Policy Address | Lawmakers hone in on economic relief measures and plan for casino concessions
Tuesday 28th April 2020
The implementation of relief measures to help companies and individuals to face the economic crisis generated by the Covid-19 outbreak, as well as questions on the renewal of the gaming licenses due to expire in 2022, together drew the most interest from lawmakers during yesterday's discussion of the sectorial policies for the economy at the Legislative Assembly (AL).
The lawmakers wanted to know from Secretary for Economy and Finance Lei Wai Nong how some of the measures previously announced to support the revitalization of the economy would be implemented. They also asked if the government intends to extend some of them to help local society adjust to a forecasted long period in which the aftermath of the coronavirus will still be felt by both families and enterprises.
In addition, several lawmakers aired concerns over the expiration of gaming concessions due to occur in June 2022.
The lawmakers took the opportunity of the presence of Secretary Lei at the AL to ask for more details and a schedule on how the process for the tendering of the new concessions will take place.
'Clear picture' on new casino deals this year
To the many questions of legislators on the topic of the new gaming concessions and the laws that will rule them, Secretary Lei announced that when the government launches the public consultation document on the topic - which he assured will happen within this year - all the lawmakers' questions, as well as doubts from stakeholders, will be cleared.
"When we publish the [public] consultation document, I think everyone will have a clear idea about the direction we want to go and what we want to do [regarding the new gaming concessions]," Lei finally said in reply to a suggestion of lawmaker Angela Leong calling for the introduction of a rule to guarantee that a percentage of profits from casino operators would have to be mandatorily invested in projects in Macau.
On the topic, Lei also advanced that the public consultation will aim to collect opinions from across society for the legal production of new regulations that will support the tender. They will include "elements related to non-gaming activities, corporate social responsibility of the concessionaires as well as the support paid by the gaming concessionaires to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro-enterprises.
Several other lawmakers, including gaming scholar Davis Fong, questioned the secretary on the topic, noting that time is running short for a proper evaluation and legal production of the tender regulations.
To such concerns, Lei replied that he and his staff have been working on the matter since he took office. He said that the government is now in a position to make better assessments than during the last round of concessions in 2001.
"We will prepare the consultation well," said Lei. "We will not just look at the bigger picture but we will also pay attention to the details."
Lawmakers Ella Lei and Wang Sai Man suggested that both non-gaming contributions and the support and integration of SMEs in the businesses of the concessionaires should be included in the new concessions. These lawmakers said such measures would help to drive the city's economic diversification forward and that it would safeguard the many jobs among the resident population that are closely tied to, or dependent on, the casino sector.
Relief measures designed to boost consumption
Secretary Lei explained yesterday that the main objectives behind the economy relief measures adopted by the administration in recent months is to stimulate internal consumption and develop infrastructure works.
Questioned on the measures that the government has already launched, Lei explained that they seek to boost internal consumption over the remainder of the year.
For Lei, this allows the government to address the problems in a more "proactive manner," and "revitalize the economy with effective measures that can be immediately absorbed by the market."
"When the epidemic stabilizes in China and Hong Kong, we can have more people circulating and coming to Macau," said Lei, when pressed on what the government has in store next.
"This does not mean that consumption will be reestablished immediately, but step-by-step we will achieve that," he added. "We hope to offer accommodation fares at lower prices and to do other kinds of promotions related to restaurants and similar establishments to stimulate the consumption [from visitors]. This will influence many business sectors, including tour guides."
Labor issues require a change of mindset
Another of the topics that raised many concerns from lawmakers was related to labor conflicts, a rise in the unemployment rate of residents, and measures taken by the companies that terminated contracts and left a large number of workers either on unpaid leave or made redundant.
In reply to these lawmakers, who included Sulu Sou, Au Kam San, Agnes Lam, José Pereira Coutinho, Ella Lei, and others, the Secretary for Economy and Finance said that the mindset of local workers needed to change.
"There are many job positions that historically have a low occupancy rate by resident workers, but at these times when there is a change in the economy, maybe locals need to rethink and consider accepting some of these jobs. The current economic situation calls for special measures."
Lawmaker Ella Lei was calling yesterday for non-local workers to be replaced by Macau residents. But the Secretary replied that Macau "cannot depend only on local workers."
He said that the policy of the government of having non-resident workers patch critical labor shortages has not changed. "We cannot depend only on local workers. We know we need non-resident workers for many positions such as hotel staff, cleaning, security, and restaurant-related jobs."
In reply to Sou, Lei also advanced that the latest data showed nearly 1,600 workers have already been made redundant. For these cases, the secretary said that the Labour Affairs Bureau has already found alternative positions for around 700 of them which involved in the majority of the cases a change from jobs in civil construction sector to other industries.
As for the others, "they will start receiving an unemployment subsidy that will grant them 150 patacas per day while we are trying [to find them other employment]."
Several lawmakers also expressed their concern regarding university and high school students who are about to graduate. They asked what the government will do to help newly-graduated students entering the workforce for the first time this year.
According to lawmaker Chan Hong, there will be around 4,500 new graduates trying to find a job this year.
Secretary Lei admitted that new graduates might struggle to find work once they conclude their studies. He said he is in talks with large companies in the SAR to promote internships with a duration of three months, so that the new workforce entrants can gain experience. Meanwhile, these companies can decide who they might want to hire once the economic climate improves.
Lei added that he hopes that not only gaming and hospitality companies can participate in this program, but also firms in the finance and insurance sectors.
Many more unanswered proposals
Some of the questions and suggestions made by lawmakers yesterday went unanswered.
Among them was a proposal from lawmaker Mak Soi Kun to grant to all local residents a second handout this year.
The handout is the colloquial term for the cash disbursement policy officially known as the Wealth Partaking Scheme. Under the scheme, this year permanent residents are entitled to receive 10,000 patacas and non-permanent residents 6,000 patacas.
The lawmaker's proposal was based on the idea that, according to Mak, the existing measures advanced by the government are insufficient to cushion the local population from the economic fallout of Covid-19.
Meanwhile, lawmakers Chan Hong and Leong Sun Iok want the government to find a solution to control the prices of fuel products. While Chan proposed the indexation of prices to those in international markets, Leong suggested the creation of a public concession that could allow the government to exercise control over price.
Chan also wanted the government to find an exception arrangement so that all residents unable to apply for the electronic consumption vouchers due to being in the process of renewing their ID cards, will be able to do so in the second phase of the program.