So much at stake for Macau in its fight against corruption

The investigation into arrested former chief prosecutor Ho Chio-ming has to be thorough and transparent

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 February, 2016, 11:26pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 February, 2016, 11:26pm

Try as it might, Macau will always find it challenging to combat the fraudsters that the easy money from its gaming industry and associated construction projects attracts. Strong legal, ethical and administrative measures, accompanied by tough penalties, are the most effective way to keep those in government, business and law enforcement honest. Image and reputation, crucial for drawing investment and top talent and ensuring confidence, will be harmed without diligence. For those reasons, the investigation into arrested former chief prosecutor Ho Chio-meng over corruption charges has to be thorough.

That the government entity charged with supervising law enforcement is being investigated raises all manner of questions. Ho’s arrest relates to an investigation by the Commission Against Corruption into 44 million patacas in kickbacks from more than 2,000 public works projects approved by the Public Prosecutions Office. All the contracts went to 10 companies run by Macanese businessmen, two of whom were related to top prosecutions office staff. An unspecified number of others are being held or have been prevented from leaving Macau; the scale of the inquiry implies far-reaching consequences.

The lure of corruption is ever-present in Macau, where 80 per cent of the economy is tied to gambling. It is why since 2014, when President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) anti-corruption drive started taking full effect, government revenues have been shrinking. The previous boom has stopped, giving time for closer scrutiny of contracts and accounts. Nine people, government officials among them, were investigated for graft last year.

But it has been a decade since so senior a government figure has been accused of corruption. In 2008, former secretary for transport and public works, Ao Man-long, was jailed for 27 years for graft . The harsh sentence was aimed at deterrence, but memories can be short when the perceived gains can be so large. That is why the latest case has to be handled with transparency and accountability uppermost.