The Malta Business Registry is tasked with ensuring that companies registered in Malta are in full compliance with local legislation and international standards, thus protecting our island’s status as a desirable jurisdiction. A mammoth task by any standards, especially when one considers that a host of new EU regulations are released almost monthly.

MBR Chief Executive Officer Geraldine Spiteri Lucas explains that the creation of processes that support and facilitate the ongoing work to ensure Malta remains a strong and attractive jurisdiction is an ongoing process, one that has recently been made considerably smoother and more user-friendly thanks to the authority’s recently re-engineered digital portal system

“As a registry, it is important that we ensure that Maltese legislation is in line with EU Regulations and Directives as well as other international organisations. We have to ensure the maintaining of an up-to-date register where all the information is correct. Equally important is ensuring the facilitation of reporting and the elimination of bureaucracy as much as possible. All these elements affect Malta’s strength as a jurisdiction and, to help us better achieve these goals, we have re-engineered the entire online system,” she starts off.

This digitalisation process that is at the core of the MBR’s mission stemmed from the EU’s Single Gateway Directive, which required not only an update to Maltese laws but also a thorough overhaul of the IT infrastructure.

“The new system was introduced last year and necessitated much work and effort from various sectors. This year we are working on enhancing before going totally paperless. The process to fine-tune it before it went online took around three years; following that, we needed to migrate all the data we hold on individuals and companies. The previous infrastructure was not easily amendable, but now we’ve opted to build the new system using distributed ledger to keep it more flexible in future to contact with other entities,” Dr Spiteri Lucas explains.

The CEO firmly believes that technology and communication both play a strong role in maintaining Malta’s position as a reliable jurisdiction. Both support companies and directors in ensuring that they all have the necessary tools and knowledge to comply with their reporting responsibilities.

“We regularly organise sessions where we try to educate the business community and also provide guidelines to Company Service Providers. The new system is so easy to use that even companies can use it directly and ensure they are sending the filing on time. Education is just as important as the engineering of processes so that everyone knows what they should be doing and what’s expected of them. This is especially important given that the timeframes for action can be very short, so it’s important that everything is clear not only to the person carrying out the filing but also to the director of the company. Ultimately, the director is legally responsible for the consequences of any wrongful filing,” she states.

Another priority is to build collaborations that pave the way to a trusted relationship by servicing clientele at an apt time. MBR staff deals with a large number of requests on a daily basis. The registry’s information sessions, the CEO hopes, can lead to facilitating the replies to such queries.

“We are happy to provide assistance, of course. But the sheer number of such requests means that there’s bound to be a lag in replies. We do strongly encourage stakeholders to make use of our sessions. Unfortunately, we always tend to see the same faces attending,” she says with a smile.

Another aspect that helps the mission to protect Malta as a jurisdiction is the maintenance of a highly qualified, committed team. Given the numerous legal responsibilities that MBR staff must fulfil, the environment can be stressful, Dr Spiteri Lucas acknowledges. To put things in perspective, last year alone the registry processed around 200,000 documents, more than 30,000 certificates and approximately 3,000 new companies.

‘Yes, the numbers are huge and the stress is significant. It is important to empower staff and to equip them with the necessary training, especially as the laws are constantly changing. We offer a lot of self-development schemes for employees who would like to further their career with the MBR and we’re particularly proud that our current COO started working here as a clerk. Some 30 employees have already benefitted from these schemes, so you can aim as high as you want when working here. We are lucky to have employees committed to their work, entity and MBR’s mission and – most importantly, their willingness to learn,” she explains.

The Registry also focuses on work-life balance, besides offering child-minding services – a measure that is still innovative for a government agency. Parents bring their children to the premises, where there is specialised personnel to oversee homework, feed and keep the young ones entertained while their parents/guardians can fulfil their work duties with peace of mind. During summer months, three to 16-year-olds are hosted to summer school.

“Moreover, parents who wish to work reduced hours are also given the option. This applies to both parents or guardians, naturally,” Dr Spiteri Lucas tells me.

The conversation turns back towards the digitalisation of MBR services, which is currently at the heart of the Registry’s mission. The CEO is ready to acknowledge that it took some effort for her to make the mental switch – “being a lawyer, we tend to focus on the fact that technology can be fallible”, she says. But seeing the system in operation now, she describes it as a “must-have.”

“Since we re-engineered the processes it is amazing to see what can be done online, and how easy it is to use.”

Of course, she’s not wrong and technology is, indeed, fallible. How does the MBR stave off possible downtime?

“Yes, sometimes the system can go down during an upgrade, although it’s usually fully online within five minutes. However, we do send out announcements to other authorities and the public, so that companies are aware whenever we’re planning an upgrade. Moreover, we try to keep such processes for after 5pm or even night-time, when most companies wouldn’t be using the registry,” she explains, harking back to the importance of effective communication with stakeholders.

A more serious problem, she adds, is when something unexpected happens to the system. In this case, a solid in-house IT team is literally working on the system nonstop to bring everything back to normal as soon as possible.

I close off the interview by asking about a recently-introduced project related to the role of the Official Receiver in the context of company insolvency, and that is set to be a game-changer to any companies that are facing problems. Emanating from an EU Insolvency Directive, the idea is to continue facilitating processes especially for companies that are undergoing difficulties by not letting them reach the point of no return in terms of insolvency.

“The Official Receiver is mindful of any early warning signs that signal a company may be heading towards insolvency. Signs would include not paying the utility bills, for example, or the MBR registration fee. We are working on a system whereby companies can take a self-assessment where they see whether they’re on the verge of an insolvency issue so that they may be guided and react accordingly,” Dr Spiteri Lucas says.

In the meantime, 2024 looks set to be another big year for the Registry, as refinement efforts to cement Malta’s positioning continue and the MBR looks ahead towards a 100 per cent paperless future.

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