(Xinhua/Cheong Kam Ka)

Special Report – “The Future is Feminist” * (11 – 15)

In December last year we published the list of the 20 most influential people in Macau.

And we realized that they were almost all men.

* “The Future is Feminist” is the name of a book edited by Mallory Farrugia (2019)

MB August 2020 Special Report | 20 (+20) influential women

Ng Siu Lai – The Supporter 

Having been the President of Board of Directors of the General Union of Neighbourhood Associations of Macau (commonly known as Kai Fong, a Cantonese romanisation of the Chinese 街坊, or ‘people living in the same neighbourhood’) for eight years, Ng Siu Lai would be an undisputed presence on this list.

After all, we are talking about one of the most well-known and traditional associations in Macau, although the recent electoral results show that when it comes to the ballot box, the Kai Fong-backed lists have not been able to secure a second seat of their own at the legislature. 

Ng Siu Lai was never a member of the Legislative Assembly, although she is a Macau deputy to the National People’s Congress (the country’s parliament), after being a delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (Beijing’s top advisory body).

Ng Siu Lai has been a leading face of the Kai Fong focus on livelihood issues and residents’ quality of life, in line with the association’s social work services 

“Our main objective is to create a bridge of communication between residents and the Government, and supervising the work of the Executive is also our task,” she said two years ago.

Among the most recent priorities of Ng Siu Lai is the fact that Macau is increasingly an ageing society, which needs to pay attention to the quality of senior citizens’ retirement and expand the government’s social allowances to local people who live outside Macau elsewhere in the Greater Bay Area.

The Kai Fong are and have always been a bastion of the People’s Republic of China in Macau, even when the PRC had no legally-recognized institutions in the city. Today, as in the past, they prioritize providing support both to the local and central governments.

“I never doubt the path planned by the Central Government,” she replied in an interview.

Maria Helena Senna Fernandes – The Familiar Face

In a list dominated by women of pure Chinese ethnicity, Maria Helena Senna Fernandes stands out for being an exception as Eurasian (from one of the city’s traditional Macanese families). One can say she is Macau’s familiar face. 

This is also due to the fact that, since 2012, she has been at the helm of the Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO), in a city where tourism is the core industry, alongside gambling.

Ms Fernandes has earned widespread appreciation as a result of her balanced approach between holding such a high profile position and the rather discrete and mild tone she lends to her public appearances. 

In addition to her own qualities and characteristics, Ms Senna Fernandes benefits from the fact that she knows the sector deeply, since she has been at MGTO since the end of the 1980s; firstly, integrated in the marketing department, and later as deputy director until Costa Antunes stepped down from MGTO director. In other words, she is closing in on 35 years of her connection to the department.

Furthermore, Ms Fernandes represents yet another generation of one of the most important Macanese families, the Senna Fernandes family, who date back to the 19th century and are linked to the history and culture of Macau.

Born in Macau, Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of East Asia (now University of Macau), in 1987.  

She even interned at the Luso International Bank, before tourism made an indelible mark on her life. Besides leading MGTO, Ms Senna Fernandes concurrently serves as Coordinator of the Tourism Crisis Management Office and is a member of the Tourism Development Committee, MICE Development Committee, Economic Development Committee, Cultural Advisory Committee, Creative Industries Committee, and the Urban Planning Committee, among others.

Melinda Chan: The Comeback lady 

Melinda Chan was one of the main losers of the last elections in Macau, losing the position she had won in 2009 and, in a way, inherited from her husband, David Chow, when he left the local parliament to dedicate himself completely to business.

It is true that Ms Chan lost her place by only 160 votes (in more than 8,000 that she gathered), but in the local political scene, very stagnant and with little news, her non-re-election was one of the surprises of the night.

After the initial shock, (“I was confident, and I am very disappointed. I never thought I would win, but I respect the citizens’ decision. I don’t know what happened, they might not have liked what I said in the campaign”), and when many thought that Melinda Chan would focus completely on the Sin Meng Charity Association (dedicated to solidarity and formation), the latest news is: Ms Chan is the new CEO of Macau Legend, which manages the Fisherman’s Wharf.

As in 2009, when she ‘inherited’ her husband’s place, Melinda Chan succeeds David Chow in this place.

The presence of Ms Chan in this list highlights the great challenges that Macau Legend faces, not only in Macau but also in distant places, such as Cape Verde and Portugal, where there has been some turbulence associated with the start of investments.

In addition, the Macau Legend group announced losses of HKD190.2 million last year, compared to gains of HKD1.966 million in 2018.

Operating several casinos (under license from SJM) and several hotels, Macau Legend is a very relevant player in Macau, and is listed on the Main Board of The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited since 2013, so it makes sense to be aware of what Melinda Chan is going to do for years to come.

Pansy Ho – The First of all 

This list of 20 influential women in Macau is presented in alphabetical order, for reasons that readers will surely understand.

The curious thing is that if we hardly knew who to choose specifically for No. 7 or No. 14, we had no doubt who would be in first place …

All previous signs already indicated that Pansy Ho would come to assert herself as the main heir to the economic and financial empire created by Stanley Ho.

What was seen immediately after the founder’s death only confirmed that.

Pansy appeared in front of the family, in a unique (and unrepeatable?) image. And it was she who spoke (along with her half sister, the oldest of all, Angela).

Knowing that her sister Daisy is her ally and that younger brother Lawrence seems to have little interest in STDM business (really? We must wait to be sure…), only Angela Leong would be able to outshine Pansy Ho, especially as she is concerned with securing positions for her children.

The reference to Angela Leong is no accident. She would be the other person who could rival Pansy in first place – see the profile on these pages.

It turns out the 57-year old daughter didn’t need politics to appear on Forbes ‘Billionaires 2019’ list at 413th, and is 20th on Hong Kong’s rich list. Pansy Ho is the Executive Chairperson and Managing Director of Shun Tak, and she is also on the board of STDM (and a controlling shareholder of SJM). 

Plus, how many people in Macau are linked to two of the six concessions, as she holds a 22 per cent interest in MGM China and recently, after Stanley Ho’ death, announced new commitments and a greater role as Managing Director of MGM?

There are those who say that Pansy will sell the position in MGM to concentrate seriously on STDM/SJM, which she already controls indirectly. Bernstein believe it will happen after the concession rebidding process in Macau, where, “she will play the critical role.”

To fully be her father’s heir, Pansy will need to gain direct control of STDM.

That will be the battle of the next few years, helping to bring clarity and assertiveness to the governance model, and with the impact of the Grand Lisboa Palace, stop the erosion of market share, which has been accentuated in the last decade.

More recently, Pansy Ho played a more high-profile political role as she made the pro-Beijing business sector’s case against last year’s anti-government protests in Hong Kong, in a United Nations meeting.   

Paula Ling – The Forerunner

In a land where lawyers are more prominent than elsewhere, Paula Ling is the only lawyer on this list.

Yes, advocacy has traditionally been a matter for men and only recently has the situation started to change.

Paula Ling was the precursor.

And like all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, we are the result of our circumstances, the life story of the young woman who was raised on an island in the Azores (Portugal) came to be decisive for her journey.

Having lived and studied in Portugal, she masters Portuguese perfectly.

But since she was the daughter of a Chinese family from Zhejiang, who established themselves as traders on Terceira Island, she never lost sight of the Chinese language and culture.

In 1977 she came to visit her brother, who worked at CEM, and stayed here. When she enrolled in the first law course opened in Macau (1988), at the now-disappeared University of East Asia, absorbed by the University of Macau, she had already mastered the two official languages of Macau.

She completed law school in 1993 and has been practicing law since 1995.

In the first decade of the MSAR, she became prominent, having been elected deputy in 2008, representing the Special Administrative Region, to the National People’s Congress (NPC) of China – she was the first Chinese deputy to master the Portuguese language serving in the country’s top legislative body.

In recent years she has moved away from the limelight, but continues to fight for two of the causes that accompanied her in this long journey: the preservation of the identity of the Macau legal system, as it was inherited in the 1999 handover, and women’s rights. Five years ago, as a female Macau NPC delegate, she complained that local women in general are granted a period of 56 days of maternity leave, whereas, in particular, female civil servants are granted a full three months, which is similar to the mainland entitlement. “56 days are definitely not enough,” she stated.

A final note of curiosity: Paula Ling has been a lawyer for almost three decades. But time has not changed her mind; she likes to be a lawyer but doesn’t like particularly to go to court.

Special Report | 20 (+20) influential women > See here (6 – 10)