants more responsibilities from the service directors, they can’t just be carrier pigeons,” Marreiros noted.

Strong security wingers to dispell corruption past

Moving to the other five main top officials nominated, assisting the top local security man will be Leong Man Cheong as the Commander General of the Unitary Police Service and Vong Man Chong as the Director-General of Customs who will “also be expected to deal with a sudden eruption of any crisis” such as electricity blackouts and Typhoons.

Prosecutor Chan Tsz King will be expected to strengthen anti-corruption work as the new CCAC Commissioner, including the need to provide anti-corruption data to some international agencies such as the World Bank’s governance indicators.

“Curiously, Macau disappeared from the ranking of the World Bank on governance, accountability, and anti-corruption in the last three years. The lack of surveys’ data can hopefully be addressed by Chan and her colleagues in the Macau anti-corruption body so that Macau’s good governance can and will be appreciated in the world,” Sonny Lo told MNA.

Audit Commissioner Ho Veng On will also need to “plug the existing loopholes” in the auditing work of government agencies, noting how the trial of former Public Prosecutor General, Ho Chio Meng, showed his administrative body lacked sufficient internal checks and balances.

“The Ao Man Long corruption case has exposed the discretionary problem of top officials, but it seems that the Macau government did not really learn a bitter lesson from the excessive discretionary power of principal officials like Ao and Ho. It is hoped that the CA under Ho Veng On will perhaps strengthen the regular and intensive auditing work of all government departments, including those led by various principal officials, so that clean governance will be deeply entrenched,” he added.

Last but not least, Public Prosecutor-General, Ip Son Sang – re-appointed by Ho – the Commander General of the Unitary Police Service, Leong Man Cheong, and the Director-General of Customs, Vong Man Chong – both new appointees – are expected to help curb some of the increase in gambling-related criminality recorded in the city.

“The police are expected to tighten their control on cross-border crime and domestic crime, including anti-money laundering work, the fight against the smuggling of some mainlanders to gamble in Macau, the assessment of a potential problem of an underground population with illegal workers, and the control over illegal motels where criminal activities like cross-border prostitution and drugs trafficking take place. Similarly, the custom and immigration work will continue to be tremendous, given the large number of mainland and overseas visitors [that come] to Macau every day,” Lo told MNA.

Overall, the political commentator considered the new cabinet list a “cautious” attempt to “keep the status quo with minimal personnel changes”.

“[This] is understandable in his first term of office. If [Ho] continues for a second term later, then the possible reform in the number of principal officials and the need to adjust their related portfolios would be considered,” he added.

Ho Iat Seng will officially replace Fernando Chui Sai On as the Macau SAR head of government on December 20, in a ceremony expected to be attended by Chinese President, Xi Jinping.