The government has set up an interdepartmental working group for studying the possible criminalisation of the operation of illegal inns, the Secretariat for Administration and Justice (GSAJ) said in a statement Tuesday.
In view of Macau’s civil society having recently paid close attention to the issue about whether the illegal provision of accommodation should be criminalised, the government has set up the working group – as instructed by Chief Executive Chui Sai On – in order to comprehensively analyse the opinions raised by different segments of civil society on the issue, the statement said.
The setting-up of the working group aims to come up with measures that are more effective in combating the operation of illegal inns, the statement said.
Secretary for Administration and Justice Sonia Chan Hoi Fan is the coordinator of the working group, the members of which also include representatives from the Secretariat for Administration and Justice, Secretariat for Social Affairs and Culture (GSASC), Public Prosecution Office (MP), Legal Affairs Bureau (DSAJ), Public Security Police (PSP) and Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO), according to the statement.
The working group will study the government’s current law enforcement tasks combating the illegal provision of accommodation, with the aim of identifying the fundamental causes resulting in the existing difficulties in solving the matter of the operation of illegal inns and coming up with the respective solutions, according to the statement.
Chui first told reporters early this month that the Secretariat for Administration and Justice would study the possible criminalisation of the operation of illegal inns.
The chief executive’s remarks came after the strikingly opposing views recently expressed by Secretary for Security Wong Sio Chak and Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Alexis Tam Chon Weng on how to tackle the illegal provision of accommodation services in residential buildings.
Law 3/2010 on the Prohibition of Providing Illegal Accommodation came into force in 2010. According to the law, those illegally providing accommodation face a fine of between 200,000 and 800,000 patacas. The law also states that those who solicit clients to stay in an illegal inn face a fine of between 20,000 and 100,000 patacas.
Commentators and civic leaders have repeatedly urged the government to criminalise the illegal provision of accommodation by proposing amendments to Law 3/2010. They have said that the current law does not act as an efficient deterrent to those running illegal inns as the offenders only face a fine and cannot be held criminally liable. The legislature would have to vote on any government-proposed amendments to the law.
According to the current law, it is MGTO officials who carry out inspections on whether illegal accommodation is being provided. MGTO officials can request police assistance, especially when they encounter resistance while carrying out their duties.
During a Q&A session in the Legislative Assembly (AL) about his portfolio’s 2019 policy guidelines late last month, Wong said it was not a good idea to criminalise the illegal provision of accommodation by amending the current illegal accommodation law.
Wong said that if the offence of running an illegal inn would be criminalised, it would only amount to a minor crime based on Macau’s legal system. He said that in this situation, non-custodial probation would typically be granted to the offender if he or she was found guilty of running an illegal inn, adding that this would not act as a deterrent.
However, during a Q&A session in the legislature about his portfolio’s 2019 policy guidelines early this month, Tam said that he agrees with the view raised in civil society that illegal inns should be criminalised. Tam noted that those running an illegal inn merely face a fine, which he said means that the “cost” for them to commit the offence was “too low”. He said that the criminalisation of the operation of illegal inns would act as an efficient deterrent to potential offenders.
Tam’s portfolio oversees the Macau Government Tourism Office.
Currently, the operation of an illegal inn is merely an administrative infraction, not a crime.