Macau ex minister to lead gambling hub

July 26, 2009

, MACAU, Jul 26 – Former culture minister Fernando Chui was Sunday named the new chief executive of Macau on a pledge to diversify the gambling hub\’s economy and rid the Chinese territory of corruption.

Chui, 52, succeeds Edmund Ho, who led the Macau government since the former Portuguese colony returned to Chinese rule in 1999 and oversaw the liberalisation of the territory\’s gaming sector in 2002.

Macau, which has a population of 550,000 people, has a separate legal system from the mainland and is the only place on Chinese soil where casino gambling is allowed.

Chui\’s election was a formality, as he was the only candidate. He won the support of 282, or 94 percent, of the southern Chinese city\’s 300-strong chief executive electoral committee, formed mostly by people with ties to Beijing.

Chui said after Sunday\’s vote that the city needed to do more to reduce its economic reliance on the casino business.

"Since we opened up the gaming market, we have seen a big change in the operation mode and the scale of the business," he told reporters.

"The change includes the launch of a lot more integrated entertainment and leisure projects. I personally feel that we should go towards this direction, to suitably diversify the economy."

Since Macau\’s gaming market was liberalised in 2002, it has overtaken Las Vegas and Atlantic City combined in terms of gaming revenue as gleaming foreign and locally-owned resorts have sprung up.

But the staggering growth has suffered in the past 12 months as Chinese authorities, concerned about the problems of gambling and corruption, have limited the number of visitors to the gaming haven from mainland China.

Chui said that he would actively develop the convention, Chinese medicine, logistics, and education sectors.

He also said he planned to work to attract more Taiwanese tourists to Macau, taking advantage of recently improved relations between Beijing and Taipei.

The new Macau leader has also pledged to fight corruption, which has cast a shadow over the territory\’s success.

Former transport and public works minister Ao Man-long was jailed in April for 28 and a half years after being convicted on dozens of graft charges including money laundering and bribe taking.

Ao\’s case touched on some of construction work for the city\’s highest-profile resorts.

Chui himself came under scrutiny over a controversial government deal which saw a piece of public land given to his elder brother at below-market price in 2006. The new leader has denied any involvement in the land grant.

Jose Coutinho, a Macau lawmaker and one of 14 election committee members who cast a blank vote on Sunday, said Chui\’s priority should be to revamp the method of electing the chief executive.

"It is not democratic. It\’s not in accordance with the (constitutional) law," he said.

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