■ Keith Micallef
Up to 80% of those intending to apply for a trade licence which is necessary to start a business or open various forms of commercial outlets may no longer need to submit a formal application to the Commerce Department, which in many cases entails further documentation including MEPA permits. Instead it is being proposed that they will only need to notify the Commerce Department 30 days in advance. However licences involving environmental, health and public considerations such as food outlets will still require submitting a formal application.
According to the Government, these amendments will result in the reduction of €20 million a year in administrative expenses which are being incurred at the moment by small and medium enterprises.
This was announced yesterday by the Minister for Small Business, Fair Competition and Consumers Dr Jason Azzopardi, during a press conference which marked the start of a six week public consultation period regarding a set of proposals aimed at reducing bureaucracy in the process of issuing trade licences.
Dr Azzopardi lauded these proposals which he described as radical and explained that by the end of this year the Government will reach the EU target of reducing bureaucracy by 15% till 2013. He added that this initiative follows the launch of the Business First one-stop shop in January which has already been approached by 1,700 business owners.
Another major change deals with the licence fees which are set to decrease by at least €164 depending on the size of the footprint of the commercial outlet, while a capping of €1,000 will be introduced.
Dr Azzopardi announced that another proposal is to eliminate the need of presenting a copy of the MEPA permit, as well as a copy of the floor plan as the applicant will only need to provide the relevant planning application number.
Another measure intended to speed up the process regards the payment procedure. At the moment the process of issuing new trade licences stalls as soon as the applicant is required to submit his payment. Now it being proposed that the payment is done at the very beginning to eliminate this hurdle. However applicants will get a refund if their application is refused.
The fifth proposal regards the cancellation of trade licences. One of the major sources of complaints right now deals with those cases in which licence holders have to pay hefty bills to have their licenses terminated as they are still required to pay the fees in arrear for the period during which they effectively ceased to operate. Thus it is being proposed that licence holders will only be obliged to pay their annual fees as long as their businesses are active and the Director of Commerce will automatically revoke their licenses after a four year period.
The final proposal aims at eliminating the possibility of reactivating and transferring trade licences once there are no restrictions anymore on their issue.
Dr Azzopardi urged the public and other interested parties to put forward their suggestions during the consultation period which lasts till the end of May by sending an email on firstname.lastname@example.org. In the coming days a promotional leaflet highlighting the main proposals will be sent to the over 18,000 license holders in the Maltese Islands.