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Greasing the machine

A bureaucracy has often been termed as a group of unelected officials whose task is the implementation of public policy in the most efficient way possible, a rather idyllic scenario advocated further by Weberian philosophy. But reality dictates otherwise.

We managed to burden the wheels of the State with a Mediterranean sub-culture of amateurism and lethargy

Way back in the 1990s I had the privilege of sitting on the Malta Development Corporation’s (now Malta Enterprise) board. The sad story back then was that Malta lost a considerable number of investment proposals to Tunisia as foreign investors were disheartened by the rusty and old fashioned ‘Maltese’ bureaucracy. They could not tolerate permits taking months to be issued or stand inefficient departments and costly fees and levies which they reckoned to be militating against their entrepreneurial flair.

Now, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority and ARMS Ltd top the list of the most bureaucratic and inefficient entities that Joe Citizen has to face and put up with every single day. Quick action is needed to re-engineer these two entities which are frustrating people.

Bureaucracy negates initiative and turns the life of an ordinary citizen into a living hell.

Having inherited a well-organised civil administration from the British, we managed to burden the wheels of the State with a Mediterranean sub-culture of amateurism and lethargy.

Having spent some years in the civil service I can testify that a good number of public officers have not been motivated enough to opt for innovation against stagnation; to simplify procedures rather than complicating them; to take speedy decisions against finding comfort in an acknowledgement letter.

As the saying goes, “some things never change”.

During one of the pre-election Labour congresses, held for the business community and to which I was cordially invited to attend, I was saddened to witness a chorus of entrepreneurs voicing their concern about bureaucratic dinosaurs quashing their initiatives and investment proposals. All hoteliers, industrialists and financiers sounded extremely frustrated with the red tape they met every day.

Pleading for the purging of numerous permits and accompanying levies which were suffocating them, they did not ask for subsidies but for an environment in which they could work efficiently. The time has come to grease our old-fashioned bureaucratic machine. The establishment of a secretariat specifically tasked with simplifying governmental procedures and inducing efficiency is a feather in the cap of the new government. However, it is not a simple task dealing with an old establishment reluctant to embrace change.

There is a sub-culture which has been mushrooming for decades. The task goes further than parting ways with some paper work and discarding irrelevant financial regulations. Reform has to be more radical, more incisive and involving a new cultural revolution.Public officers lack initiative because they fear being disciplined if the going does not go that well. It is the minister’s job to motivate his officers to become more efficient and creative. Creativity is the number one enemy of bureaucracy. Public officers should actually be encouraged to take initiative while assuring them that the Public Service Commission is there to defend them rather than to prosecute them.

Efficient public officers ought to be rewarded for their initiatives. They should be made aware that their occupation knows its raison d’etre in the public satisfaction with an efficient service.

A small country like ours cannot reinvent the wheel. There are ample examples elsewhere which we can emulate and adopt to our needs. The bureaucratic Leviathan needs to be challenged sooner rather than later in a way that knows no compromise; with a determination that knows no bounds, and in an earnest desire to make our lives better, to whet the appetite of local investors to work harder, and attract more foreign investment.

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