Special Report – Future challenges around the corner 

While the priority is to recover the economy, will 2021 be a year of social challenge? Recent words from the Chief Executive himself seem to anticipate this scenario. 

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

This article, like all others in this special report, includes extra comments from a panel of analysts on the issues raised by us. One of the commentators, political scientist Sonny Lo, brings into the agenda the need to reform the local political system. 

Mr Lo believes that, in the post-pandemic situation, the Government and the population will have to deal with the economic consequences and that the mentality of the population may be changing, becoming more demanding.  

The Chief Executive, without having read Sonny Lo’s words, seems to have guessed them during last Policy Address: “as time goes by, the pressures on employment and the lives of the population will gradually increase; deep problems and conflicts will arise, previously covered by the accelerated economic growth, and the population needs, accumulated over the years, will become more pronounced.” 

To avoid disbelief in the Government, Sonny Lo understands that the Executive should involve the population more to discuss concrete measures, not only improving communication, but also increasing the participation of the population in the introduction of new policies and measures. 

Observers agree that Ho Iat Seng passed the first test with flying colours. 

But now it is necessary to deal with the decline in gambling revenues and the negative impact on tourism and trade. 

“The outbreak of the epidemic once again revealed Macau’s problems, such as the unique industrial structure, the over-reliance on the gambling sector and the lack of economic resilience. It is necessary to speed up the reflection on the direction and the concrete measures for the optimization of the economic structure of Macau, promoting the adequate diversification of the economy and putting it into practice”, said Ho Iat Seng last July. 

How to reinvigorate Macau’s economy and challenge its dependence on a single sector (gambling) will be the next difficult test that Ho Iat Seng will have to face, much more because the forecasts are not encouraging: the Government expects the economy of the territory to fall by 60.9 per cent in 2020, due to the impact of the pandemic. 

Ieong, Meng U 

“Two big challenges” 

“At least in his first tenure, Ho needs to deal with two big challenges. The first is the renewal of the gambling licenses. The second thing is to revive Macau’s economy.” ​ 

Sonny Lo 

“There is a static sense of governance” 

“Again, governance of Macau lacks creativity and innovation and there should be some discussions on how to turn consultative bodies at the district levels into elected municipal bodies like the Leal Senado in the past. The abolition of the Leal Senado and the Island Council was a blunder made by the Edmund Ho administration which copied from Hong Kong without realizing and predicting that Macau would become larger and necessitate more consultative governance. Elected bodies at the grassroots level can and will deal with municipal and environmental issues more lively and proactively, providing the necessary channels of public and citizen participation. Legislative Council election should also study its election system, like whether the functional groups franchise should be reformed and expanded, like whether the election method should be changed from D’Hondt system to a system like Hong Kong where geographical constituencies can be considered. Again, there is a static sense of governance in Macau. It is time for the Ho administration to think about political reform imaginatively and yet practically for the better governance, better public engagement and better citizen participation in Macau.” 

José Alvarez 

“The perfect opportunity to reform the wealth partaking scheme” 

“First, Ho Iat Seng came with a strong curriculum – an established businessman which simultaneously served in the Executive Council and later in the Legislative Assembly, including almost a decade as its president. And true to his credentials, Ho Iat Seng has already shown his wizardry to deal with economic problems. The lifeline given to battered small and medium size businesses with the consumption card was brilliant, all the while rewarding the local population from the early effort of staying under ‘lockdown’ during the first weeks of the pandemic. The economy will still need some stimulus to get going as the tourism recovery has not shown it will rebound anytime soon. For now, Ho Iat Seng has been going around each sector of the local economy to give them a lifeline (take the travel agencies). In this regard, it is the perfect opportunity to reform the wealth partaking scheme – there is no excess wealth to be distributed given the low income of the Government, but in order to maintain the stimulus, I would transform it into credit similar to the consumption card. The government will have a leading role in showing that everyone is in this together and that if there is tightening, that the uplifting effort will be a collective one.” 

Read more | Special Report – Housing to the forefront