Ho rules out topping up consumption benefit scheme for this year

2021-11-18 03:12     BY Tony Wong    Comment:2

Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng yesterday ruled out the possibility of topping up the government’s ongoing electronic consumption benefit scheme for this year, saying that civil society should not rely entirely on the government to relieve residents’ financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and urged residents to show understanding of the fact that the pandemic has also been putting a strain on the government’s finances.

Ho made the remarks during a Q&A session in the legislature’s hemicycle yesterday afternoon. The chief executive attended the three-hour session, which was held a day after he delivered his 2022 Policy Address, to answer questions from 31 lawmakers in the 33-member Legislative Assembly (AL), which is headed by Kou Hoi In.

The ongoing seven-month electronic consumption benefit scheme running from June to next month comprises a 5,000-pataca startup fund and a 3,000-pataca immediate discount grant. Beneficiaries can choose to use a consumption smartcard or one of eight local e-payment platforms.

In reply to a question by directly-elected legislator-cum-unionist Ella Lei Cheng I who urged the government to roll out an additional round of its electronic consumption benefit scheme, Ho noted that the scheme is still ongoing and will only end at the end of next month, adding that “today is November 17” because of which some residents may have still not used up all the money in their account. The chief executive urged residents to show understanding that it would unfeasible for the government to top up the scheme “unlimitedly”.

Ho underlined that the local government has already allocated 100 billion patacas from its extraordinary reserves to prop up its current expenditures since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic early last year, and is now planning to allocate 30 billion patacas from the extraordinary reserves for next year’s budget.

“We should not rely entirely on the government to relieve residents’ financial hardship. [The government is aware that] residents are struggling [financially] due to the pandemic. Isn’t the government also under financial strain? I hope that everybody will show understanding [for the government’s situation]. People should not ask for money from the government for everything,” Ho said.

Ho underlined that those in dire straits can ask for assistance under the government’s social security system, adding that, for instance, those who have lost their jobs can apply for an unemployment allowance. However, Ho was quick to admit that the government does not have an allowance for those who have been forced to take unpaid leave.

“Should the government pay them the respective salary every day during their unpaid leave period? Should the government become the employer of the whole working population in Macau?” the chief executive asked rhetorically.

NAT validity for Macau-Zhuhai commuters

Meanwhile, in reply to another question by Lei who asked when the current 48-hour validity of the negative COVID-19 nucleic acid test (NAT) result for those entering Zhuhai from Macau will return to seven days, Ho said he understands that residents commuting between the two cities “are suffering” from the requirement for them to be tested for COVID-19 every two days.

Currently – i.e., since the Zhuhai authorities lifted their 14-day mandatory quarantine for arrivals from Macau on October 19, those entering Zhuhai from Macau must present an NAT certificate confirming a negative COVID-19 result valid for 48 hours. In contrast, the negative NAT result for those entering Macau from Zhuhai remains valid for seven days.

Ho admitted that the Macau government does not have the power to make decisions on COVID-19 measures for those entering Zhuhai from Macau. Ho pledged that he will continue to ask the Zhuhai and Guangdong authorities to return the validity of the negative NAT result for arrivals from Macau to seven days.

Ho said that the NAT validity could be extended if the current COVID-19 wave in the mainland stabilises and Macau’s novel coronavirus situation remains stable.

Macau has not recorded a new local COVID-19 case for 39 consecutive days after the latest case was confirmed on October 9. Macau’s COVID-19 tally stands at 77, without any fatalities. The 77 cases comprise 60 imported cases and 17 cases “connected to imported ones”.

High maintenance cost for Inner Harbour tidal gate

Meanwhile, Ho admitted that the local government would need to pay a high maintenance cost for the future tidal gate every year, which is slated to be built in the river between the west coast of the Macau peninsula near Barra and Wanzai in Zhuhai. Ho made the remarks in reply to a question from directly-elected lawmaker-cum-civil engineer Leong Hong Sai.

The chief executive admitted that the tidal gate, which aims to solve the long-running flooding problem affecting the Inner Harbour area, would possibly be a “white elephant”.

Ho said that the findings of a simulation test for the tidal gate project, which has been completed, indicate which areas in Macau would still be affected by flooding in case the city is hit by a storm surge similar to the one caused by Super Typhoon Hato in 2017. The findings of the simulation test, according to Ho, show that the tidal gate could generally improve the flooding situation which has been affecting the city’s low-lying areas for a long time. 

Ho said that merely the design of the tidal gate project has cost the government hundreds of millions of patacas. Apart from the expected high cost of building the tidal gate, Ho said, the annual maintenance cost for the future tidal gate would possibly even be higher than its design cost.

The local government does not have a schedule as to when the tidal gate project would finally get off the ground, which is a cross-border project requiring the Macau government’s collaboration with its Zhuhai and Guangdong counterparts.

However, Ho underlined that the local government will continue with its ongoing preparatory work for the tidal gate project to get off the ground, which will need the final permission from the central government.

According to Ho, the local government will continue its work to solve the flooding issue for the short term first, such as getting its project to build a rainwater pumping station near Praça de Ponte e Horta (known in Cantonese as Si Ta Hau) off the ground soon.

Ho slams Coutinho for remarks on civil service morale 

Meanwhile, Ho criticised veteran directly-elected lawmaker José Maria Pereira Coutinho for always complaining for over a decade about what he claimed was the “low morale” among public servants.

During yesterday’s Q&A session, Coutinho, who has been a legislator since 2005, claimed that public servants’ morale had dropped to the lowest level ever but the government was ignoring the issue.

Ho replied: “I have been hearing you talking about the same thing for over a decade, without any major changes. I have got used to hearing those remarks from you.”

Ho said that he “completely” disagrees with Coutinho’s remarks about the allegedly low morale among public servants, urging him not to continue to upset public servants. “Many public servants are hurt [by your remarks],” the chief executive said.

Coutinho heads the Macau Civil Servants Association (ATFPM).

Ho praised the city’s public servants for their great contribution to the government’s three rounds of citywide COVID-19 tests. 

Cotai hospital

Meanwhile, Ho also said that the future operation of the public hospital complex in Cotai would help Macau develop a “big health” sector and “health service plus tourism”.

Ho also underlined that it was the National Health Commission (NHC) which suggested that the Macau government cooperate with the Peking Union Medical College Hospital in the future operation of the hospital in Cotai, which is slated to open in 2023. 

The government announced the hospital cooperation arrangement last month. 

Ho also said that thanks to the future hospital local residents would no longer have to seek medical treatment for special cases outside Macau.

Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng answers questions from lawmakers during yesterday’s three-hour Q&A session in the Legislative Assembly’s (AL) hemicycle. Photo: GCS

Legislators attend yesterday’s Q&A session about Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng’s 2022 Policy Address in the legislature’s hemicycle. Photo: GCS

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  • visitors2021111804:422021-11-18 04:42

    Ho also said that the Macau government plans to upgrade Coloane’s Concórdia Industrial Park to a new type of industrial park similar to Hong Kong’s Cyberport in Macau’s official urban master plan, which is slated to be published at the end of this year. Ho said that a company is planning to build a data centre in Concórdia Industrial Park and is designing the project. A project to build a pharmaceutical factory producing Japan’s traditional herbal medicine (called Kampo) is also being planned, Ho said.

  • visitors2021112101:292021-11-21 01:29

    Ho also said that the central government has required all the three regions of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau not to build any new facilities for the 2025 National Games. Ho said he expected the Guangdong government to host some of the sports in Hengqin, adding that the Macau government will strive for suitable sports that will be beneficial to Macau’s sports development to be held in Macau. Ho underlined that the local government has launched its work to prepare for the 2025 National Games, pledging that the government will make good use of the city’s existing sports facilities to host the sports.