Macau residents are, with good reason, up in arms over a jaw-dropping pension package for retiring top officials. With just six months to go before the current administration's tenure ends, the government is rushing through a bill that offers lucrative benefits for those stepping down in December. It also proposes granting criminal immunity for the chief executive, sparking concerns about whether he would be above the law.
If the package gives the impression that it is tailor-made for the benefit of the outgoing team, it is because officials do benefit from it. A former chief executive is to be paid 70 per cent of his salary - for as long as he is unemployed. Principal officials hired from the private sector are to receive 30 per cent of their remuneration, while those with a civil service background will get 14 per cent. During the first year - when they will be barred from taking up private paid jobs - they will also get an additional payment worth 70 per cent of their monthly salary.
Those in favour of the package argue that principal officials need to be better rewarded to compete with the private sector for talent. But to Macau taxpayers, the benefits are too generous. That the payment calculation will date back to the first day of appointment further reinforces the perception that the package is tailor-made for officials' own benefits rather than enhancing competitiveness in future recruitment.
The concerns over the proposed immunity from criminal prosecution are also understandable, especially in light of the high-profile corruption case involving the city's former works chief. Although immunity for heads of state is not uncommon overseas, it has to be asked why the Macau leader requires extra protection in addition to those already covered in the Basic Law. The Macau authorities should perhaps draw reference from Hong Kong, which gives political appointees high salaries but no post-tenure subsidies. To avoid conflicts of interest, it can also consider scrapping retrospective benefits and defer implementation until the next term.