Where is our Bill Gates?

Published on The Malta Independent¸ issue 10th July 2011

It was a well-attended conference last Wednesday at the Westin Dragonara Hotel that ushered in the long-awaited Small Business Act (SBA)¸ and thanks are due for the support of the Finance Ministry and parliamentary secretary Dr Jason Azzopardi¸ with sponsors Bank of Valletta and Malta Enterprise. One appreciates the time constraints on politicians during the busy summer period and it is always gratifying that one receives wholehearted support from the authorities¸ knowing full well how difficult it is to attract the attention of small business operators.

The conference – Regenerating Entrepreneurship – was aimed at improving competitiveness and helping to nurture business grassroots in Malta¸ and this law and its attributes were discussed. Dr Chris Said and Dr Jason Azzopardi addressed the delegates¸ together with many other high-profile speakers from both sides of the political spectrum¸ including Shadow minister of Finance & Economic Affairs Charles Mangion. Those attending included representatives of organisations such as the Malta Employers’ Association¸ FHRD¸ GRTU¸ the UHM and other unions¸ together with Bank of Valletta¸ legal experts and Ms Phyllis Farrugia¸ a consultant who assisted the government in the drafting of the SBA.

It took the organisers more than three months of preparation to round up such a formidable team of speakers and thought-provoking agenda. As is usually the case in Malta¸ there was scant support from the captains of industry. With hindsight it makes you wonder how an initiative from an SME-sized audit firm (not one of the Big 4 audit firms) gets positive encouragement to succeed. The huge theme imbued in the law is “Think Small First”. No¸ it was not a self-confessed pragmatist who coined this phrase. It originated as an idea by the EU Commission in an altruistic desire to reduce administrative burdens on small entities.

Dr Azzopardi remarked on how the Commission is urging us to abide by the SBA¸ which primarily aims to improve the overall approach to entrepreneurship by irreversibly anchoring the ‘Small business first’ principle. He announced that another initiative will be the reform of trade licensing procedures which¸ it is hoped¸ will be streamlined and simplified. He stressed that government treats small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as people and not just numbers in a file and explained how the SBA includes a wide-ranging set of pro-enterprise measures designed to make life easier for SMEs. In a nutshell¸ it seeks to promote entrepreneurship and strengthen competitiveness .It sets out new procedures to respond to challenges resulting from the current economic crisis. A delegate asked whether this is a pipe dream or a pragmatic approach to removing the barriers to growth. The answer was that the Consultative Council had already met a number of times and the concept of harnessing the views of diverse regulators has already been put into action¸ even before the promulgation of the law itself. A business support centre is already in operation under the auspices of Malta Enterprise.

Dr Said remarked that one should adopt a positive outlook regarding workforce status¸ as statistics show how the effort of government to generate jobs is meeting