Loose reflections

In some ways, the approval of a new budget by the Legislative Assembly marks the start of a new political cycle. Or, if not a really new one, at least what we might call a slightly renewed one. The main lines for the economic evolution of Macau are mostly set: further integration with the Mainland economy, restrained growth of gambling, and diversification. Nevertheless, some implicit issues that could possibly be considered fundamental are seldom addressed or even mentioned. Inevitably, the local economy is increasingly dependent upon the Mainland. In general terms, it is certainly true that whatever happens across the border is bound to have some impact here. When the Mainland sneezes, we get a cold. For those who might not be fully aware of that, the last year or so has helped to make the point. But even under more favourable circumstances, we would be well advised to look beyond our cocoon. As a matter of fact, there’s an almost absolute absence of reflection or public debate on the evolution of the Mainland economy and society in general, or even the neighbouring regions, just to focus on those closer to us. And yet, one might think that the ‘external’ context would shape most of the opportunities and alternative paths for development that are or will be open for Macau. The integration of the Pearl River Delta goes on but the issue is hardly mentioned. Except, rarely, to say that the new bridge will contribute to the integration of the region. Sure, few would dispute that. At the very least, we will be able to collect players directly from Hong Kong International Airport. But that raises even more questions than those being unanswered. Then, Zhuhai engages in a huge development programme – and nothing seems to stimulate a bit of curiosity on this side of the border. Just for starters: how does Macau fit – sees itself fitting, or wishes to fit – into the plans Zhuhai has for its western areas? It won’t do to mention that the university is now located in Hengqin, or to say that some businesses from Macau may be allowed to invest there. What’s happening outside the university enclave goes much beyond that – but how many will remember any statement of substance on the subject? Then comes economic diversification. Any policies willing to have a sporting chance of succeeding will need to move past spreading money. They will require credible aims and a neat understanding of what the administration can and cannot – or should not – do. Without clarity of purpose and transparency of procedures, efforts to promote any new activity may leave us with less of a vibrant new business area and more of a patronage network – ever more dependent upon a generous flow of gambling taxes. Repetition of purpose or intention alone is not enough to change a stubborn reality; and assorted measures, even if momentarily popular, cannot substitute for effective and coherent policies. And we are not even touching here on the issues of human resources or labour policies.