Wed, Nov 14, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Macau leader vows to tackle corruption and labor problems

AFP , HONG KONG

Macau's leader yesterday pledged to tackle a labor crisis, rampant corruption and soaring inflation to ease growing public discontent in the gambling hotspot.

Edmund Ho (何厚鏵) set out his political blueprint for the coming year in his annual address, putting economic development and an improvement in people's everyday lives high on the agenda.

He also vowed to make the government more transparent and enact new anti-corruption laws to try to bring an end to the murky allegations of graft that have bedeviled the territory of just 525,000 people.

"The Commission Against Corruption of Macau will do its best ... to investigate major graft cases and attack corruption in order to ensure a clean government," he said, adding that the authorities would broaden the power of graftbusters.

Ho's remarks came at sensitive time with Ao Man-long (歐文龍), former secretary for transport and public works, on trial in the biggest corruption case in Macau's history. Ho did not mention the ongoing case directly.

Ao faces 76 charges of corruption, including taking bribes, money laundering and abuse of power in a case that threatens to expose the underworld of the city, which last year overtook the Las Vegas Strip as the world's largest gaming hub.

Macau has attracted a flood of foreign investment since 2001 when it liberalized its gaming market, ending local tycoon Stanley Ho's (何鴻燊) monopoly.

Despite the US$7.2 billion in gaming revenues the territory pulled in last year, its citizens complain they have not benefited from the boom as the wealth gap has actually widened, sparking angry protests by locals.

Ho said he recognized the public discontent over illegal and foreign workers, who residents say enter the territory too freely, driving wages down and pushing local people out of jobs.

He said the government would tackle the labor problems and control the flood of foreign workers, although he admitted there was still a shortage of workers in the tiny territory because of the booming economy.

"The government promises to ensure the protection of local residents' employment rights as our top priority. This means we will utilize the local labor resources first before we import workers from outside," he said in a speech that lasted for one hour and 40 minutes.

Ho also announced measures to rein in surging inflation, which stood at 5.9 percent in September, up from 4.2 percent in the same month last year, and rocketing house prices that have tripled since 2003.

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