Predictable lawyerly frothing at the mouth ensues after Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, praises Macau’s judiciary for co-operating with the former Portuguese territory’s executive and legislative branches. (Sleaze City is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its handover.) This, he declares, is more “constructive” than the system in Hong Kong. In other words, our independent judiciary impedes effective administration.
This is not new. National People’s Congress chairman Wu Bangguo denounced the separation of powers two years ago, which would have been fine except it was during a conference on Hong Kong’s Basic Law. The concept of checks and balances is simply not compatible with Chinese Communist Party supremacy and one-party rule, nor does it resonate with Chinese political tradition, notably the principle that the law means whatever the emperor/CCP wants it to mean, and the sovereign itself is above it.
Since the handover in 1997, Hong Kong’s courts have found against the government on such issues as right of abode, privatization of shopping and parking facilities in public housing estates, a different age of consent for gays and the right to free speech via unlicensed radio broadcasts. In some cases, the administration has succeeded in overturning the decisions in higher courts, but in others it has had to back off and even re-write laws. Applying for judicial review – walking in off the street and asking the court to rule on whether a government action is lawful – has become a valued tactic for dissenters among the Big Lychee’s disfranchised people.
Over in Macau, meanwhile, the leaders have not found the courts especially troublesome. The city’s top public works official up to 2006, Ao Man-long, certainly didn’t imagine that they would cause him any problems as he brazenly took some US$100 million in bribes from developers in return for un-tendered rights to public land.
It is hard not to notice when, year after year, parcel after parcel after parcel of land gets handed out with no public tender (though lack of an independent legislature, opposition press or assertive civic society helps). No-one in Macau imagines that Ao, who reported directly to Beijing-appointed chief executive Edmund Ho, could have been in on this alone. Many rather charmingly believe that Beijing made Ho pay for a 2008 rebate to every citizen out of his own pocket as punishment.
The equivalent in Hong Kong would have been if secretary for development Carrie Lam had doled out Cyberport-style private land treaties for years to every tycoon in town and then, when the smell became overpowering, was exposed with HK$15 billion stuffed in her Bottega Veneta handbag, while her boss and colleagues declared themselves, like Captain Renault, “shocked… shocked!”
(The whistle was blown by Hong Kong officials who noticed vast quantities of cash flowing through the banking system from Ao’s direction and reported it to the central authorities.)
When the decision was made, by whoever made it, to pin it all on Ao, it happened efficiently. He was tried in Macau’s Court of Final Appeal (with, of course, no right of appeal), his indictment was never made public, and the whole trial was over in weeks.
This, in Beijing’s eyes, is better, more constructive, governance than Hong Kong’s. Scary.