New faces in Macau cabinet

Macau’s new Chief Executive, Ho Iat Seng, has turned a few heads with the announcement of his cabinet. The position of Finance and Economy Secretary, which oversees the gaming industry, has been given to a relatively unknown lower-ranking official from the municipality, Lei Wai Nong. Moreover, the second-most prominent position, that of Cultural and Social Affairs Secretary, which oversees tourism, also went to a lower-ranking official, Ao Ieong U, the current director of the Identification Services Bureau.

Two positions remained the same: Wong Sio Chak as Security Secretary, and Raimundo Rosario as Land and Transport Secretary.

The fifth position, Administration and Justice Secretary, went to Andre Cheong, previously the head of the anti-corruption agency, CCAC.

Analysts speaking off the record said they were quite surprised by the announcement, as it signalled a change in approach by the new government to put people with such short experience into such important roles. This suggested the Chief Executive was more interested in having people in those key posts who could be relied upon to carry out coordinated directives, rather than having experienced executives running powerful portfolios that might run into conflicts of interest.

Lei is currently the deputy director of IACM. His name was not known to any of the casino industry executives we spoke to, who declined to comment. This stands in sharp contrast to his predecessors: Lionel Leong, a well-known businessman who served only one term, and Francis Tam, also an industrialist, who served three terms.

Ao, meanwhile, ensures a female face remains in the Cabinet as Sonia Chan steps down to be replaced by Chong at Justice and Administration. But other than that, she has little on her CV to suggest she was a natural replacement for the outgoing Alexis Tam, a somewhat charismatic public figure who served two terms and was perhaps best known for bringing the Art Macao extravaganza to life, in his final year.

Wong and Chong are widely expected to be powerful forces in the new government. Both are mainland-born and educated, understood to be no-nonsense law enforcers. Wong has already overseen a tough crackdown on money-changers in the gaming industry during his two terms in office, while Chong has been responsible for some high-profile corruption campaigns, particularly the one last year that brought down the head of the investment-promotion agency, Jackson Pang.

Rosario is seen as a responsible and relatively efficient pair of hands who has been keeping a tight rein on the city’s land market, in many cases angering powerful interests by taking back undeveloped plots when their leases expired. He has also had to oversee the completion of the long-related Light Rail Transit project, which is finally going into operation this month after more than a decade of construction.

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