Macau's chief executive-designate Edmund Ho Hau-wah faces the uphill task of solving the enclave's protracted violent crime problems when he assumes office in 115 days' time. Mr Ho, who has pledged to streamline Macau's various police forces after the handover, has described the public security situation as a 'serious challenge' to economic development and social stability that is jeopardising the sacrosanct concept of 'one country, two systems'. The public security situation is contradictory. While still being a relatively safe city for common crime - there are hardly any muggings - violence among rival gangs has become the bane of the enclave's otherwise smooth transition towards Chinese rule. Public order began to deteriorate gradually in the Portuguese-administered territory in the mid-1990s, when an apparently ever increasing number of gangsters, many of them from Hong Kong and the mainland, launched a turf war over illicit businesses. These operated illegally on the fringes of the local gaming industry and also involved other illegal activities, involving contraband, protection and prostitution rackets and counterfeiting. These turf wars have resulted in a string of execution-style revenge killings and arson and bomb attacks. Seasoned detectives say one of the main problems in getting to grips with the violence is that the region's organised crime has, in fact, become disorganised. The traditional triad that followed well-defined chains of command and heeded basic codes of 'ethics' has all but vanished. Old triads complain that their organisations' names have been usurped by new gangs to win respectability in the underworld. 'There is no copyright protection for triads, anyone can claim to be 14K,' a source familiar with the triad milieu says. It must be said that the underworld is acting contrary to its own interests in scaring away high-stakes gamblers, who are potential clients for casino loansharks, although the overall number of visitor arrivals rose six per cent to 3.6 million in the first half of the year. Macau tried to stem the triad wave by enacting legislation against organised crime in August 1997 and arresting hundreds of suspects, among them reputed local 14K triad faction kingpin Wan Kuok-koi, widely known as 'Broken Tooth'. Wan is due to stand trial in October and faces up to 15 years behind bars if convicted of being the leader of a crime organisation. A rather unintelligent report by The Economist Intelligence Unit published the perverse suggestion of unnamed observers that Macau's law and order could be improved by freeing Wan from pre-trial detention and letting him 'return to the underworld'. They claim that Wan's arrest in May last year was one of the factors behind the upsurge in violent crime. I beg to differ. While triad suspects have the right to a fair trial, Macau residents have the right to demand that alleged gangsters be brought to justice and, if convicted, be locked up for their misdeeds. Anything else would be immoral.