Why Did The Macau Disturbance Occur?

Six reasons are listed at Wikipedia at this time.  We will discuss them with data from Ming Pao whenever available.  In summary, this is an almost-zero-sum game.  If the demands of the present marchers are met, another set of marchers will show up because their interests have been adversely affected as a result.  Even if the overall welfare of the general population is maximized, someone will be unhappy.

(1) We ask the government to strike harder at government-business collusion and the trading of private interests as well as disclosing information related to the sale of public land.  We believe that public land are possibly being sold cheaply to large financial groups for commercial development for which government officials received bribes in return.  The case of Ao Man-long (the transport and public works secretary) was merely the tip of the iceberg.

Blogger's comment: Nobody will object to this demand, except this is rarely actionable in the absence of specific information.  If this is to occur at a systematic level, Macau needs to have an aggressive and independent organization such as Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption that will take highly visible action.

(2) We demand the government move quickly to solve the problem of employers hiring illegal alien workers as well as the policy of importing laborers that favor employers to the detriment of local workers.  We demand that the situations of unemployment and low pay for local construction and decoration workers be improved.  We need greater transparency in the public's right to know about the situation of imported and illegal alien laborers.

Series 1 in yellow/brown: Number of persons in labor force (in multiples of 10,000)
Series 2 in blue: Number of employed persons (in multiples of 10,000)
Series 3 in green: Percentage of unemployed persons in labor force
Series 4 in purple: Median monthly wage in patacas

Ming Pao's footnote: Since Macau was returned to China in 1999, the unemployment rate has been going down; the 2006 median wage was 38% higher than that in 1999.

It seems that the major issue is with the construction/decoration sector.  There is no dispute that this sector is booming with the arrival of the foreign capital casinos.  From the perspective of the local workers, the boom has not improved their lot.  Rather, the employers seem to prefer to hire illegal migrant workers from mainland China or Hong Kong who are paid lower wages.  There are tens of thousands of these illegal migrant workers who can be found at construction sites all over Macau.  Meanwhile, local Macau construction workers can hardly find any work.  That is why they are marching in the streets.  From the perspective of the local employers, the local workers do not have the requisite skills to complete the job.  For example, the local workers can cope with regular jobs such as rectangular rooms and triangular walls, but they have no idea how to handle an oval-shaped room or triple-layered ceiling.  If a construction project needs to be completed on a timely basis, the employer is going to find the people who have the required set of skills rather than become a training school.  If the construction of a casino is delayed for this reason, prospective employees (such as dealers) would have to be idle.

(3) We are dissatisfied with the rapid rise of housing prices which make it impossible for citizens to purchase their own homes.  Rental rates have also risen sharply and the housing policies offer no aid to citizens.  We demand that public housing be realized before 2009.

Series 1 in yellow/brown: Total value of housing (in multiples of 100 million patacas)
Series 2 in blue: Number of apartments/houses sold

Ming Pao's footnote: In 2006, the average price per sale transaction of housing unit was 1.1 million patacas; the average price had risen by 138% compared to 1999.

In the case of Hong Kong, former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa decided to deal with soaring housing prices by providing 85,000 housing units each year.  This notion was quickly squashed by the Asian financial crisis and the group in even greater plight was the negative-equity homeowners who have to cope with the tumbling prices of their homes even as they hold bank mortgage loans at the much higher prices of purchase.  In the case of Macau, a sudden influx of cheap housing units will mean that anyone who paid for an over-priced housing unit (possibly through a bank mortgage) within the last year or so is screwed and can be expected to be marching in the streets at next year's May 1st march or before.

(4) We are dissatisfied with the chaotic traffic conditions.  The excessive number of vehicles have caused traffic congestions that affect the quality of living for the citizens.

Series 1 in blue: Total number of vehicles (including sedans and motorcycles) by year
Series 2 in yellow/brown: Total number of newly registered vehicles

How do you move backwards?  One, you build more roads but that is extremely difficult in an old historical city because you wouldn't want to knock down those buildings with a special Chinese/Portuguese flavor.  Two, you discourage people from owning cars by raising registration, parking or traffic/parking violation fees significantly.  But that obviously favors the wealthy people who are indifferent to any level of registration fee or fine (1,000 patacas per year? 10,000 patacas per year?) and will only put pressure on the more needy people.

Blogger's comment: By the way, I visited Mexico City once upon a time.  Twenty million people live in that city.  The traffic there was so bad that they developed this scheme -- on Monday, Wedesday and Friday, only those vehicles that have license plate numbers ending in odd numbers were permitted in the city; on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, only those vehicles that have license plate numbers ending in even numbers were permitted in the city.  I marvelled at the fairness until I was enlightened: rich people have two cars, one with odd license plate number and the other with even license plate number.  End of story.  Do you have a better idea?

(5) We demand that the adult children of Macau residents who are mainland Chinese residents be allowed to move to Macau for family reunion.

In the case of Hong Kong (see Wikipedia), "Based on the ruling, the Government estimated that the additional eligible persons in Mainland China who can obtain the Right of Abode (and therefore can immigrate to Hong Kong) within ten years would reach 1.6 million, and would result in very severe social and economic problems. While some questioned the methodology of the survey, opinion polls conducted revealed widespread concerns among the public on the consequences."

Thus, the proposal will be make in stark terms: "Do the Macau people want XX,XXX number of mainland persons to come over (bearing in mind that many of them may not have employable skills in Macau) over the next ten years?"

(6) We are dissatisfied with the fact that public servants are being oppressed because their superiors are corrupt and demand that they "follow orders."

Who can possibly argue about that?  But there were fewer than 100 public servants present at this march to push for this cause.  The proper resolution to this issue is with (1) above -- if there is an aggressive and independent ICAC, the oppressed public servants can report the situations to this organization and be confident that they will not be subjected to retaliation.