In 2008, the government of the Macau Special Administrative Region (MSAR) started the revision of the Land Law (Law 6/80/M) after concluding: "Given the demands of various sectors of society … it appears that the Land Law, in force for more than 30 years, is no longer able to respond effectively to the current development of MSAR" ('Explanatory Memorandum of the Draft Law'). The draft was approved in general terms by the Legislative Assembly of Macau on February 5 2013.
The amendment proposal to the Land Law has more than 200 articles and would make substantial changes to the current system.
One the one hand, the draft law states that the general rule for the concession of lands is based on an open tender; this does not appear in the current version of the law. The open tender will only be exempted in exceptional situations, specifically provided in the draft law – including a concession for construction of private housing to public administration workers and when it is based on public interest, favouring social development of the MSAR.
On the other hand, concession by aforamento (emphyteusis) and the sale of private lands are no longer possible under the draft law; neither is the acquisition of any rights by adverse possession (usucapião).
Under the draft law, when applying for a concession, the applicant must submit a study of the economic and financial feasibility of the project and, if necessary, an environmental impact assessment, in addition to other documents already required under the Land Law.
Another novelty in the draft law is the inclusion of the inflation rate and the price of the award of the previous open tenders amongst the elements to attend when fixing the amount of premium to be paid.
In fighting the illegal occupation of public and private domain land, the proposal increases significantly the fine applicable to illegal occupants, who will also be subject to the imputation of the crime of disobedience (article 312 of the Macau Penal Code).
These and other proposed changes aim to strengthen the transparency of the procedure of land concessions, something which society has demanded, in view of the recent irregularities in land allocation that have become public knowledge.
Nonetheless, it is not yet possible to assess if transparency will be ensured, especially if the exemptions of open tender become, after all, rule of the procedure.
Pedro Cortés and Marta Mourão Teixeira