EPA/Martin Divisek

OPINION – An unclear path

Last week the Legislative Assembly (AL) approved the 2021 budget, with another injection from the financial reserve to counter the public administration deficit some MOP26.6 billion (US$3.3 billion).

For next year local authorities are predicting some MOP130 billion in gross gaming revenues, almost 45 per cent of the pre-pandemic results reported in 2019, and for once government projections do not seem overly conservative, at least if one takes in consideration the results seen so far.

Gaming revenues surged by 230 per cent between August and September to about MOP7.2 billion. But still, a 72.5 per cent drop from the same month last year.

As of the end of October, an average of 40,000 daily visitors were entering and exiting the city, after a 15,000 daily average in September.

As expected the financial reports presented so far by gaming operators show a picture of many millions in operation net losses, as gaming groups face the usual expenses of maintaining their large scale properties with much lower visitor numbers.

Most paint an optimistic picture for results in the last quarter but considering even local tourism authorities expecting visitation numbers to remain similar until the end of the year, this seems unlikely, especially if package tours visitors remain barred from coming to the SAR.

With great effort, the city has managed to achieve more than 220 days with no Covid-19 cases but not more effort is needed to show to Chinese authorities we are ready for more travel restrictions to be lifted.

If Hong Kong also goes the same way, then a clearer path to local economic recovery will become clearer.

It is also worthy of praise that despite the current conditions and higher than the usual unemployment rate, local authorities still advanced with the enforcement of the city’s first minimum wage bill on November 1, despite some calls from of businessmen to delay it.

This legislation was long overdue, despite its engrained discrimination by not including domestic workers.

Hopefully, the future trade union law will quickly be put forward by authorities so that the city can finally match the labour right standards of its neighbouring regions.

Still, as a recent survey by the Macau Gaming Enterprises Staff Association shows, some 80 per cent of gaming workers are worried about their employment prospects, with many still under no-pay leave agreements.

It is crucial for local authorities to assist and ease the concerns of local workers in these challenging times, by maintaining financial programmes that can continue supporting some living expenses.

For 2021, the Government predicted that public expenditure will reach MOP95 billion, and already pointed to a planned reduction of public expenses.

This year we’ve already seen the Macao Foundation and other public funds cutting in financial support to associations or becoming more demanding in requirements when evaluating applications.

Although it was clear for all that things could no to on as before, it is also important to not jump straight into the opposite extreme and cut the lifeline of many groups and associations that maintain essential activities for the local civil society.

It will be a tight rope to walk on, between aiming for savings while maintaining local activities as similar as in pre-pandemic times. Luckily there are enough financial reserves to keep walking that tight rope for a while and plan for the future.

Macau is in an enviable position in the world’s eyes, and if we’re reasonable it will remain so during this modern pandemic.

[MNA Editor-in-Chief]