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   Macau Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah has promised to speed up economic recovery, improve public security, intensify the fight against corruption and raise public administration's efficiency.

   The 44-year old head of the MSAR government told the local 23-member legislature during a three-hour plenary session on March 29 that his Policy Address was based on "continuity of the past and preparations for the future." He promised that his next policy speech would be "more strategic" and have a "broader vision" than his first address that was still based on considerations and assumptions by Macau's pre-handover Portuguese administration.

   Mr Ho also said after several years of negative growth some segments of the local industry appeared to show "signs of a recovery." "Macau's economy has already overcome its most difficult phase," the Chief Executive maintained. The Chief Executive referred to the fact that Macau's gross domestic product has not grown in real terms since 1996. Mr Ho also said Macau's public security situation had "gradually improved" since the handover, "thanks to the determination and vigour of the local police forces and also because of effective support by the authorities in mainland China."

   However, the Chief Executive acknowledged that the unemployment rate had "still not improved" and that domestic consumption "continues to be low." Macau's officially measured unemployment rate stood at 6.5 per cent early this year. Mr Ho also said that China's possible accession to the World Trade Organisation "may bring about real development opportunities for Macau."

   Unlike the Chinese mainland, Macau is already a WTO member. The Chief Executive stressed that "consolidation" of Macau's economic mainstays and a "firm" development strategy were the "fundamental objectives" of his government in the first year of the MSAR. He admitted that Macau's financial situation did not allow the government to launch any new large-scale infrastructure projects in the short term. However, he said his administration would study the feasibility of building a third bridge between the Macau peninsula and Taipa island.

   The Chief Executive also said his administration would strengthen the supervision of the gambling industry and work out a long-term policy to deal with the issue of Macau's casino monopoly franchise and other betting businesses. Macau's current casino monopoly concession, originally granted by the former Portuguese administration in 1962, expires at the end of next year. The gambling sector is forecast by the government to generate some 5.1 billion patacas, or around 40 per cent of its total revenue, this year.

   Mr Ho also pledged to increase the fight against corruption and "promote honesty" in civil society. The Chief Executive also promised to promote a "new culture" in the public administration, based on "civil servants' responsibility vis-a-vis civil society." He also pledged to streamline the public administration's human resources without, however, any job losses in the civil service. Macau's public administration, including the police, employs some 17,300 local residents, or about seven per cent of the local workforce.

   The 111-page Government Action Guidelines 2000 call for measures to reduce bureaucratic procedures, streamline the public administration and set up a special task force by the police to deal with "serious crimes susceptible to affect the image of Macau and harm the population." The guidelines also promise new efforts to prevent juvenile crime.

   This year's budget totals 12.9 billion patacas, as against a budget of 16.7 billion patacas last year. The MSAR government received a 2.4 billion patacas budget surplus from the pre-handover Portuguese administration, as well as a Land Fund of slightly over 10 billion patacas. Both the Land Fund and the pre-handover budget surplus have not been incorporated into this year's budget but will be regarded by the government as de facto reserves.


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