Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Independent: The ant hills of bureaucracy
26.9.10? by Josie Muscat

A couple with infertility problems called at my clinic to passionately implore me to inform them should I come to know of a baby up for adoption.

Up to fairly recent times, it was common practice to seek help from the family doctor when women wanted to hide the fact that they were pregnant out of wedlock. Doctors provided antenatal care, delivered them and then passed the baby into the care of a person enjoying the doctor’s confidence. The chosen adoptive parents were informed but were not shown the baby.

By law, the biological mother had four weeks or so to make up her mind on whether to claim the baby or consent in court to put her baby up for adoption. After she signed on the dotted line, the baby was given to the adoptive parents who also signed the legal documents pertaining to their new role as adoptive parents. All this work was carried out by a lawyer who explained all the implications to the mother and to the adoptive parents. It was all rather clear-cut, neat and tidy.

Naturally, the burden of responsibility rested very much on the doctor’s shoulders. He not only had to deliver the baby and see to the health of both mother and child, but he also was responsible for the child while it was in the care of the person enjoying his trust. Additionally, his too was the responsibility of deciding which, of the couples wanting children, was best suited to adopt the child. But in the times I speak of, the GP knew practically every family in his area together with their background and medical history and was therefore very well positioned to make a correct choice.

I have written in other articles about my great disappointment on how the GP, the friend, confessor and confidante of the family, was displaced by faceless “free” hospital services so that today there is very little of the old trust that used to be vested in the area GPs. People just shop around in the medical field as they do in every other aspect of life. This in turn has changed the medical profession’s perception of its duty; and not always for the better.

I say all this because during a television programme on sexual orientation, I was taken aback by a statement made by a member of the LGBT Council present that, according to present law, a single person of whatever sexual orientation can proceed immediately to adopt a child, while a lawfully married couple has to wait for five years. Her angle was that since a single person can adopt, why shouldn’t two people designated as single but living together adopt, even if they happen to be of the same sex? In my busy life I do not always have a chance to devour the daily newspapers and so I was unaware that the courts have already ruled this procedure to be discriminatory and asked for the law to be changed. So far, this hasn’t taken place.

The Adoption Unit arranges for adoptive parents to attend preparatory group sessions in order:

• To learn enough about themselves, their motives and needs

• To benefit from information and exploration of ideas about adoption

• To explore their ideas and feelings about adoption

• To examine their motivation and readiness to parent other people’s children

A Home Study Report is made by a social worker and presented for the consideration of the Adoption and Fostering Panel. The latter assess the suitability of the prospective adoptive family and forwards its recommendation to the Director of the Department of Family Welfare.

This is all in tune with the age we are living in, when despite the fact that so many governments in the world are financially with their backs to the wall, they still allow the proliferation of as many levels of bureaucracy as is possible. The so-called scandals of the adoption agencies and the short-comings of the child protection services in the UK were in great part due to the enormous number of levels of responsibility that end up with the right hand not even knowing that the left hand had its fingers in the mix as well. The result has been untold suffering to children and their biological and adoptive parents. Yet we have still to see, in Malta, the first step towards the dismantling of bureaucratic anthills that cost the taxpayer so many millions a year.

The second unbelievable anthill I came across this week was the Mepa permit for ‘Change of Use’. A friend of mine bought a place in which he intends to set up a business. He had already arranged for a loan from the bank and, after consulting his architect and finalising his plans, eventually submitted an application to Mepa for “Change of Use” ,since the place already had a permit, albeit for a different type of business.

And here of course he got stuck. To his amazement, Mepa informed him that the permit for Change of Use could take up to one year to be approved! As is the routine in such matters, he was asked to pay a deposit for his application to be processed. He had to submit his predecessor’s building permit, and his own licence and plans. A notice was to be issued and affixed to his premises asking for objections. All the while the poor man is paying interest on his loan. If this is not bureaucracy in its worst form, then I would like someone to explain what else can be dug up from the bottom of the anthill.

For if, when the premises were originally built, no proper permits were issued or the building was not according to permit, why was the original business allowed to flourish for years and years? And if we really would like to help small and medium-sized businesses, why should we subject anybody wishing to open shop to unnecessary expense, especially at a time when people who still believe they could thrive as self-employed are worth their weight in gold?

One has to keep in mind that the opening of doors of a business need not be equated to the discovery of a gold mine. When opening day arrives, the entrepreneur would already be carrying a heavy financial burden, which could deny him any real profits for years (if he is lucky). And when these do start coming in, the shadow of the taxman immediately falls through the door. Those who walk into business premises to be served, little know of the sleepless nights that have to be endured before the dawn finally acquires a rosy tinge.

Hobson’s choice

If, in order to improve our finances, we need – as Joseph Muscat succinctly put it – to encourage more cows to come into the byre to increase the milk yield, rather than over-milking the present herd, then Mepa and all associated government agencies have to be cut down to size. The bigger the numbers they employ, the greater the amount of pointless bureaucratic work that will have to be created simply to keep them busy. The government has to decide between keeping armies of people in jobs that make little contribution to the country and encouraging entrepreneurs and business people to proliferate and increase the national wealth.

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