OPINION – Words unsaid

Macau Business | December 2021

It is not every day that a policy address and a piece of popular music become so entangled in your mind that they become the motive for an opinion piece such as this one. Lest the occasional reader may surmise someone is losing his bearings, this opening sentence needs further elaboration.

We all got used to listening to music in the background in many public places, usually a playlist running in a loop. One has then the opportunity to enjoy (if that is the case) the same tunes repeatedly – providing one stays long enough. Sometimes the music hovers almost at the threshold of our conscience, and we hardly notice it. There is even a specific name for that condition: wallpaper music. (As an aside: Christmas is coming, and we are bound to have the decibels go up, cheerfully encouraging our best seasonal consumer mood – if it was not for the inevitable fatigue. Is it possible that no one created a new Christmas hit for the last forty or fifty years?)

A few days ago, I was for a while exposed to a popular (a hit a few years hence) romantic song, presented in a (never encountered before) single tune loop. One could not miss it, sooner or later. The song’s main theme, several times repeated in the lyrics, goes as follows: “you say it best when you say nothing at all.” (Most of you have probably heard it at some point. The words have a romantic tint, I assure you. Even if taken in isolation, they might be open to more ambiguous and less benevolent interpretations.) And it just kept coming again and again to my variably conscious attention.

Even the most benevolent reader may start wondering where this all leads; what’s the connection with the Policy Address? The fact is, the refrain line kept popping to mind as I was reading the document. As it happens, the brain follows surprising paths sometimes and may establish unexpected connections.

Remember this is the last Policy Address before the end of the current gambling concessions, which will be winding up in a few months. Given the weight and role of the sector in the economic growth and social changes it entailed in the last two decades, one might expect the matter would be a central one, if not the central one, in the Address. Yet, it says very little of real substance about it. 

The principal stated objective for the sector comes at the bottom of page 28 (section III.2, Portuguese version) in very general terms: “To promote the orderly and healthy development of the gambling industry, in accordance with the law.” But, unfortunately, this does not clarify much. (Let us leave aside this old inclination to multiply adjectives. No one, we can bet, would expect or wish the development to be disorderly, unhealthy, or illegal.)

The new law proposal is yet to be presented to and approved by the Legislative Assembly. Nevertheless, the hints from the public discussion, or public statements and events in connection with the sector, all point to increased direct control over the industry – more direct intervention of the government in the management of the future concessions, more assertive protectionism for local concerns, and an enhanced command over financial flows, to name the most obvious. 

As the lyrics that so obsessively hang in the back of my mind for a while (not anymore, I reassure you) may remind us, the most important is often what is missing, or not explicitly said, if at all.