Special Report – Break with predecessor

Perhaps a more definitive assessment of Ho Iat Seng’s leadership style can only be drawn in the post-pandemic situation, but what we have witnessed so far comes to a great extent in contrast with his predecessor. 

MB December 2020 Special Report | Ho Iat Seng – Year 1

The six years that Ho Iat Seng was at the helm of the Legislative Assembly passed relatively quietly. 

It is true that the ‘election campaign’ from the Chief Executive already showed signs of proximity different from those to which Chui Sai On had accustomed the population of Macau. 

And a few weeks before taking office, he gave an interview to the Chinese state-run broadcaster CCTV, saying he has a ‘hawkish’ working style, an unusual and original self-description in the local context.   

The truth is that only three days after being in office, Ho Iat Seng did something previously unthinkable in local political life: in an interview with TDM’s Chinese-language Ou Mun channel, the CE made a devastating assessment of the former Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture work: ‘Being a waste is the biggest crime, is what I can say. Corruption is not the only crime. Just one of the elements. But being a wasteful person is also among the biggest crimes’. The tutelage of Alexis Tam absorbed 35 per cent of [the Administration’s] annual budget – “at least MOP30 billion” – and even so it was the target of ‘several complaints from the public’, which, considered the leader of the Government, ends up being “a problem.” 

It is still unclear whether these words were directed specifically at Alexis Tam  – whom Ho named and reappointed to head the SAR’s office in Lisbon and Brussels – or at his predecessor, or both. 

The truth is that throughout this first year there was no lack of signs that Ho Iat Seng was different from Chui Sai On, having had no problems reverting decisions from the previous government, such as giving up the land reclamation area D or building the Central Library of Macau on the grounds of the former Hotel Estoril instead of the old court as projected. 

A few months ago, at a press conference, he gave a telling example that all authorities are the same as any other Macau citizens: “The daughter of director [of the Office of the Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture] also came back from Europe, and has also waited for 13 hours before she was able to arrive in the [hotel] room, so what? The director is in charge of the area; has she “taken care” of her very own child? No! Everybody is the same!” 

“First of all, Ho Iat Seng was better than Chui Sai On, who would always emphasise social welfare, cash handouts and elderly policies while Ho focuses on economic recovery and public administration reform,” the Vice-Director of the Macau Synergy Association, Johnson Ian Heng Ut, told our sister publication Macau News Agency (MNA). Ian also considered that while Chui had a tendency to only focus on the “good aspects of the government and ignore the bad ones”, Ho seems to be able to “face the core problems”, which was an important step to be able to “solve them”.  

When someone like opposition legislator Au Kam San said that Ho “broke the tradition of the last 20 years,” because he does not belong to the families that have been running Macau, and another non-establishment lawmaker, Pereira Coutinho, stated that “you know why the people respect the new Chief Executive? Because for ten years we had a leader who was a complete failure,” a lot has already been said. 

Ieong Meng U 

“Stronger and more decisive” 

“Obviously Ho has a very different leadership (stronger and more decisive) compare with Chui. It is likely that under the leadership of Ho, Macau would begin the ‘real’ journey on ‘moderate diversified’ its economy as the gamble industry is unlikely to recover in a short period under the COVID-19 and ‘new cold war’ between China and US. And Ho’s strategy to do so seems is emphasized regional cooperation with Guangdong and the bridge role of Macau in China’s relations with Portuguese-speaking countries” 

Sonny Lo 

“More high-profile and firm” 

“The style of the two leaders is different, with Chui being more low-profile and less decisive sometimes, but with Ho being more high-profile and more decisive and firm. Ho’s leadership can arguably be very suitable for Macau at a time when the global world is engulfed in Covid-19, but in terms of how to make Macau less dependent on casino economy and industry, Ho seems to lack sufficient capacity and ideas at this moment” 

José Álvares 

“No-frills, swift and preemptive action” 

“It is worth noting that Macau Government’s top leadership had only a partial reshuffling – continuity as it ensures stability. The highlight of H.I.S. would be his no-frills, swift and preemptive action, which was clearly visible when shutting down the casinos – he was ready to go as soon as the first COVID case was detected there. However, it is unfair to accuse the previous administration of lacking courage – correctly or not, they started the land repossession process, which now allows the current CE a considerable land bank when there was practically none (if we exclude the landfills).  One interesting detail is the effort this Government is putting on its perception with the public – even before being sworn in, Ho Iat Seng was going around meeting every sector of society. 

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