World Bank survey? Business as usual

Being 167th in the construction permit ranks tells it all about MEPA: according to the World Bank report, in Malta it takes and average 237 days to get a permit; 11 procedures; and costs 234.9% of our income per capita.

Putting up unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles has always been a civil service hobby in Malta.
Putting up unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles has always been a civil service hobby in Malta.

A recently published World Bank survey report bears out a situation that government keeps on ignoring although every Tom, Dick and Harry can confirm it: being an entrepreneur in Malta is akin to living a life that is a continuous bureaucratic obstacle course.

In its annual report, 'Doing Business 2013', which compares business regulations for businesses in 185 countries, the World Bank found that Malta is the most difficult place to do business in the whole of Europe and lags behind most other countries in the rest of the world.

Out of the countries analysed by the World Bank in terms of the ease of doing business in them, Malta is ranked in 102nd place while the majority of EU member states rank in the top 50. This translates into the message that it is at least twice as easy to do business there than in Malta.

Malta came 150th in the rankings for starting a business; 176th in the rankings for Getting Credit; 167th in the ranking for Getting a Construction permit; 121st for Enforcing Contracts; 111th for Getting Electricity; 80th for registering property, 70th for protecting investors and 67th for resolving insolvency. As for paying taxes, Malta is in a 'healthy' 27th place!

The deafening silence with which the government has welcomed this report is no surprise. An opposition spokesman held a press conference to point out that this is exactly what many business people had been complaining about to both Government and Opposition. What really surprises me is the silence of most associations that represent the businesses that have to undergo all this ignominy.

To be fair, one must not ignore the fact that recently the minister responsible for small businesses, Jason Azzopardi announced the introduction of changes to the licensing process aimed at reducing bureaucracy and increase efficiency. The minister said that after obtaining the MEPA permit, a business owner would only have to notify the Trade Department that he was about to start the new commercial activity. He reckoned that around 80% of new commercial activities would be benefitting from this simplification.

Putting up unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles has always been a civil service hobby in Malta but the problem has been exacerbated in recent years with the setting up of a number of state entities and authorities, all of whom have a specific task and responsibility.

With our laws being fashioned on those of other countries, the legislator has given these bodies a lot of clout. For me it is obvious that this clout is to be used judiciously when the situation calls for it and this is the sole reason why this clout is necessarily part of the law.

Instead, one meets with too many cases where the total weight of the law is applied for petty divergences from the established procedures. In other words those responsible for ensuring that the law is observed apparently cannot distinguish when a small nudge would suffice and resort too often to the bulldozer that was made available to be used for the big shoves!

For example, in trying to get a MEPA permit for small commercial or industrial premises - or even just making alterations and additions to existing ones - many end up believing that somewhere out there, there is a conspiracy designed to deny them what on paper seems to be a small reasonable request. The MEPA reform, of course, has made it worse not better, while the new system announced by minister Jason Azzopardi requires one to obtain the necessary MEPA permit before it kicks in. 

Being 167th in the construction permit ranks tells it all about MEPA: according to the World Bank report, in Malta it takes and average 237 days to get a permit; the whole process involves 11 procedures; and costs 234.9% of our income per capita!

Perhaps this situation has developed because, given half a chance, all Maltese readily become tin-pot dictators. We have all met cases of people that in the English idiom - developed since World War II - are referred to as 'little Hitlers'. The stereotype example is the petty government clerk with the power to stamp some application form or certificate, wallowing in his 'importance' stemming from the need of ordinary citizens to have their documents properly stamped. These people are found in many places: it could be a traffic warden flaunting his ticket producing machine or a MEPA planning or enforcement officer trying to be clever by half. Consistently, we meet these tedious functionaries who take advantage of whatever power they have in order to annoy and to irritate others just for their personal gratification.

These people, rather than government as such, may be responsible for many frustrating moments. But the fact is that the system as designed encourages them, to the chagrin of the ordinary citizen.

Add to this the fact that everyone's second cousin is related, by marriage or otherwise, to everyone else's third cousin twice removed. Add the fact that too many Maltese delight in personal feuds and do not seem to know how to be objective when personal perspectives cloud the atmosphere. Add the political 'red versus blue' mentality that imbues all aspects of Maltese life. Add also the Maltese penchant for being strong with the weak and weak with the strong...

This picture sums it all up: in this small community of ours, a person capable of using discretion judiciously and objectively is a rare bird. Slowly but surely, with all these corporations and authorities pushing their weight around, life has become an obstacle course for too many people, especially those who are self-employed and run their own small enterprise.

What we now have is an obstacle course that tends to dampen initiative and encourage grumbling and complaining in the characteristic 'Maltese gemgem' way of doing things - making barely audible sounds and noises; whinging while doing nothing about it. The oft-quoted traditional Maltese way of solving this conundrum is to take the short cut and ignore the law or - worse still - grease the way through. Others wait for the five yearly election campaign bonanza and get what they should have already got (and sometimes even more) by pouncing on the electoral machine of the party in government at its most susceptible moment!

There are some who do this, although much less than common perception seems to think. But most people do not want to break the law or get by on the wave of the 'pjaċiri' season.

They just want to earn a living without too many authorities and corporations breathing down their necks for petty reasons.

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hello michael or should i say DICK! yes you were always good in critising and yes you were the one the genuis who produced mepa and its zoning, so here you are now for the first time in your life critising the work you did....keep it up Michael!! pierre gaffiero id 243861m proud to be maltese.