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DECEMBER 20, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 24

'We Will Make the Triads Uncomfortable'
In his temporary government office, Macau Chief Executive-designate Edmund Ho spoke about the future of the territory with TIME reporters Isabella Ng and Wendy Kan. Here is the extended interview


Daniel J. Groshong/Tayo Photo Group

TIME: Are you psychologically prepared for the handover?
Ho: I think the answer is yes, but it depends how you define psychologically prepared. I don't think I have much choice. In the back of your mind you think, well, is everything well prepared? Is anything missing? When you have a transfer of government, it's just like moving from one house to another. The joint liaison group does all the work necessary. My team has very good cooperation with the current administration, on the transfer of files, on all the administrative matters, transfer of properties. But to be very honest, before you go to bed there will always be a little doubt. But I think things will be O.K.

TIME: What has been the most difficult and the easiest to handle?
Ho: I think the most difficult task was to select my team of people. This is very different from my counterpart Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa [of Hong Kong] because basically the senior civil servants were on the through train. He already had a good team of people in the new government except for one or two. But I had to start from almost ground zero. Especially for key positions, you only have so many to select from. It's a very lonely job because it's not something you can talk about with other people. Then people may turn down the invitation. But I recognized that I have the opportunity to select a team to serve Macau well and to work with me at least for the next five years, sharing values and political views.

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Extended Interview: 'We Will Make the Triads Uncomfortable'
In his temporary government office, Macau Chief Executive-designate Edmund Ho spoke about the future of the territory with TIME

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TIME: Were you worried about the lack of government experience of local Macanese?
Ho: I think they will work out O.K., but I am a realistic person. I think everyone makes mistakes. People with less experience make mistakes but at the same time, no one can guarantee that more mature and more experienced people will never make mistakes. Actually the quality and educational level of people in the civil service are probably among the best in Macau. Some have more experience than I do in certain areas and I will delegate as much as possible. I stress teamwork because as a new and young government, we will need to fully cooperate and support one another to make up for any deficiencies or shortcomings.

TIME: How do you plan to attract foreign investment to Macau with a neighbor like Hong Kong?
Ho: We have to diversify. It's important for Macau not to rely on one or two sectors. But we have to diversify on a basis that is practical and realistic. The SAR government can only do so much, we cannot interfere with the free market. We shouldn't expect a large inflow of major foreign investors in a few months or even one or two years. We would like to have more interaction with the Pearl River Delta region--perhaps as a bridge to the outside world, mainly to the European Union. We will enjoy a special relationship with the EU even after the handover. But since Macau is so small, our own market will not be attractive, so we have to make good use of the delta region. I don't have any ambitious plans in the first or second year to have Disneyland or whatever. But Disneyland should be very good for Macau. If we could get six of every 10 tourists going to Hong Kong's Disneyland I would be very happy.

TIME: How will Macau face competition from Zhuhai and Hong Kong if they build casinos?
Ho: I don't think Zhuhai will have casinos, at least in the years to come. In Hong Kong, people have always been exploring this idea. Hong Kong and Macau share the principle of One Country, Two Systems, and it's in the national interest of China to make both Hong Kong and Macau successful in their own ways. I think both Tung Chee-hwa and myself understand these underlying principles so we won't do anything to damage each other. We will complement and support each other as much as possible, without sacrificing too much local interest.

TIME: What is Macau's future role in the Pearl River Delta and within China?
Ho: In terms of the economic role, as I have said before, we will fully utilize all the opportunities we have, given that we will be part of China. We will also make good use of all the contacts we have made in the past and expand on these contacts. At the same time, Macau also has a significant role to play under the One Country, Two Systems principle.

TIME: As a showcase for Taiwan?
Ho: Of course, it is important for us to contribute to the final solution of Taiwan. But it is also very important for everyone in Macau to make sure that the One Country, Two Systems principle works. It's a brand new concept and Hong Kong's two years provide us with lessons to be learned. But Macau will always be different from Hong Kong. The Macau Basic Law is different from Hong Kong's.

TIME: What will happen when the franchise for Macau's casinos is renewed in 2001?
Ho: The attitude of the SAR government is to deal with the gaming industry in a very cautious and responsible manner and for the long term. Certainly, in the future, there will be diversification, and there are people who want liberalization and no more monopolies. But always the big question is when and how? I think we should not take in personal feelings and personal preferences. What I intend to do is soon after the SAR government is set up is create an impartial special commission--independent people with international experience in the gaming industry--to give a full analysis of what the gaming industry in Macau should be. I don't think a monopoly is 100% bad or perfect. I'd like to know in detail how the monopoly contributed to problems or how much is because of inadequate government supervision or an inadequate gaming contract. I don't think we should point fingers.

TIME: What do you think of gambling magnate Stanley Ho's suggestion to grant three- to five-year contract extensions?
Ho: You'll have to excuse me for not wanting to comment on this. I can understand the reason why he said it. I don't have the answer. That's why I need a report from a commission. It's not up to me or my personal preferences, I only know about 10% more about casinos than what you do.

TIME: With tourism now accounting for 45% of Macau's GDP, what role will it play after the handover?
Ho: For the next few years, one of the major growth areas will still be tourism. I think the government will use a reasonable amount of resources to support other industries, to redevelop other industries or grow new industries in the years to come. But tourism and the service sector will still be major sectors for the years to come.

TIME: How do you expect the China-U.S. trade deal to affect Macau?
Ho: Already my team of people know that they will be working closely with people from Hong Kong and China to find ways that Macau can benefit. Generally speaking, I don't think we have anything to lose. How much we will gain, I don't know. This is very different from Hong Kong which will lose as well as gain. Macau will lose almost nothing but gain a little bit.

TIME: How is Macau planning to enhance the efficiency of cross-border exchange with Zhuhai?
Ho: I think it is important to have Macau linked with better road systems. Hopefully the railway will be built in time. With a better road system we can make improve tourism. We try to have a full range of cultural activities and cultural performances in Macau, not only for the markets of Macau and Hong Kong but also for the people of the delta region. I think some of that are well educated enough and rich enough in the sense that they would love to come and enjoy good performances that would be good for tourism. I was impressed with the new opera house in Shanghai, and I was told two-thirds of the business was from outside Shanghai. And under the One Country, Two Systems principle, we enjoy more freedom in terms of show performances and cultural activities.

TIME: Will you ease entry requirements for mainland Chinese?
Ho: Mainland Chinese coming over to Macau definitely falls under the central government's authority. Of course we would like very much to see these procedures be as easy as possible.

TIME: How will you tackle gang-related crime?
Ho: The security issue is a complicated one. We don't like to see murders committed in the open streets, but at the same time, wherever there are triads, there will be fights. When there is big money involved, life becomes cheap. This applies everywhere. There will always be triads in the future, even after the SAR government is set up. But because of the high-profile attention given to the security issue, it has become a political issue too. The world will judge Macau and the SAR government on its ability to tackle crime. Not only do the triads break the law, they are also enemies of the government because they will make the government look bad, make me look bad and I don't think I will allow this to happen. We have already taken some steps, and we will use all our resources to combat not only crime but also the related businesses. If they don't know how to behave, we will make their lives very uncomfortable. As long as the law allows us to use all our resources to make sure they know where to draw the line, we will have a better managed police force. Having the police forces under one secretary for security is the first step. The second step is the full merging of all the police forces. We will also deal with corruption.

TIME: Will your special commission modeled on Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) deal with police corruption?
Ho: Yes and no. If there is no corruption, then we don't need an anti-corruption agency. But human nature is greedy and humans are weak. When we were drafting the Basic Law, it was already clear there would be an anti-corruption agency that reports directly to the chief executive. It is basically the same model as Hong Kong's.

TIME: What about press freedom? Many people feel that the Macanese press is one voice and happily pro-China.
Ho: They are pro-China but I don't agree with one voice. It's very clear that under the Basic Law, freedom of the press is well protected. Should I interfere with the press? I don't think I should. The SAR government will be a government with more transparency and openness. One must understand that one of the reasons the Macau press is different from that in bigger cities is because it's a small place. People know each other and sometimes, when things happen, everyone knows what is happening. A small community provides unspoken supervision of the press. Anyone in the press would feel rejected by society at large if they made up stories that people thought were untrue. So I'm not worried about freedom of the press.

TIME: Are you as busy as Tung, working from 7 to 11?
Ho: No, I'm not as hardworking as him. But I think you have no choice but to work hard. Even before the election when I worked with the bank and was involved with community service and local politics, every day was like a Monday. But I have enough time to sleep and maybe watch a couple hours of television. And once a week, I manage to play a game of golf. I am not complaining. I have five policy secretaries and then to set up the SAR government, there is the ICAC person, the auditor general. Whenever they need to talk to me, I have to be there to speak to them.

TIME: So you are 24 hours on call?
Ho: They know that after certain hours, they will let me sleep. But you have eight or nine persons who want your time. I am not saying I have to do the job of eight people but you have to be around to share in the decision-making process.

TIME: Will you seek another five-year term?
Ho: It's too early to say--and I haven't even officially started my first day of being chief executive. In the next five years, I probably won't even think about it.

TIME: Have you spoken to Tung about the job?
Ho: We've met a couple of times. I paid him a courtesy visit in Hong Kong and we also met in Beijing on National Day Oct. 1. We did not talk too much about the job. We talked about things in Hong Kong and Macau and he also gave me some very good advice.

TIME: Like what?
Ho: I'm not at any liberty to say without his agreement but it was very good advice. Not complaints.

TIME: How was meeting Premier Zhu Rongji in Beijing in May?
Ho: The time we spent at the official ceremonies was very short. Whenever you meet leaders in country like China or any world leader, one common characteristic is that they always put people very much at ease.

TIME: You're popular among the local community. Do you think having charisma is something you inherited from your father, community activist Ho Yin?
Ho: Certainly. I learned a lot from my father. In some ways, I may never be able to achieve as much as him or be better than him. People may accept me for my values, for what I am, but there are always sentimental feelings because of my father.

TIME: What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Ho: I am not good looking. I am easy with people. I am honest in that I will speak out my feelings. If it's something I really feel, I will speak out and take the consequences.

TIME: How is your relationship with the Macanese and the Portuguese living in Macau?
Ho: Many are my good friends. I will treat them no differently before and after Dec. 19 and their lives will not change. Many of them will be leaving.

TIME: Are you sad that they are leaving?
Ho: Yes, from a human side. For some Portuguese and many Macanese going through this transitional period, there will more anxiety and uncertainty, as they see their friends leave and the government change. They feel protected under the Basic Law but after all, they're human. At the end of the day, things will be O.K. but there will be some mixed feelings for them.

TIME: With Hong Kong having some problems under the One Country, Two Systems principle, what are your concerns?
Ho: It is a new concept, so there will be a lot of challenges. This will be a very long road. But it is my job and the responsibility of the people of Macau to make sure One Country, Two Systems works. The Basic Law may not be perfect for the next 10, 20 years, but it provides a good base to reflect spirit of the joint declaration and to reflect the policy of the central government on Hong Kong and Macau. It's the law and we have to abide by it.

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