In June 2019, the Association of Synergy of Macao filed a report to the CCAC indicating that the Supporting Office to the Permanent Secretariat of the Forum for Economic and Trade Co-operation between China and Portuguese-speaking Countries (GASPF) had hired five people from the Chinese mainland as translators/interpreters under labour contract, raising doubts on violation of the provisions that require priority to be given to local candidates. The association requested the CCAC to investigate the legality of the employment.

It was found in the investigation that since the GASPF consisted of representatives from the Chinese mainland and Portuguese-speaking countries, its main working languages were Mandarin and Portuguese and thus the workload of Chinese/Portuguese translation and interpretation was very heavy. However, due to the unsuccessful attempts of the Supporting Office to expand the translation and interpretation team through blanket recruitment processes and secondment from other public services, in order to build its own professional team of Chinese/Portuguese translation and interpretation for the preparation of the 6th Ministerial Conference of the GASPF, the Supporting Office proposed employing five Chinese/Portuguese translators/interpreters whose mother tongue was Mandarin under labour contract. Eventually, the proposal was approved by the Secretary for Economy and Finance in May 2018.

Subsequently, the Supporting Office sent letters to the Beijing Foreign Studies University and the Shanghai International Studies University to ask for recommendation of graduates in Chinese/Portuguese translation/interpretation or Portuguese language. It formed a jury panel which was then sent to the two universities to conduct a selection process among 16 recommended graduates. Following written exam, oral exam, interview and analysis of resumes, the Supporting Office selected five candidates with the highest scores. Information shows that apart from graduating from the said universities, they had certain work experience in Chinese-Portuguese translation/interpretation and Portuguese language teaching.

For following up the later stages of the recruitment process, the Supporting Office requested the Public Administration and Civil Service Bureau (SAFP) for opinions in accordance with law. The SAFP considered that since there was a lack of Chinese/Portuguese translators/interpreters whose native tongue was Mandarin, the recruitment accorded with the relevant provisions under Law no. 12/2015, Regime on Labour Contract in Public Services. In September 2018, the Supporting Office reported to the Secretary for Economy and Finance on the recruitment process and the opinions of the SAFP and proposed hiring the five successful candidates from the Chinese mainland as Chinese-Portuguese translators/interpreters. The proposal was subsequently approved by the latter.

The complainant opined that the employment of people from the Chinese mainland as Chinese-Portuguese translators/interpreters allegedly violated the provisions on employment of public servants. Regarding the legality of the employment, following the investigation, the CCAC considered that when there is a shortage of professional staff, public services may fill the professional and technical positions with non-locals under labour contract in accordance with Law no. 12/2015, Regime of Labour Contract in Public Services. Since the SAFP, as the public service responsible for coordination and management of affairs of public servants and translation and interpretation, considered that there was a lack of Chinese/Portuguese translators/interpreters whose native tongue was Mandarin, which verified that the employment accorded with the situation of shortage of professional as prescribed in the law. The recruitment process consisted of several screening stages including recommendation by professional education institutions written exam, oral exam, interview and analysis of resumes and finally the successful candidates were selected based on the scores. There were no illegal or irregular circumstances found in the process.

The complainants believed that employment of Chinese/Portuguese translators/interpreters with Mandarin as the native tongue by the Supporting Office might involve language discrimination and be considered as edging out local talents. After investigation, the CCAC found that as the working languages of the GASPF are Mandarin and Portuguese, when translation/interpretation service is needed during activities or visits outside Macao, the translators nurtured in Macao, mainly with Cantonese as their native tongue, would usually need to translate/interpret Mandarin to Cantonese first and Cantonese to Portuguese later, and vice versa. According to the submission of the SAFP, this mode of translation/interpretation is difficult to meet the service needs of the GASPF and the department has the need to hire translators/interpreters with Mandarin as their native tongue.

During the investigation, the SAFP told the CCAC that, due to the language environment of Macao, the Chinese/Portuguese translation/ interpretation degree programmes and in-service training courses have been conducted mainly in Cantonese all along and the interpreters also provide Cantonese/Portuguese translation/interpretation service only. Also, according to the representatives from the Macao Polytechnic Institute, the current translation/interpretation programmes do not have compulsory training and assessment on translation/interpretation between Mandarin and Portuguese. When it comes to state-level meetings and activities, accurate translation/interpretation service is a must. When a translator/interpreter whose native tongue is not Mandarin is required to provide Mandarin/Portuguese translation/interpretation service, which necessitates two different ways of linguistic thinking and application, he will face a certain degree of difficulties. After investigation, the CCAC believed that since Cantonese is the native tongue of the majority of local translators/interpreters, it is technically difficult for them to handle Mandarin/Portuguese translation/interpretation work. Given this situation, the practice of hiring translation/interpreters from the Chinese mainland with Mandarin as their native tongue did not involve language discrimination or edging out local talents.

However, in the CCAC’s opinion, the SAFP’s conclusion that Macao lacks Chinese/Portuguese translators/interpreters was drawn based merely on its experience from daily translation affairs management rather than scientific and transparent methods such as open recruitment processes. This has not only caused the few locals with Mandarin/Portuguese translation/interpretation skills to lose the opportunities of making job applications but also made it difficult to objectively and fully verify whether Macao is really short of the relevant talents.

Moreover, when giving explanations on the recruitment in question, the Supporting Office to the GASPF stressed that “in addition to good translation and interpretation skills, translators/interpreters should be familiar with the affairs of the Chinese mainland”. It neglected the key justification that it is difficult for translators with Cantonese as the native tongue to cope with the Mandarin/Portuguese interpretation work, which gave rise to doubts about the reasonableness of its recruitment. The relevant practice was apparently unsatisfactory, and thus the department should critically review it and make improvements accordingly.