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Typhoon Hato

In wake of deadly typhoon, Macau chief executive faces tough questions over ‘unforeseen incidents’ committee

Fernando Chui set up a new committee after storm devastated the city, but it emerges there was already a body for the same purpose

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2017, 8:30am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2017, 10:57am

A day after he set up a top-level commission to investigate catastrophic failures during Typhoon Hato, Macau’s chief executive faced awkward questions about an almost identical body he set up five years earlier specifically to ­prevent such deadly chaos.

It emerged that in late 2012, Fernando Chui Sai-on, leader of the world’s richest casino hub, established what in light of ­recent events might turn out to be the ironically named Council for the Treatment of ­Unforeseen Incidents.

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Ten people died, more than 200 were injured and tens of thousands left without power or water in the former Portuguese enclave when the worst storm in more than half a century struck last week.

The devastation, coupled with the unpreparedness of the local government, prompted Chui to seek help from the People’s Liberation Army garrison with the recovery effort. It was the first time Chinese troops have been deployed on the city’s streets.

Asked how many times the “unforeseen incidents” council had met since 2012, a spokesman for Chui’s office ­replied: “As we understood your questions, you were referring to the Emergency Response Committee ... The committee holds meetings on an irregular basis, given its responsibilities are to cope with sudden incidents by using its cross-departmental ­effort”.

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The spokesman did not ­address questions asking if the work of the council would form part of the wide-ranging review that Chui announced this week.

The 2012 body has members of the same official rank and responsibility as the “Commission for Reviewing and Monitoring the Improvements of the Response Mechanism to Major Disasters” announced on Monday.

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According to the executive ­order setting it up, the “unforeseen incidents” council was established with natural disasters in mind. The order said it was established “with the aim of coordinating, guiding and supervising the public authorities in emergency measures to respond to sudden incidents, natural disasters, accidents and disasters, public health and public safety that produce or are likely to cause serious damage to the social fabric”.

The fallout from Hato has ­already prompted the resignation of Fong Soi-kun, head of the city’s Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau. Macau’s Commission Against Corruption, acting on a “large number of complaints”, is also investigating the bureau’s forecasting procedures and its management under the former director.

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Concerns have been raised that meteorological officials who failed to predict Hato’s ferocity may have held off raising the highest storm warning because of the financial impact of closing ­casinos in the gaming hub.

Chui’s office spokesman said: “Following its establishment, the [new] commission had its meeting on Monday and was chaired by the chief executive, Mr Chui.

“During the meeting, Mr Chui ordered a full review concerning functions of public departments in terms of preparation for any imminent typhoons as well as ­departmental duties during and after a typhoon.”

Chui last week apologised in public for his government’s response to the disaster.