Special Report – Public administration reform facing delays

Ho Iat Seng wants to reform the public administration, and he has plenty of reasons to do so. One is to allow a more efficient management of resources.  

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

During the campaign that preceded his election as Chief Executive (CE), Ho Iat Seng made public administration reform one of his main objectives. 

He had not yet been sworn in and said that his government would put special emphasis on undertaking an in-depth reform of the public administration system. 

In other words, an overhaul of the city’s civil service would rank high on his agenda under a “create first to reform later” strategy, he said. 

Then the pandemic came. 

Nevertheless, the battle against the COVID-19 health crisis and its economic fallout, as well as the promotion of public administration reform remained the two major priorities set out by Chief Executive in his first Policy Address delivered in April at the Legislative Assembly. 

“We will continue to increase government efficiency and the quality of public services in order to build a healthy government that is modern and highly efficient, and that provides favourable conditions for the life of the population and the activity of companies,” said the Chief Executive, adding: “We intend to increase the efficiency of the public administration, to reinforce in its workers the conscience of serving [their duty] well, as well as ethical and integrity-filled conduct driven by the interests of the population.” 

Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng visited São Januário hospital on Saturday 25 January 2020. GCS

In his first Policy Address, Ho Iat Seng also made a diagnosis of what he considers to be wrong: “The overlap of public services and the lack of clarity of the respective attributions, the low administrative efficiency and a service offering that is not convenient for residents” or the existence of “a bureaucratic and time-consuming process of recruiting workers for the public administration and an incorrect allocation of human resources”, as well as “a deficient interdepartmental coordination of work without assuming responsibilities”. 

Last October, however, the CE assumed that after all it is a mission to be carried out over time: “Taking into account that the problems existing in the public administrative machinery have been accumulated over the long term, and due to the complexity that this has created, it will be impossible to complete the reform in one or two years”. 

The Chief Executive believes that administrative reform “not only needs time but must be promoted in an orderly manner” and, therefore, that it is “necessary to be pragmatic” and that one must not reform “just for the sake of doing so”. 

As far as it went public, Ho has plans to restructure several key government departments, but for now he only made the transfer of the Macau Government Tourism Office from the Secretariat for Social Affairs and Culture to that of the Secretariat for Economy and Finance. 

He has also announced that the Macau Foundation will undergo a major reform, with a view to a more efficient use of the public purse. With this reform, the Government wants financial support to be used with the most vulnerable strata and the neediest citizens. And the Chairman of the Legislative Assembly’s Follow-up Committee for Public Finance Affairs, Mak Soi Kun, warned that the fall in gambling revenues will lead the Macau Foundation to cut subsidies to associations. 

Ho Iat Seng recalls that, as President of the Legislative Assembly, he stated, on several occasions, “that the waste of resources is a recurrent problem.” 

Ieong, Meng U 


“Did you mean management on government spending? If it is the case, I think Ho managed to do so but it is not an easy task as the political system of Macau involved a lot of clientelism.” 

Sonny Lo 

The Audit Commission should be empowered” 

“Spending appropriately is important for the government, and here the Audit Commission should be empowered to check every department and every public corporation’s spending, while at the same time the government, which uses lots of assistance packages in Covid-19, may think about how to use casino concessions’ taxes in a way that will benefit the society more. The Macau government needs to think about how to use tax incentives to steer private sector investment in suitable areas, like sports notably, so that the young people will have their energies and talents utilized fully. On public sector reform, Ho needs more time as he must rely on the senior civil servants and principal officials concerned to come up with a blueprint of civil service reforms. Such reforms will need to get the support of civil servants, while emphasizing the need for better coordination, inter-departmental communications, and better performance appraisal and performance pledges to the public. In other words, public sector reforms will be more difficult as they have to be internally accountable to the civil servants, who are the stakeholders, and to the chief executive himself, but also externally accountable to the members of the public who expect the civil service to achieve better delivery of public services, to be more efficient, more effective and more economical in using resources.” 

José Alvarez 

“Matters that drag endlessly” 

“Everyone knows working for the Macau government means a fairly good pay at the end of the month and stability. Take Ho Iat Seng’s announcement that despite all the announced cuts, there won’t be reduction of salaries. There are very capable and caring public servants, but there are matters that drag endlessly (passed around as no one wants to decide) and a relative opacity on the more significant matters. It seems HO IAT SENG wants to address this and avoid situations like the land fiasco of the not so clear distinction between which landowners were at fault for not developing the plots and those that were not and the consequences thereafter (or lack thereof). In terms of the spending, HO IAT SENG seems to want to avoid spending that offers little return and instead to focus it on directing it towards the community – we are already seeing investment on infrastructure (namely roads and given to local companies) as opposed to tourism events, which I believe will gradually diminish.” 

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