And lack of civic culture of the majority of the population, translating into less social pressure, contrary to what happens, for example, in our neighbouring SAR.
Typhoon Hato was devastating but the devastation was all the greater due to the government’s failure to prevent – and neglect, and in many cases – the greed of Macau’s economic agents who continue to provide poor services but to charge exorbitant prices, taking advantage of the continuous lack of supervision and the almost non-existence of any form of accountability.
Typhoon Hato was violent because it was a direct hit. Macau, in recent years, has been almost unscathed because other typhoons have only given the city a glancing blow. Hato left a trail of destruction and death in Macau because the city is far from having an educated elite at the level of other cities in the region: Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul.
As long as the government does not bet as it should on the infrastructure of the city, monitoring how it is obliged, demanding not the minimum quality but the maximum, punishing those who rampage in materials and work, then other catastrophes are inevitable. As long as it continues to deliver work and services to friends and friends of friends, via direct awards no-one contests because the population lives in the shadow of compensation schemes, then other misfortunes will occur.
And Macau – instead of suffering only material damage, inevitably visited by the passage of typhoons – will continue to mourn chaos and death. Because when you have a policy of disengagement on the level of a third world country, we will always have to face the consequences inherent in third world disasters.
Because we do not invest as we should be in the preparation of the city. With the best competitors, not with the friends of our friends because we are part of this or that tribe. Because we do not hold governments, political decision-makers and economic agents accountable for self-interested acts and for not thinking about the collective. In the future.
The result was predictable. Unable to act – for lack of planning and timely execution and quality – the city did what it did despite knowing it should do better. It reacted. And in that did a good job.
In the wake of the disaster it was at least satisfactory to see how government services and civil society were united around a common goal. What must be demanded is that this happen before and not afterwards. By planning and executing ahead of ill consequences, not after evil happens, because it has to be, inbetween apologetic excuses and sad faces in front of the media.
As always in these cases, the weakest link was sacrificed, with a witch hunt for the director of the Meteorological and Geophysical Services.
It is true that these services have never been exceptional but is it worth noting that if one could have raised the alarm a couple of hours ahead of time that the outcome would not have been different?
Because the structures are poorly constructed, the materials are of poor quality, and the government does not supervise, divorced for years from its function. And does what is predictable in states that will never reach the required level of development. And accepts the head of the first sacrificial animal to appease the wrath of the population, distributes money – since it does not use it as it should, in the first place – to guarantee the silence of the victims. And nothing else happens.
Until the next catastrophe: when the rest of it becomes a media circus.
PS – This was the title of a Reuters article appearing in the New York Times and other international media: ‘Behind glitz of casinos, typhoon exposes Macau’s infrastructure woes’. We should all, therefore, be congratulated.
Change of disc, same tune
One of the main accusations against the Macao Government is that it is not proactive. It is passive. It does not act. It reacts. And is almost always late, and often wrong.
The exception would have been the reaction to a catastrophe originated by Hato. Because the possibility of manifestations of displeasure had already been anticipated if nothing was done. Social unrest continues to scare any state, totalitarian or otherwise, the most.
Something similar, although way smaller, happened during the recent deaths on construction sites which led to the halting of work on mega-structures for two weeks. An episode that demonstrated the weakness of the Labour Affairs Bureau. A Bureau that might reach the level of inability of the former Secretary Lau Sio Io whose performance Macau is still suffering the consequences of today.
Well may (government) television propagate that the director and sub-directors of the DSAL were ahead of the teams of inspectors who checked dozens of construction sites following the latest deaths. This is news only because it rarely occurs. It is not often that these VIP’s exit their air conditioned offices to do some groundwork.
But they should go more often to check in situ what is happening, and not only when the pressure of society speaks louder, for it is unacceptable that so much death occurs that even the population, as silent as it usually is, makes itself heard.
The director and sub-directors should go to the shipyards more often. And they should be held accountable for those not being inspected more regularly. By letting the laxity and irresponsibility of contractors and sub-contractors and possibly the laziness of workers put lives at risk.