Macau cannot afford to gamble with the lives of its citizens
Weather chief may be the face of government failure in the wake of deadly Hato, but the real problem lies much deeper than that
Macau may be the greatest gambling hub in the world but, as the havoc wreaked by Typhoon Hato has shown, its urban planning, facilities and infrastructure are subpar. Such problems are the responsibility of the whole government. You can hardly blame it all on its former observatory chief.
The city certainly has the money to do better, because government cash giveaways from fiscal surpluses are virtually annual events. So what’s missing?
Since last week, news footage from Macau has shown People’s Liberation Army troops helping to clean up the mess and evacuate residents after the worst storm to hit the enclave in more than half a century left 10 dead.
While most people seemed to appreciate the help, it was hardly the image the city wanted to project about itself. Those pictures conjured up memories of disaster relief in rural and underdeveloped areas on the mainland, not the modern city and tourist hub that Macau sees itself as being. Banning some Hong Kong journalists from entering and reporting did not help matters either. It was just another public relations disaster.
Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on had to issue a public apology a day after the storm and top weatherman Fong Soi-kun resigned. There have been many complaints about the time it took Fong’s bureau to trigger the top typhoon signal to warn the city of the dangers that lay ahead.
He is now the public face of government failure and is even facing a probe by the city’s Commission Against Corruption.
But as former head of the Hong Kong Observatory Lam Chiu-ying pointed out, the scale of the damage had little to do with the timing of the typhoon signal.
Hato caused extensive flooding, electricity blackouts and water shortages for days; many tall modern buildings at the top range of the property market sustained serious damage. These were not the faults of the Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau. Rather, they are the concern of the utilities, property developers and relevant government departments.
Macau has made itself a superb tourist and gambling hub over the past decade. Now it needs to build the infrastructure and develop the urban planning to make it a world-class city that is safe and convenient for its own residents.
It certainly has the resources to do it.
What it needs is a responsible and responsive government that has the will and drive to do the job.