Macau is at a crossroads in its history. One year after the handover to Mainland rule, the territory is trying to find a new economic model. The established garment, furniture and toy manufacturing industries still have a considerable presence, but there's a consensus that Macau should become more of a service-oriented economy, with a particular focus on tourism and entertainment. These sectors already employ more than a quarter of the territory's working population.
During 2000 the government of the SAR, led by its chief executive Edmund Ho, visited Japan and Singapore, two countries that no doubt exposed Macau's structural shortcomings to the delegation.
Information technology is viewed by some as a tool that can somehow solve the problems of a heavily bureaucratic administration, whose leaders hurriedly took over their posts from the departing Portuguese in December 1999. This is unlikely to happen, however, unless there is a change of attitude within the government and civil service.
Structural reforms are being implemented, such as in the case of the Office for the Development of Telecommunications and Information Technology. The office, established in June last year when the government decided to separate post from telecommunications, is officially responsible for the pro-motion and co-ordination of activities in the information technology sector. According to its coordinator, Mr. Tou Veng Keong, the office has been busy "preparing new telecommunication framework legislation, which will be published during the current year." This new set of rules will reflect the recent liberalisation of telecoms and internet services that marked the end of the 20-year concession contract with Companhia de Telecomunicacoes de Macau, which will retain exclusivity of the land lines only.
The publicly funded Centre for Productivity and Transference of Technology (CPTTM) is also at the forefront of IT in Macau. The centre has already sent two of its
engineers to Singapore for training, making good use of the co-operation protocol signed by Edmund Ho during his recent visit there.
According to its director, Victor Kuan, CPTTM will launch by mid-2001 a Cyber Lab, in co-operation with Cisco Systems. Its main objective will be to train high school teachers in the use of IT systems. CPTTM has been also actively co-operating with its Mainland China counterparts and has signed a contract with the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology for the implementation of Red Flag, the Chinese equivalent of Red Hat, the US-based company dedicated to open-source software.
Lack of government resources
Civil society in Macau is also trying to become more proficient technologically. For example, the E-Commerce Association of Macau (E-CAM) was established last September by a group of business people frustrated by a lack of government initiatives in this area.
Mr. William Ku, chairman of its executive council, says: "The government talks a lot about information technology but is doing nothing and is not allocating enough resources to develop this field." As an example, he points to the government budget for 2001, currently under discussion in the local parliament, which allocated more than US$125m to the Secretariat of Culture and Social Affairs and only US$7m to the Secretariat of Transportation, Public Works and Telecommunications, which oversees information technology matters.
Nevertheless, Mr. Fernando Chu Sai On, the secretary for the former body, when questioned in the parliament about his policies, pledged to allocate an undisclosed sum to the schools of Macau for the acquisition of computer equipment.
According to Ku, Macau has many semi-skilled workers who could be trained. Statistics compiled by the education department revealed a doubling in the number of people studying in computer-related fields between 1998 and 2000.
There are currently three major organisations providing IT education: the University of Macau, the Macau Polytechnic Institute and the Centre for the Production and Transfer of Technology. The university has a well-equipped computer lab and a competent group of teachers, most of them recruited from the Mainland. But, according to Ku, the classes are too theoretical. Therefore one of the objectives of E-CAM is to liase between business and the educational sector, giving the students more real life case studies.
For that purpose, the association has already exchanged a number of memos with the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Macau, proposing ways of making the students more aware of the problems they are likely to face once they enter the job market.
As for cooperation with China, once again it is the private sector that is making all the running. E-CAM has been maintaining contacts with the economics department of the PRC representative in Macau and more recently it has sent representatives to an IT seminar and exhibition in Shenzhen in order to establish local contacts.
Silicon chip plant in Zhuhai
The situation in neighbouring Zhuhai special economic zone is also improving, according to Mr. Gosse Tang, who is another member of the E-CAM executive council. A silicon chip factory recently started full production in the SEZ and there are a growing number of cyber-cafes. Software developers based in Zhuhai have been advertising job vacancies in major Chinese newspapers in order to attract qualified engineers to work in the SEZ, especially in the areas of anti-virus and translation software.
Such developments should act as a spur to Macau as it strives to keep pace with the new information technologies. But the transition will not be easy. Macau's business community is very much oriented to traditional models and there is a strong lobby that defends the shrinking manufacturing sector. That makes it more difficult to allocate resources to new technologies but, without major investment, Macau will struggle to join the internet age as a full-time member.
The Portuguese have been in Macau for almost 500 years but one year after the handover to China in December 1999, the only places you are likely to hear Portuguese being spoken in the territory are the Portuguese cafe, the Portuguese Bookshop or the Portuguese Consulate.
Many of the Portuguese nationals left behind in the tiny Special Administrative Region mourn the end of rule from Lisbon. Others say they feel the city has become `too Chinese' for their taste. Macau has always been a Chinese city but at the height of their presence in 1995, the Portuguese were quite visible, especially in the shopping areas and the lobbies of five-star hotels.
The turning point came in the following year when the governor Rocha Vieira decided to give a job in Portugal to every Portuguese national living in Macau with any kind of link to the civil service. That was the start of a rapid decline in the Portuguese community, which dwindled from 5,000 to fewer than 1,000 today.
However, the few Portuguese left should still feel at home. Radio and television channels are broadcast in Portuguese. The architecture in many parts of the city is typical Mediterranean and there are a number of good Portuguese restaurants fairly priced and serving typical Portuguese dishes such as feijoada, a hearty meal comprising beans and sausages. There are also several restaurants, managed by locals, which serve their own interpretations of Portuguese cuisine.
The Portuguese legacy also includes a more relaxed way of life than is apparent in Hong Kong or the Mainland. The easy going, flexible way of Portuguese administrators, unable to impose themselves by force, created a system that for hundreds of years fostered corruption and fed the pockets of petty officials and their local connections.
The Portuguese also left behind a highly bureaucratic public service, making it more difficult to replace senior Portuguese officials with locally trained people in the final years of colonial rule.
Macau internet sites
A portal containing diverse information about Macau and Macau Telecommunications Company.
The Economic Services of Macau, the government organisation charged with carrying out economic policy in the industrial, commercial and fisheries industries.
The Macau Chamber of Commerce is a voluntary organisation of Chinese commercial groups and businessmen founded in 1913 and with nearly 3,000 members.
The Macau Productivity and Technology Transfer Centre is a non-profit joint venture between Macau government and the private sector. Its aims are to improve competitiveness, to encourage the formation and growth of new business and to support foreign investment in Macau.
The Monetary Authority of Macau, the SAR's central bank.
Website of The University of Macau, which has been pioneering the effective use of IT in Macau.
The Institute for Tourism Studies offers training and degree pro-grammes in many aspects of the tourism and hospitality industries.
A non-profit institution devoted to scientific research, technological development, technology transfer and training.
The Macau Management Association provides management services such as seminars, workshops and training courses to members and the general public.
The Macau Trade and Investment Promotion Institute (IPIM) is responsible for promoting trade and attracting investment to Macau SAR.
An overview of Macau's investment opportunities and office facilities by the World Trade Centre Macau.