HONG KONG (Reuters) – China has appointed a slate of new officials to head the world’s top gambling hub of Macau, changing key roles including the city’s economy and justice secretaries.
FILE PHOTO: Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng arrives before the military parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People’s Republic of China, on its National Day in Beijing, China October 1, 2019. Sheng Jiapeng/CNS via REUTERS/File Photo
The appointments in Macau, a special administrative region of China, come as the city’s casino industry is experiencing tumbling revenues and ahead of an expected visit by President Xi Jinping this month to mark 20 years of Chinese rule.
Macau, which neighbors China’s other special administrative region, Hong Kong, announced the changes on a government website late on Sunday. They followed nominations by soon-to-be Macau chief executive Ho Iat Seng, who will be formally sworn in on Dec. 20.
Although anti-government protests have roiled the former British colony of Hong Kong for nearly six months, Macau has seen little opposition to Beijing’s rule.
Macau-born Ho, the sole candidate approved to run for leader, was chosen by a 400-member pro-Beijing committee to lead the enclave for the next five years.
He has no ties to the casino industry, in contrast to previous leaders, and his new cabinet will play a key role in determining what will happen to the six casino operators when their licenses expire in 2022.
Macau’s casino operators have been hit by slowing economic growth, the Sino-U.S. trade war, a weakening Chinese yuan and protests in Hong Kong.
The slowdown has added to pressure for Macau to diversify its economy from the casino industry, which accounts for more than 80% of government revenues.
Fujian-born Lei Wai Nong will replace Lionel Leong, currently the secretary for economy and finance, who has been in the post since 2014.
He will be the first economy secretary since Macau’s handover from Portugal in 1999 not to have worked in relevant private sector businesses, a move several industry analysts said was surprising.
“He has no experience in economic development in Macau or in the casino industry. It seems that Mr Ho wanted to pick someone with a fresh outlook,” said Larry So, a political commentator and former university professor in Macau.
Lei is now vice president of the Executive Council of the Municipal Affairs Bureau and has worked for the government since 1992.
The replacement of Leong comes after he was initially touted as a contender for chief executive to run against Ho. He did not end up entering the race.
Ho’s new team, which will also be sworn in on Dec. 20, consists of 10 officials, nine men and a woman. Cheong Weng Chun, the current commissioner against corruption, will become the new justice secretary.
Wong Sio Chak, Macau’s security chief will be reappointed to Ho’s team as will Raimundo Do Rosario, secretary of transport and public works.
Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Tom Hogue and Jacqueline Wong