February 13, 2006

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Trying to Clean Up Macau

I read today about some small potato immigration officials in Macau that got caught 'red-handed' with bribes they forced out of an air cargo company. I applaud the effort, but wonder how it is that far more egregious cases of corruption in the former Portuguese enclave seem to always go completely unpunished. For too long have mutual back-scratching between members of the (dubious) private sector and government officials gone unpunished.

When I encounter corruption in China, I find that people accept its existence, but also tend to believe (or are resigned to the fact) that there will be a day in the future when those practices may no longer be possible.

But in Macau, a city that has arguably been in permanent twilight for two centuries, not only the corruption itself but also attitudes have become so institutionalized and entrenched that everyone regards it as inevitable. New arrivals, hoping that the current casino boom will also bring about change in the formerly sleepy backwater, often come to realize how utterly futile their hopes are, given how much local interests quietly despise all these newcomers that want to change old Macau's ancient traditions of quiet corruption.

I never thought I'd say this, but I think that any change in social mores regarding corruption in Macau will have to come from China. And maybe they will, as the mainland starts to belatedly grapple with the social and political dimensions of corruption. If Hong Kong is the laboratory where China can experiment with democracy, Macau can be the lab where China tries out new graft-busting techniques.

posted by HK Dave on 02.13.06 at 03:35 PM in the Macau category.


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