With each measure that the Executive announces, a controversy usually follows. Outside and inside the city, the shivers down the spine are more and more frequent due to the way the city treads its own laws. The pandemic has accelerated a process that started about three years ago and highlighted that Macau is no longer what it used to be.
Anyone who knew Macau in the past does not recognize it today. Streets emptied of people, closed shops, rising unemployment, lack of the much-maligned floods of tourists and signs of economic slowdown are some of the visible changes.
There are others, such as the progressive deterioration, and in the last three years, by leaps and bounds, the rule of law. António Katchi, Jorge Menezes and Sérgio de Almeida Correia – three jurists in a city with several and the few who speak (loudly) – explain how the Government has violated the legislation on the pretext of the pandemic.
Journalists are accused of always listening to “the same”, but this is just another symptom of the deterioration of a system – the Second – that has resulted in the silence of almost everyone.
PLATFORMA resorted to “the same ones” that accuse the Executive of instrumentalizing the health and well-being of the population in favor of the end for which it stopped looking at means: pleasing Beijing.
“The deterioration of the rule of law is a complex phenomenon that involves the politicization of the exercise of administrative and judicial functions, the blurring of the separation of powers and the trampling of fundamental rights. All this has been happening in Macau since the reunification”, says António Katchi.
At certain moments, he continues, the process of degradation was embodied in the creation of “quite dangerous” legal norms whose effects were only felt later.
As an example, he mentions the addition to the Electoral Law for the Legislative Assembly.
“It came to allow the exclusion of candidates considered unfaithful to the MSAR or the Basic Law, and clearly aimed at the democratic field and the independent labor movement. It was approved in 2016, but was only used in the 2021 elections to exclude candidates from the pro-democracy and Cloee Chao lists”, he explains.
The last three years correspond to a phase of brutal acceleration and aggravation in the process of degradation of the rule of law, says Katchi, for whom this phase began in 2019, with the ban on protest demonstrations against police violence in Hong Kong.
“The pandemic has offered new opportunities and pretexts for the authoritarian government of Macau to increase control and surveillance over people, suspend or limit the exercise of fundamental rights, aggravate discrimination and weaken political and social opposition”.
Jorge Menezes argues that the politically erratic nature of the measures is more relevant than the discussion of their legality, since the latter will never be discussed by the courts. “Not even these would stand up to government measures that, in essence, are taken to please Beijing and not the population,” he argues.
The lawyer emphasizes that government action must always take into account inviolable principles such as non-discrimination, necessity, proportionality and appropriateness of measures.
“These principles have not been fulfilled as they should,” he accuses.
Sérgio de Almeida Correia shares the same view, reinforcing that policies, which should protect people’s health, should always be framed by law, balanced and proportionate to the dangers and risks involved.
“When, without valid scientific reason, rights such as freedom of movement, physical exercise, animals, assembly and demonstration are restricted, and citizens of a certain nationality, even permanent residents, are obliged to endure discriminatory measures, this is violating the Basic Law, and this, unfortunately, happened”, he recalls.
POPULATION VS BEIJING
The Government repeats that the population and its well-being is what is at stake. The three jurists accuse him of instrumentalizing them.
Menezes says that the damage caused by the response of the team led by Ho Iat Seng seems to have been more harmful than protective, starting with mental and psychological health. But there are other interests that also underlie the well-being of the inhabitants and that have been affected, such as prosperity and economic stability, employment and freedom of movement, he says.
“The government itself acknowledged weeks ago that the quarantine period had no scientific justification, which reveals the level of bewilderment. People are tired of so much abuse and excess.”
Also revealing that the first concern is not being public well-being, according to the lawyer, are suicides – since January there have been 53, close to the total of 2021 (60), 2020 (76) and 2019 (66) ; the abandonment of Macau by so many families, unemployment – in June the rate was 3.4 percent in a territory where it was previously economically non-existent; and the closing of small and medium-sized enterprises.
Data from the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Directorate show that, in the first half of 2022, the value of gross revenues from casinos was 26 billion patacas – 18 percent of that recorded in 2019 and the worst half since the first half of 2006. Andrew W Scott, CEO of IAG, stated in an article in the publication that Macau has ceased to be the world center of gaming after 18 stupendous years.
Health and well-being, reiterates Almeida Correia, have been used to pursue purposes other than the fight against the pandemic and the protection of public health. “For a long time now, I have seen in some measures the disguised pursuit of political objectives”, he emphasizes.
In Katchi’s reading, there are measures that seem adequate for the prevention and elimination of infections by the coronavirus, such as the imposition of the use of a mask in closed public spaces, the screening of suspected cases of Covid-19, the mandatory quarantine in hotels for those who enter. in Macau and the temporary closure of certain establishments.
“Of course, recognizing the adequacy of these measures does not exempt us from considering whether, given the circumstances of the moment, they are really necessary and whether, in themselves or by the way in which they are implemented, they are proportionate and fully respect the principle of equality”, caveat.
Alongside these, he continues, there are policies that the Government has imposed “hitchhiking” of the zero-case strategy, but which it considers unnecessary, disproportionate and, in some cases, discriminatory. There are several examples he lists – which in itself says a lot.
The list includes the ban on exhibitions alluding to the Tiananmen massacre, on meetings and demonstrations, on the re-entry of so-called ‘non-resident’ workers and students from abroad – with the later exception of those from Mainland China; the ban on the entry of people with the expectation of acquiring the right of residence for family reasons and the imposition on Filipino citizens of the obligation to carry out two daily tests for Covid-19.
“All these measures obviously violate the Basic Law, the Joint Declaration, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and some domestic laws of Macau.”
In addition to the previous ones, Katchi recalls the decisions that not even the authorities attribute to the pandemic.
“This includes denying the rights of assembly and demonstration to so-called ‘non-residents’, banning meetings or demonstrations unfavorable to the Communist Party of China (CPC), censoring TDM and excluding candidates for the Legislative Assembly not aligned with the party. All this started in 2021”, he stresses.
THE PUSH MACAU NEEDS
Menezes extends the list with more examples: the condemnation of Democrats Sulu Sou and Scott Chiang; the disqualification of two dozen candidates for deputies “in gross violation of the law and the Basic Law”; “the increasing limits to press freedom”; the pressure on freedom of expression – “transformed into the right to demonstrate, which in turn has been increasingly subverted”; threats of punishment for defamation and rumours; and the policy of Macao governed by patriots – “instead of being governed by its people in freedom”.
Sérgio de Almeida Correia stresses that the progressive deterioration of the rights and freedoms of residents guaranteed by the Basic Law began before the pandemic.
“Later, Covid-19 helped to deepen this policy and served as a pretext for reinforcing this deterioration”. Menezes is categorical and states that the discrimination against non-resident communities and the excessive, erratic and inconsistent nature of the Executive’s measures reveal the pernicious effects of an undemocratic system.
“The Government is not answerable to the population, but to those who ‘nominate’ it, so it privileges pleasing Beijing. The voice of the inhabitants is only heard if there is no risk of the much-feared instability – the great bogeyman of non-democratic regimes. In any advanced democratic community, it would be impossible for a government to survive so many errors, incompetence and contradictions”, he stresses.
Katchi insists: “The intensification of the erosion of fundamental rights in Macau does not derive from the Covid zero strategy itself, but from the hardening of the PCC’s policies of control, intimidation and repression”.