Opinion – Macau’s New Challenges

No matter how many new and existing secretaries will be recommended by Chief Executive-elect Ho Iat Seng to the central government for approval later, Macau’s new team of appointed principal officials will face a whole range of challenges in the coming years.

First and foremost, since Ho Iat Seng vows to improve government efficiency, the Chief Secretary for Administration will play a crucial role in this important task and he or she will be expected to coordinate all principal officials and departments to achieve this objective. An efficiency unit may be set up, ensuring administrative efficiency and effectiveness across all departments and agencies.

In particular, performance pledges may have to be issued by all departments so as to fulfill Ho’s foremost objective.

The implications of improving administrative efficiency for various policy issues are obvious. Housing units will be built more quickly; citizens inquiries and complaints will be tackled more swiftly; and targets of various government departments will be achieved more smoothly, especially in the realms of land supply, urban renewal, road work, and infrastructure projects completion.

At present, urban renewal is beginning but its administrative efficiency will have to be achieved through a lowering of the threshold of the percentage of households in a building that agrees to any proposed renewal plan.

The Secretary for Transport Work and Land will have to demonstrate stronger leadership and he or she will need to be assisted by very competent and efficient subordinates. A comprehensive urban renewal blueprint is urgent in Macau, especially in view of recent fire accidents in old buildings. Fire services will have to conduct more rigorous checks on the safety of all buildings in the coming years.

Second, economic diversification remains a gigantic task for Macau. Under the administration of Edmund Ho and Chui Sai On, efforts have been made to diversify Macau’s economy. Still, it is difficult for outsiders to identify what economic sectors for which Macau is good, apart from casino, gaming and tourism sectors.

Dependence on tourism alone is economically risky for Macau because any regional and global economic downturn will affect the territory easily. As such, Macau needs to ponder how to broaden its economic base by going beyond the casino, gaming and tourism sectors. For instance, Macau may consider the development of a Chinese medicine hub. By utilizing Hengqin and by increasing research efforts at Chinese medicine, this area of development may help diversify Macau’s economy.

Macau has tried to expand its convention centres as instruments through which economic diversification can be encouraged. In fact, these convention centres have held many conferences and exhibitions. Yet, the number of participants has not been so impressive.

If so, more efforts will have to be made at boosting participation, encouraging various economic sectors to hold quality conferences and exhibitions, and matching these conferences and exhibitions with Macau’s long-term plans of development.

Another potential area of development is the re-export of mainland vehicles and agricultural tractors through Macau to other countries, especially the Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa where agricultural development needs China’s good quality tractors.

In this aspect, Macau may consider utilizing part of Hengqin’s physical space to develop into an export zone for Chinese-made vehicles. However, there appears to be no discussions in this potential area of economic development, not to mention car repair work.

As Macau is crowded with all kinds of vehicles, car repair work can be expanded in the city and in Hengqin. In other words, Macau needs to think harder on some niche areas of economic diversification, regardless of whether it may be a transit point for the export of mainland Chinese cars and agricultural tractors and whether it may be car repair industry.

The automobile industry in China has been developing so prosperously that Macau can have a huge potential of tapping into this market, locally and externally.

Third, Macau needs to develop its continuing and professional education substantially. The Greater Bay Area plan unleashed by the central government in Beijing has proposed new 15 policy measures for Macau.

But Macau needs to develop its local talents, train the local young people and adults on the necessity of life-long education, and equip them with the necessary and updated skills and knowledge to compete locally and regionally with both mainlanders and foreign skilled workers. Many local Macau universities have appeared to ignore the importance of expanding continuing and professional education programs and courses.

Nor does the government give any new educational subsidy to each local resident to pursue his or her studies. New programs and courses should be offered, such as big data, sustainable development, environmental studies, and artificial intelligence. Similarly, the local Macau people need to upgrade their language skills, especially English, so that Macau will become a trilingual city with strong economic competitiveness and uniqueness compared with other mainland cities.

In particular, the development of Macau’s bonds centre will demand trilingual experts if the bonds market will embrace not only Chinese but also foreign capital and investment.

Fourth, Macau really needs a better and stronger think tank system that can advise the government better in its long-term development. Previous think tanks affiliated with the government did not publish their findings and share their results with the members of the public swiftly, openly and effectively. The quality of some of these publications appeared to be low.

Governmental think tanks should engage outside experts and even members of the public through seminars, workshops and conferences. Research grants should also be provided for researchers at various universities to apply and conduct research projects for the benefits of Macau. New topics related to research should be proposed by the think tank, together with a revamped Macau Foundation.

Macau Foundation has traditionally been provided with lots of financial resources, but its research grants should be expanded to cover local universities, private research institutes and opinion surveys organizations so that stronger research will be conducted locally and shared with other experts, government officials, policymakers, politicians and other stakeholders effectively.

Fifth, in order to train local talents, all secondary schools and universities should strengthen their exchange programs, sending students to both China and foreign countries for summer internships, field experiences and experiential learning. More foreign exchange students should be encouraged to join all programs in all local universities.

At present, Macau’s local universities and tertiary institutes are developing in an unbalanced manner in terms of resources, manpower, student numbers and expertise.

A revamped Macau Foundation, or a new higher education monitoring body like the University Grants Council in Hong Kong, should take on the role of a funding agency with experts from different parts of the world so that Macau’s local universities and institutes will climb up the ladder in world rankings in general. Otherwise, if Macau is expected to integrate into the Greater Bay Area, its economic competitiveness will face huge challenges due to the highly competitive research institutes in neighbouring cities.

Sixth, to help develop Macau’s young people, sports should be expanded and developed significantly. Some areas of Macau sports are underdeveloped, notably football, even though the Chinese President Xi Jinping is keen to develop football in the mainland. Football development in Macau should ideally be professional and move beyond the amateur style of planning and implementation.

Better stadiums, training, coaches, players and clubs will be necessary. Football players at universities, secondary schools and other private-sector organizations can be connected together with far more financial incentives and logistical support than the present predicament.

Casino companies can donate money to develop different areas of sports, including football, very easily, but unfortunately there has been no comprehensive planning in sports policy and development in Macau. A few Macau sports perform well in international competition, such as wushi (martial arts), but Macau can fully utilize its waters surroundings to expand water sports.

A new sports policy to develop the interest of the young people and to maximize their potential should ideally be formulated by the new Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture. Macau should make its name well known in the world not just by casinos, gaming and tourism, but also by other areas, including specifically sports.

Seventh, urban planning and redesign will be necessary for Macau where cars, vehicles and people are crowded in concentrated areas. This kind of old urban design has to be changed so that the people of Macau will enjoy a better quality of life, better environment and better air.

The concept of sustainability will have to be built into the psyche of urban redevelopment and redesign of new districts. Hengqin can provide an excellent opportunity for Macau to redesign these new districts, shifting and migrating the existing population outward. At the same time, Macau’s special cultural heritage, including its beautiful architectural, artistic and historical sites will have to be maintained through constant restoration and preservation work so that mainland and foreign tourists will continue to find Macau a very unique city in the Greater Bay Area.

Eighth, Macau tourism can be developed creatively. Cruise boats should be developed; underwater treasures should be found out so that underwater tourist sites can be built; ferries should be established to connect the Macau peninsula and the Taipa Island. Curiously, Macau tourism has focused on land sites rather than fully utilizing its vast waters and coastal surroundings to build up new attractive sites creatively.

Ninth, clean governance will have to be consolidated by the new commissioner of anti-corruption. Public maladministration and corruption are the evils of good governance. As such, Macau needs to guard itself against maladministration and corruption. The new anti-corruption commissioner will need to deepen anti-graft work, ensuring that all civil servants will observe the high standards and ethics of good governance.

Tenth, electoral reform and administration will need to be developed and strengthened. The number of seats in the Legislative Council, including directly and indirectly elected seats, may have to be revisited so that representative government will improve and that it will facilitate governmental responsiveness and democratic development.

In conclusion, the new team of principal officials to be led by new Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng will face new challenges. Yet, new challenges refer to new opportunities that can and should be grasped by these new and existing principal officials to bring Macau’s development to a new phase with new breakthroughs in the era of socio-economic integration with the Greater Bay Area.