OPINION – The new myth

The diversification of Macau’s economy, whose myth is still being spread by those who do not know what else to say, has long been dead and buried.

By Paulo A. Azevedo – CEO, Global Asia Media

The different governments have had neither the wit nor the skill to turn political discourse into reality, and the consequences loom over the horizon. We were suddenly brought back to our senses by a virus that is changing the routine of our days.

Without tourists, without casino gamblers — Macau’s greatest sources of wealth — times of austerity were to announced.

When casinos were flooding the city with cash, government officials tried to avoid those words like the plague. They appeared ashamed of the origin of the city’s wealth, but they did not shy from congratulating themselves for the city’s development made possible by that wealth.

Now, they say it is time to cut costs, expenses, and investments.

The decision would even be understandable, if it were studied rather than a sudden reaction. As historical records demonstrate, many of Macau’s existing policies were born out of a Yam Tcha, and that’s it.

These policies, which will have an impact on future generations, are made with as much forethought as when one goes to the supermarket and, while looking at the shelves, suddenly remembers: “Ah! I also need cookies.”

There are no strategies, not even a clear understanding of which expenditures are unnecessary and should therefore be cut — because most of the spending is secret.

In the past five years, government agencies have spent nearly one billion patacas on studies and other consultancy services, but only 12 percent was made known to the public.

In other words, we know, more or less, how a little more than 100 million were spent. We can only guess about the rest, hidden behind a black curtain of opacity drawn by those who have the ostensible duty to foster transparency. Let’s not even mention the need for such studies and the way they are done. Everything escapes us.

But the purpose of this article is to talk about cash, and to discuss which expenses should be cut in the first place.

As a legislator from the so-called democratic camp recently recalled, of the thousands, millions, hundreds of millions of patacas given to local associations, history does not tell. Government-subsidized association accounts are anything but transparent.

Now, if we consider the existence of so many associations — many of them headed by members who are part of the consultative bodies of the various government structures – we realize the need for greater transparency. Failure to do so only validates the voices who say, albeit in a whisper, that this opacity only fosters an eternal cycle of political and nepotistic patronage.

This money — a lot of money — goes into the pockets of associations managed by many people who operate within the government’s consultation mechanisms, and thus wield great power and influence. Such people are appointed according to criteria defined by those who govern. They spend money without supervision.

Need I say more?

Expenses must be cut — that is out of the question. These are difficult times. But we must make the first cuts where they can be most easily afforded, namely on the fabulous sums that are squandered annually through a maze of baseless and unaccountable decisions. Without transparency, spending cuts will only harm public services and citizens’ quality of life, while irresponsible spending continues to drain public coffers.

Result: the intention to save money will become another myth, as great as the diversification of Macau’s economy.