E-voucher protest axed due to COVID-19 risk, but dozens gather – 12 taken in for questioning

2021-03-29 03:40     Comment:0

A protest march against the government’s controversial consumption e-voucher scheme initially scheduled for yesterday afternoon was called off because, according to the authorities, it would have breached the city’s official COVID-19 prevention rules, but several dozen residents still gathered in Praça do Tap Seac – where the axed demonstration was initially planned to start.

The police took a dozen in for questioning after they disobeyed police orders to leave the square.

The police did not file a criminal complaint against any of the 12 residents “for the time being”, according to a Public Security Police (PSP) statement yesterday, which said that 11 had left the police station after questioning, while one had been taken to hospital after becoming “emotional”.

A statement by the Health Bureau (SSM) on Saturday night said that it had requested the organisers to cancel the protest march as the latter could not ensure adherence to the government’s COVID-19 prevention requirements.

One of the organisers, non-establishment lawmaker Au Kam San, said in a statement on his Facebook page on Saturday night that he and his co-organisers decided not to go ahead with the protest march so as to avoid a “misunderstanding” and make sure that no-one would be accused by the police of holding an illegal gathering.

The police initially green-lighted the protest on Wednesday last week. However, a meeting between the Health Bureau, the police and the organisers on Saturday resulted in the demonstration’s cancellation for health protection reasons.

The organisers had announced that they expected about 500 people to join the march from Praça do Tap Seac to Government Headquarters in Nam Van. Macau’s population stands at about 680,000.

The protesters planned to demonstrate against the government’s consumption e-voucher scheme, which had been announced earlier this month, claiming that the proposed scheme was “too complicated” and urging the government to simply top up its previous consumption subsidy smartcards instead. The government has responded to the widespread opposition to the scheme by residents, lawmakers and civic leaders by promising to review it and announce its amendments in the near future. Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng last week even apologised for the “confusion” that the scheme had caused.

The axed protest was co-organised by the Macau Community Development Initiative, of which Au is a board member, and the New Macau Gaming Staff Rights Association.

According to Saturday night’s SSM statement, one of the demonstration’s organisers, Au, had a meeting with the Health Bureau’s outgoing director, Lei Chin Ion, his incoming successor Alvis Lo Iek Long (who will take office next month), Lam Chong, who heads the bureau’s Disease Prevention and Control Centre, and senior PSP officer Ngai Soi Pan earlier that day.

5 requirements

According to the statement, the Health Bureau had requested the organisers comply with five COVID-19 prevention requirements for the protest, but regarding the five requirements, Au said during the meeting that although he had told the authorities that he and his co-organisers expected around 500 people to join the protest, they could not confirm how many people would join the march eventually as they could not stop residents from taking part, the statement said.

Secondly, the statement said, Au said that he and his co-organisers could not ensure that those with a fever would not join the protest.

Thirdly, Au said that he and his co-organisers could, however, ensure that all protesters were wearing a facemask, according to the statement.

Fourthly, Au said during Saturday’s meeting that he and his organisers would urge participants to stick to one-metre social distancing but could not ensure all of them would always comply with it, the statement said.

Fifthly, according to the statement, Au said that it would be difficult for him and his or-organisers to completely prevent the gathering of crowds during the protest march and they hoped that the police would provide assistance if crowd gatherings occurred during the march.

According to the statement, Lei asked the organisers to cancel the protest, after considering “the unpredictability and uncertainty in relation to the number of people that would potentially take part in the protest”, apart from the fact that the organisers could not ensure that the march would take place “in compliance with the bureau’s various COVID-19 prevention requirements for the event”. The statement warned that those violating the cancellation’s request could face criminal charges of disobeying the authorities’ orders.

Shortly after the Health Bureau announced the cancellation request on Saturday night, Au announced the organisers’ decision to cancel the protest in a statement on his Facebook page, apologising for the cancellation.

Optimised proposal to be announced ASAP

Also on Saturday, Secretary for Economy and Finance Lei Wai Nong said in a statement that the government would announce an “optimised” proposal about its consumption e-voucher scheme as soon as possible. The statement underlined that government officials had visited 19 community associations to discuss the “optimised” proposal, apart from having listened to opinions from lawmakers, scholars and civic leaders on the matter.

According to the statement, the government will optimise the scheme with reference to the modus operandi of last year’s consumption smartcard scheme.

In his Facebook statement, Au said that Lei Wai Nong had a meeting with him and his fellow lawmaker Ng Kuok Cheong to discuss the government’s new proposal where Lei pledged that the government would draft the proposal in line with residents’ views.

Many residents have said they would prefer the government to launch a “simple” scheme similar to last year’s consumption promotion smartcards.

Au said in his Facebook statement that while the protest could not go ahead, “residents’ views have already been clearly expressed, to which the government has positively responded”.

Yesterday’s PSP statement said that the police deployed a “suitable” number of police officers to Praça do Tap Seac yesterday afternoon so as to maintain public order and peace. According to the statement, “many” people started to gather in Praça do Tap Seac at 2:45 p.m., because of which police officers “explained” to them that the initially scheduled assembly and demonstration had been cancelled and persuaded them to leave the scene.

The protest’s organisers initially scheduled the gathering in Praça do Tap Seac to start at around 3 p.m. yesterday and the protest march to Government Headquarters to set off at around 4 p.m.

The statement said that some refused to leave the scene, and also displayed slogans expressing their demands. Finally, the police took 12 people – six males and six females – to a police station for questioning, the statement said. Apart from a woman who was taken to hospital for feeling unwell after becoming “emotional”, the remainder left the police station after questioning, the statement said, adding that “for the time being” the police did not file criminal complaints against any of the 12 residents.

NMA ‘very dissatisfied’ with cancellation

Meanwhile, in a statement yesterday the non-establishment New Macau Association (NMA) accused the government of infringing upon residents’ rights and freedoms that are “constitutionally protected” by ordering the cancellation of the protest “without sufficient justification”. The statement said that the Health Bureau had requested “harsh COVID-19 prevention requirements which even the authorities would be unable to comply with”, adding that the association was “very dissatisfied” with the government’s decision to order the protest’s cancellation.

Meanwhile, the government also cancelled yesterday’s Macau Green Week walk.

Two policemen take away a man who was gathering with others in Praça do Tap Seac for disobeying police orders yesterday. Courtesy: TDM

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