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Macao a Decade on

WE have higher incomes, better public security and more job opportunities; our government is also more attentive to public opinion and has increased subsidies for public undertakings. But there are too many casinos around, and housing prices are too high.” This is how Zheng Bingkun, a 59-year-old bus driver, sums up life in Macao since it returned to the PRC.

Zheng and his wife Liang Shuqin, a worker at a local garment factory, are not just ordinary folks. In 2004 they hosted President Hu Jintao in their 70-square-meter apartment on the Avenida do Coronel Mesquita. A picture of that stellar meeting still hangs in their sitting room.

What delights the couple most about the past decade is that both of their children have landed stable jobs. Their son works for the Secretariat for Administration and Justice in the local government, and their daughter is a teacher. “Opportunities were always slim for Macao natives to gain entry into the local government under the Portuguese rule. Now all applicants compete fairly in a meritocracy through a system of exams,” Mr. Zheng explained.

According to a survey conducted in December by the One Country Two Systems Research Center of the Macao Polytechnic Institute, 82 percent of the people in Macao feel that the “one country two systems” policy has been successful for the region. As Edmund Ho Hau Wah, the first chief executive of Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR), noted: “The people of Macao are confident about the policy, as it has brought them substantial benefits.”

A Plump Public Purse

Sou Tim Peng, acting director of Macao’s Economic Service served in the government of Macao prior to the region’s handover to the PRC. “During the four years leading up to Macao’s return to the motherland local economic growth was down. It bounced back by 5.7 percent within the first year after the return, and soon realized a two-digit increase on its annual growth,” Mr. Su said. The recuperation was primarily credited to the region’s gambling industry. Beginning in 2006 Macao became bent on diversifying its economy by beefing up its tourism, trade and commerce.

Figures from the Statistics and Census Service show that from 1999 to 2008 the region’s GDP rose from US $5.9 billion to US $21.48 billion, while the per capita GDP was up from US $14,000 to $39,000. Over the ensuing decade, Macao’s fiscal revenues increased from US $2.1 billion to US $7.2 billion, with the local government’s fiscal surplus snowballing year after year and reaching US $12.5 billion. Meantime, the per capita median income of Macao people grew from US $615 to $1,063 per month; residents’ bank deposits expanded from US $10.5 billion to $23.2 billion, while the unemployment rate fell from 6.5 percent to 3 percent.

“Macao remains a microeconomic entity even after ten years of integration, but its economic aggregate has seen dramatic augmentation,” said Dr. Leong Wan Chong, chief of One Country Two Systems Research Center at the Macao Polytechnic Institute. With its extraordinary dynamics, the enclave of a territory of 29.6 square kilometers and a population of 540,000 has managed to turn the world’s head.

Livelihoods and Safety Nets Improved

“I am happy to be a resident of Macao,” said Ho Lai Chun da Luz, director of the Cultural Affairs Bureau of the SAR. “For example, all of our activities are funded by the regional government. The government cultural investments have grown at an annual rate of two digits, ensuring the public a life rich in historical dimensions.” Over the past decade the government of Macao has steadily increased its budgets for cultural and educational development and general improvement of living quality. The positive changes have been well received by its citizens.

Zhuang Qingqing, 18, a senior at the local Workers’ Children High School, plans to study translation/interpretation at Peking University or the University of Lisbon after graduation. Her classmate Zeng Yashi, one of the school’s student leaders, yearns to make a bigger name for herself, through a career in journalism someday. He Bailin, a policeman’s son, has his eyes set on several programs in criminal psychology at a university in Australia. These three students are indicative of great potential and promise of the high school’s graduates.

The Workers’ Children High School was founded in the 1950s by the Macao Federation of Trade Unions, and is filled with children of working class families. “Most of the students are from humble backgrounds,” said principal Tong Chi Kin. “But they all have the desire to learn, and the acquisition of knowledge gives them the power to alter their fates in a positive way.” In recent years Macao has extended its period of free education from nine to 15 years, and provides incentives for young people to seek higher education. Statistics show that over 80 percent of today’s high school graduates are going on to university.

Macao, with its growing budget surpluses, has lavishly increased its welfare budget. In 2008 and 2009 the regional government carried out a wealth-sharing system for inhabitants whose monthly salaries were below MOP 2,000, designed to even out somewhat the economic benefits of the region across its population. Zheng Bingkun’s wife Liang Shuqin received a total of MOP 24,000 (US $3,000) from the cash handout each year.

The government also launched a new pension plan in 2009, which establishes an account of MOP 10,000 (US $1,250) for all residents who meet the requirements, and increases it annually in concert with the size of budget surplus. It is a supplement to the current pension plan offered by employers, and is expected to enhance the prospects of an even more comfortable life for Macao’s retirees. Apart from the salary subsidy and pension programs, the local government also provides handsome medical and disability subsidies for its citizens. Chui Sai On, the chief executive of Macao SAR, has made it clear that his administration is focused on improving the lives and livelihoods of its people.

Master of Its Own Destiny

At the conclusion of the first decade of his administration of Macao SAR, Edmund Ho Hau Wah recalled its rocky start: his administration had little experience in implementing the promise of a “Macao ruled by the Macao people.” “We had to deal with many of the residual problems that history had left on our doorstep, even though the localization of the government’s functionaries was barely underway during the transition period. So many young, green public servants walked cold into their roles right after the handover.”

Florinda da Rosa Silva Chen, secretary for the Administration and Justice of the Macao SAR Government, has contributed a lot to the orientation and team building of Macao’s public servants since 1999. Chen was educated at a Portuguese school and worked in the government of Portuguese Macao from the age of 20. It was beyond her expectations to be appointed as a secretary upon Macao’s return to China. “I am very proud that the central government has placed its confidence in me, and my decades of service under the former authority. It shows the sincerity of the ‘one country, two systems’ and ‘Macao ruled by Macao people’ policies.” Chen has dedicated herself to the SAR since assuming her new office. To improve the quality of the public service and advance the implementation of local policies, Chen and her colleagues focused on improving professional training. The series of training plans they have developed, she insists, aim not only at the enhancement of management skills and policy-making abilities, but also at raising team cohesion. Through their efforts, the public servants of Macao have enriched their practical administrational experience.

Lau Cheok Va, president of the Macao Legislative Council, has been a member of the legislature since 1984, and is witness to the unfolding of local rule. Before 1999, the legislature had little legislative power; instead the Governor of Macao was empowered to write legislation, 70 percent of which was drafted by him alone. Now, the SAR government draws up administrative regulations only, as authorized and keyed to the Basic Law, while the Legislative Council drives the entire legislation process. To date, over 200 laws have been enacted. “What impresses me most is that the Basic Law has granted the legislature real power, boosting its members’ enthusiasm for participation and enhancing citizens’ sense of belonging,” says Lau.

Leonel Alberto Alves, who was born in Macao in 1957, represents a unique group – Macao born Portuguese. After Macao’s return to the homeland, many Portuguese citizens chose to remain and continue their careers and life here. Many of them have even applied for Chinese citizenship. Leonel Alberto Alves was the first local-born Portuguese who became Chinese, and was later elected into the region’s Legislative Council. “We have worked hard to guarantee the rights of our local citizens 100 percent,” Leonel Alberto Alves states, citing a legislation project he helped draft. It was written to ensure that every citizen has the right to representation by a lawyer throughout the legal process should they require one. Leonel Alberto Alves places high hopes on Macao’s role in bridging the Chinese mainland and Portuguese-speaking communities, through people like him with both Portuguese and Chinese backgrounds.

Bai Zhijian, director of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Macao Special Administrative Region, said that since Macao’s return, the SAR government has enacted numerous new measures, including an online bulletin, to improve its administration and publicize governmental policies. “The SAR government has made unremitting efforts to exercise democratic rule in Macao.”

Behind the Economic Miracle

Macao’s amazing economic growth has been called a miracle, but Edmund Ho Hau Wah has a different opinion. “We didn’t perform miracles; we just conducted our daily routine in a down-to-earth fashion.” He attributed Macao’s success to the “one country, two systems” policy and the full support of the central government, together with the concerted efforts of the SAR government and the people of Macao.

Wing Kee Beef Offal is a small food stand that has enjoyed popularity among gourmets and gourmands for 70 years, loved for its delicious soups and high standard of food safety. The proprietor has seen growth in her business over the last few years thanks to the increase in travelers from the mainland, which make up 30, sometimes 50, percent of the stall’s customer base. Some guests have even invited her to open branches in Beijing or Shanghai, or have asked to purchase her recipes outright.

The success of Macao’s private sector, examplified by Wing Kee, is owed in part to the flexible individual traveling policy implemented by the mainland, or “free traveling,” as it is called by the Macao people. Since Macao’s handover, the central government has acted strictly in accordance with the Basic Law of Macao and the “one country, two systems” policy. It promises noninterference in Macao’s internal affairs, but stands ready to offer full support whenever Macao so requests. In 2003, for example, the outbreak of SARS caused Macao’s tourism industry to plummet, which brought about the central government’s implementation of “free traveling.” As of 2008, more than 32 million mainlanders visited Macao, spending in the region around MOP 100 billion, or an average of MOP 3,000 per tourist.

Under the framework of the WTO, Macao has established even closer economic and trade ties with the mainland. After the financial crisis swept the world in 2008, the central government carried out nine counter-crisis measures specifically for Macao. Recently Macao has increased exchanges with its neighboring Pearl River Delta Zone, participating in its joint ten-year development plan. As part of that plan, the University of Macao, long compromised by a lack of land, has been approved by the State Council to relocate to nearby Hengqin Island. The expansion of RMB business across Macao’s banking industry has also helped stabilize and boost economic growth in the region.

Dr. Leong Wan Chong describes the past decade in Macao as one of blazing trails and laying foundations. He believes that the SAR, after a fruitful decade, has come full circle to a fresh start – one filled with great hope as well as new challenges.

Macao’s first chief executive Edmund Ho Hau Wah expressed on several occasions his sincere gratitude to the central government for its support to the SAR over the past decade. Current Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On is bent on diversifying the region’s economy, now dominated by the gambling industry. He worries that dependence on a single industry will jeopardize establishing comprehensive and sustainable development throughout the region. “In the long run, we believe Macao should continue to adapt by diversifying its economic base. Fortunately the financial success already achieved has provided us with a solid platform.” He plans to invest in the acceleration of other industries such as convention and exhibition facilities, the cultural sector and logistics, as well as to upgrade and transform traditional industries.


VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us