Sunday, 13 November 2011

Macau city of bad dreams for many

Residents tell pollsters the casino boom has not improved their lot, as crowds worsen traffic and home prices soar; the government gets a bare pass

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Guanyu 道 said...

Macau city of bad dreams for many

Residents tell pollsters the casino boom has not improved their lot, as crowds worsen traffic and home prices soar; the government gets a bare pass

Christy Choi in Macau
13 November 2011

Macau’s casino boom may have brought more restaurants, malls, supermarkets and economic opportunities, but residents of the world’s richest gaming destination are less than happy with the quality of life in the city and what their government is doing to improve it, according to a survey.

“Although Macau’s economy has been booming, people give the government a bare pass - 53.3 points out of 100 - regarding how they think the current administration is performing in improving quality of life,” said Emanuel Graca, editor-in-chief of Macau Business monthly magazine, who carried out the survey of 1,000 people in conjunction with the University of Saint Joseph (USJ).

In a town where people are reticent about voicing complaints publicly, the anonymous survey provided a helpful indicator of feelings. . And since the last such survey in 2009, levels of satisfaction about both well-being and quality of life dropped by several points, reversing the upswing trend recorded as the casinos began to boom again in 2009.

The main consensus: the priorities for development are affordable housing, reducing inflation and improving public transport, with health, education and environment important but taking a second seat.

“Macau is a victim of its own success,” said Richard Whitfield, a USJ professor who oversaw the “2011 Macau Quality of Life Report”. “It’s a lot more crowded, housing prices are high, there are problems with the infrastructure, and Macau, like Hong Kong, is very dependent on imports from [the mainland]. But it’s pegged to the Hong Kong dollar,” so the cost of living has gone up.

While official government statistics show that as of September about 560,000 people lived in Macau, residents suspect the actual number is much higher when including visa-overstayers and work-permit holders. Add to that the 25 million to 30 million tourists who have visited each year since 2006 and it’s easy to see how crowded the former Portuguese colony is getting.

To support this population, the number of cars and motorcycles has also almost doubled in eight years. Several people told the Post their commuting time had doubled or at times tripled over the past 10 years. “It takes me 25 minutes to walk, and 30 minutes to drive to work,” said Daphne Ho, a government employee working on the Macau Peninsula.

The population growth and increased foreign investment over the past few years have also caused the prices of residential property to skyrocket. “It’s the same problem as Hong Kong,” said Cynthia Hoi, an office worker at a local university. “The price is so high the middle class and younger people can’t afford it.”

In 2004 the average cost of buying a home was 8,259 patacas per square metre. Last year, it was 31,016 patacas, more than a threefold increase. The average monthly household income in Macau in the last government accounting in 2007 was reported to be about 25,000 patacas a month.

Tax revenue from gambling brought in 68.8 million patacas last year, 10 times as much as before the gaming industry was opened up to competition in 2002. And while the government has handed out 6,000 patacas to each family to help combat inflation, the consensus is that more long-term solutions are needed.

“We need to work harder than before to keep the same lifestyle as before,” Daphne Ho said. “Compared with how much attention it pays to the casinos, the government doesn’t pay as much attention to the people.”