Actions speak louder than words
Much has happened since the beginning of the year in the policy sphere of the small business sector.
An important decision was taken in the way the government is set up to augment its focus on small businesses – the backbone of our economy. The creation of a specific ministry dedicated to such a vital organ of our economy underscores this government’s belief that it will leave no stone unturned to be in a better position to work for their benefit.
Our economy is small business-led. Suffice to say that we have more than 65,000 micro enterprises employing less than nine workers and another 1,500 small businesses having between 10 and 50 employees; this out of a total of about 67,500 enterprises in Malta and Gozo.
Having a dedicated ministry to better focus on the needs of these micro and small businesses is a significant strategic decision, a decision that will continue to focus all our attention on local enterprises’ competitiveness over the long term.
The choices and subsequent decisions we take in the medium term will all impinge on the direction we shall take in the longer term. We need to create an environment in which entrepreneurs can come forward with new ideas and set up new companies.
The government’s intervention needs to encourage and facilitate a healthy competitive environment by eliminating unnecessary hurdles for our resilient enterprises that are built on sound business principles. It must limit bureaucracy and administrative burdens to the absolute minimum necessary and government-induced costs for permitting and the like must be kept to the barest minimum.
Another role for the government is to facilitate by incentivising investment in particular sectors or technologies deemed to be of economic importance but are lagging behind.
The decision taken by the government for the setting up of the one-stop shop that was aptly named Business First is another milestone and a clear message in favour of businesses. It was set up to offer all business-related services, under one roof, to all kinds of enterprise at any stage of their business, including the self-employed.
It is thus with both surprise and dismay that I note what the Leader of the Opposition said a few days ago. Joseph Muscat showed that he is either not aware of the setting up of Business First or, if he is, then he was deceitful enough to mask his awareness by stating an untruth.
But how come someone who allegedly has the interest of businesses at heart is not aware that Business First is fully operational? Why did Dr Muscat deceive his audience on this?
I believe small businesses expect the Leader of the Opposition to remain abreast of such crucial developments. Wrong or deceitful information, as excessive bureaucracy, costs time and money.
Business First opened its doors to the public in January and operates from Guardamangia under the aegis of Malta Enterprise.
The Business First team is able to give advice and assist in the finalisation of administrative procedures on more than 50 services (such as: VAT registration, trade licensing, environmental permitting, registration for social security numbers and company registration) that relate to 20 government departments and entities. In the majority of cases these services shall be concluded within 10 working days. This means there is no more running around for entrepreneurs and self-employed to set up shop, no more going to and fro between departments and other entities to pay bills and, above all, no more time wasted getting the right information about regulations, laws, incentives and schemes.
Since its opening, 850 businessmen made use of it and have expressed great satisfaction at the level of service offered. It will save them money. It will make their life much easier.
It is also worth mentioning that government investment in the small business sector does not stop at the Ministry for Small Business. The University of Malta, Malta Enterprise, the Malta College for Arts, Science and Technology and the Malta Council for Science and Technology are all significant players that support this backbone of our economy by ensuring that our labour market is equipped with the highest level of skills and stimulating our entrepreneurs with innovative and cutting-edge ideas for business spin-offs.
Investments made by the entities mentioned above enhance further research and development and give life to projects such as the life-sciences park, SmartCity and Corporate Village. They are all significant parts of the all-embracing long-term vision to make Malta and our businesses more competitive.
This is the vision of this government, to allow the entrepreneurship community make its enterprise a factual and realistic success.
Through its various schemes, the government is helping business people to augment their profits, provide more employment and strengthen the Maltese economy. No wonder and no coincidence that we have one of the lowest rates of unemployment in Europe. It is due, in no small measure, to this government’s entrepreneurial zest and policies.
Dr Azzopardi is Minister for Fair Competition, Small Business and Consumers.