Macau school and its troublesome gift


University of Macau sits on the hilltop. (Photo: Alice Zhao)

MACAU – Sitting on a sloped knoll with an overview of the splendid casinos across the Zhujiang River estuary, the University of Macau has just made one of the most high profile casinos into an investigation.

A month earlier, Casino operator Wynn Resorts Ltd. said that the Securities and Exchange Commission is conducting an informal inquiry and asking its preserve information related to its US$135 million donation pledge to the University of Macau.

There have been doubts that the casino giant’s donation could have been a way of bribery to quicken the approval for its new casino in Cotai Strip, a rising area for the casino and tourism project in Macau.

The Wynn resort's casino and hotel in Macau. (Photo: Alice Zhao)

According to the Wall Street Journal, Wynn Resorts Macau generates more than five times the revenue of the Las Vegas Strip. The Chinese territory’s growth in recent years has helped Wynn Resorts and other casino companies offset stagnant U.S. gambling markets. Wynn Resorts operates two casinos in Macau and is seeking approval by the Macau government to build a casino in the region’s Cotai section, where rivals are building a replica of the Las Vegas Strip.

The US$135 million is said to be donated to the university over 12 years through the University of Macau Development Foundation. So far, the UMDF has received donations of MOP500 million (US$62 million).

In a filing to the SEC, Wynn Resorts said that it made previously disclosed a US$25 million payment to the UMDF in May 2011 and it has committed to make 11 annual donations of US$10 million from this year through 2022.

A US$1.2 billion campus is under construction on the nearby Hengqin Island, 20 times larger than the University of Macau’s current facility. However, the school’s spokesman Kai Lai said none of UMDF’s funds will be used for the construction of the new campus. UMDF will follow the usual practice adopted by other university foundations, and the annual funds allocated to the university will not exceed 5 percent of the total donations received by UMDF. Funds allocated to University of Macau by UMDF will only be used long-term development of the University of Macau and its Asia-Pacific Academy of Economics and Management, particularly in the area of studies on Asia-Pacific Economics and Management.

Motorcycles parked on campus of the University of Macau.(Photo: Alice Zhao)

Over the past three years since its inception, UMDF has received donations of different sizes. The university said the Macao SAR government is very strict in terms of legal compliance in the operation of private foundations registered as non-profit organizations and UMDF has dealt the donation in a transparent and open manner, regardless of the size.

Efforts to access other departments of University of Macau went unsuccessful.

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China’s EB Int’l profit surges 29%


HONG KONG – China Everbright International (HK Stock Code 257), the investment holding company focuses on energy, sees a 30 percent increase in profit as it released its annual financial statement yesterday.

Net income increased to HK$0.8 billion, or HK$21.86 cents per share, from HK$0.61 billion, or HK$16.92 cents per share, the China-based company said in a statement to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange where it was listed.

The share price went up to HK$3.79 after the statement was announced, but did not surpass the monthly high of HK$3.91 on March, 5th.

The company’s turnover for 2011 is HK$3.6 billion, an increase of 25% from a year before. The four percentages less than its profit increase indicate the company has successfully cut its expenses last year.

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Slower pace, healthier advance


Chinese premier Wen Jiabao just announced the country’s next year GDP growth goal of 7.5 percent, a shadow cast to the global stock market the next few days as it is the first time in seven years that the country set the goal below 8 percent.

Pronounced similarly to the word “fortune”, the number “eight” is the most auspicious of digits in Chinese numerology. For the figure itself, maybe it is zero point five away from auspice. However, for the sustainable development of the country, the drop might be a blessing.

Behind the huge digits of China’s uprising GDP growth, the country is undermined with a varieties of problems like an overblown balloon that is about to burst. As Wen said in his speech,China is determined to push forward the “transformation of its economic development pattern”.

The relaxed pace shows China has decided to turn away from the investment-driven, export-dependent growth model. For a long time, China’s economic development heavily depended on investment and export. The Financial Times reports that investment as a share of GDP is the highest in any economy in history, at close to half, a level that most economists agree is unsustainable over the long term. Today, China’s main export partners seem to have problems of their own: The U.S. economy growth is notoriously slow and Americans don’t really want to spend though Washington has forced Renminbi to appreciate throughout the years; The Europe is struggling with its debt crisis. China can no longer count on the outside aid.

A slower growth pace is also the measure Beijing has adopted to wait for its people. The share of private consumption today in China’s GDP is unusually low, at about a third, compared with most economies where the consumption ratio is more than half, according to the Financial Times. Chinese people have the tradition to save money instead of spending. It is partly cultural, but it manifests the lack of consumption confidence in the ordinary Chinese. Chinese usually joke that middle class does not exist in China, as the top wealthy people consist only a tiny proportion of the population, the rest are struggling at the very bottom. Worse of all, most people do not enjoy social welfare, a luxury only enjoyed by some companies “within the system”.  Wen has shown his ambition for the domestic consumption, “We will vigorously adjust income distribution, increase the incomes of low- and middle-income groups and enhance people’s ability to consume.”

Meanwhile, A China that relies more on consumer spending may pollute less, easing global environmental worries, and produce more jobs. China is witnessing an increasing demand for environmentally-sound products and new energy while it endeavors to build a resource-conserving and environmentally-friendly society. Environment not only benefits its economy, but also gains its voice in the international stage as a power living up to its responsibility.

The target is largely symbolic as the real figure is likely to be higher –The International Monetary Fund forecasts Chinese growth of 8.2percent this year and other economists 8.5 percent – but the lower official target is highly significant all the same, for China finally slows its pace to look at itself.

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Secondary housing embraces a rebound


HONG KONG – The secondary property market has embraced a rebound after the Chinese New Year since a downturn of more than six months.

Data from ten main estate agencies indicates a skyrocket of trading. The transaction over Street Kornhill in Quarry Bay increased six fold. City One in Shatin also saw a doubled swap. Experts  estimate that the heat in secondary housing will continue for at least one month.

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Cross border ride: not a good time


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HONG KONG – This Sunday, in the peppy crowds with large shopping bags, Causeway Bay is even more bustling with 1,500 protesters taking part in a march against a cross-border driving scheme that will eventually allow more mainland-registered cars into Hong Kong.

The protest starts at Causeway Bay and protesters ended their march at the government headquarters in Admiralty.

The march was organized by several political, environmental, civil and transport groups, who railed against a scheme that they say will worsen traffic congestion and roadside pollution woes.

Under the current rules, 20,000 Hong Kong drivers are allowed to cross the border, while 2,000 from the mainland will be permitted to enter the city. Protesters believe a further influx of mainland cars will threat the safety and environment in Hong Kong.

In front of the newly built government building, a protester cycled all the way from Causeway Bay said there should be more space for pedestrian and cycling.

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Hong Kong Journalists use cranes to get good position


Journalists waiting outside Tang's house for the inspection result.(Photo: Willy Ho)

HONG KONG – It is just an ordinary Thursday as any other Thursday. Six cranes are parking outside at No.7 York Road in Kowloon Tong, with long necks stretching into the yard. The big machines are not used for lifting heavy materials, instead, they are new tools  for Hong Kong journalists to get a better view of next Chief Executive Candidate’s illegally built home.

Henry Tang Ying-yen, one of the three promising candidates running for the leader of Hong Kong in March this year, is suspected to have illegal structures in one of his properties. Tang apologized  before a team of Buildings Department officials finished an inspection that later proved the basement was illegal.

Sharp Daily's report on Tang's house. (Photo from the Internet)

The local Chinese newspaper Mingpao first revealed that Tang’s house at the No.7 York Road has an illegal basement with a total floor size of 2,400 sq ft – larger than the 2,217 sq ft footprint of the house. Then the Chinese-language tabloid Sharp Daily claimed in its Wednesday evening edition that Tang’s “Underground Palace” contains a wine cellar, Japanese onsen-style bathtub, theater room and wine-tasting area.

A cartoon widely spread on Facebook after Tang's house scandal. (Photo from the Internet)

Someone pointed out that the reporter from Mingpao, which published the scoop story on the illegal structures at Tang’s home, was a distant relative of Leung Chun-ying, Tang’s main rival for the chief executive campaign. According to the South China Morning Post, Leung said he did not know the situation and would not comment on the controversy surrounding Tang.

“The battle field of the Hong Kong Chief Executive Campaign is more exciting than any movie,” said Willy Ho, a 22-year-old Hong Kong citizen concerned with the political campaign.

Earlier this month, Leung Chun-ying, the other favorable candidate, was alleged to have lost his credibility, as the government released a press release saying Leung had business connections with a contestant in a design competition a decade ago for the West Kowloon arts hub in which he was a juror.

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Panelaks: Prague’s communist legacy


Panelak buildings in the south part of Prague. (Photo: Alice Zhao)

PRAGUE – It was 4 p. m. Tereza Hronová took the metro back to her home at the southern outskirts of Prague in Chodov. Compared to the pristine palaces and gothic churches along the narrow cobblestoned streets in historic Prague, this neighborhood seems to be a silent rebuttal against the stereotype of the fairy-tale-looking Czech capital: Concrete blocks stand row by row into the vast emptiness,  gloomily gray in the January wind.

As a girl growing up in Prague, Tereza has spent 19 years in the one of the apartment squeezing in the huge forests of the uniform blocks. Panelak, that is how the locals name those huge cubes.

Being a communist heritage, the panelaks were first built by the government to provide housing at an acceptable price for huge numbers of citizens. In the past, people were assigned to the panelaks for their life. After the revolution, government began to sell the houses to individuals. Today, 70 percent of the Prague locals reside in the panelaks.

“Only the rich foreigners live in the city center,” Tereza said while she was entering the lift. She pressed 3. There, on the third floor was the apartment her father bought in the early 1990’s.

Bathroom in Tereza's panelak home. (Photo: Alice Zhao)

Inside of the apartment, the bathroom came at the left side of the corridor leading to the two rooms, one for Tereza, the other for her divorced parents. Tereza said her parents still live in the same room as neither side wants to buy or rent a new apartment. The bathroom was well-equipped the same as other bathrooms anywhere else except that the wall appeared wet due to water leakage.

Tereza sitting at her room. (Photo: Alice Zhao)

Tereza’s room was neatly positioned with a single-sized bed, a study table with a book shelf, an electronic keyboard, a wardrobe and a pile of some colorful boxes. The boxes were filled with Tereza’s little treasures from her childhood.

Lucka, a manager at a restaurant living in a 68㎡ panelak apartment with her daughter, pays CZK10,000(around US495 dollars) a month for the rent. “It is like any normal apartment in Prague, because it is ordinary,” Lucka said. She said the service was good that she could get any problems fixed within a day.

A panelak school building near Haje, south side of Prague. (Photo: Alice Zhao)

The panelak buildings are also used for schools, hospitals, hotels and other functions, especially in the suburb area.

The building of the panelaks is a political move in the time of socialism, which ended in 1989. New buildings are springing up in the suburb but the quality is different.

Veronika Zrnikova, an architect based in Prague, said urbanism of those panelaks areas is quite good as public transportation and services are well provided.

Tereza is moving out from the panelak in two weeks. An organization she works for is providing her a dormitory in the city center. “I am happy to finally live elsewhere though I have to give up my privacy sharing the dorm with others,” Tereza said. When she moves out, her room will embrace a new comer – Tereza mother, who probably will be as happy as Tereza to finally change a place.

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