The Malta Environment and Planning Authority eApplications system has been implemented to enable the full electronic permitting process both for land use and environmentally-based applications. The system is fully web-based and enables clients to interact with the system over a secure and reliable infrastructure utilizing the Government’s electronic ID system.
Applications including all annexed documentation can be made, bills and payments are affected electronically and all documentation including plans and digital photos are processed for each application. The system has been in operation since 1st January 2007 and has helped the Organization achieve better efficiency, communication and reduce operational costs. It has also helped various user groups, including the entire civil architecture community, whereby it is reducing their cost in paper, communication and also increases their efficiency. It has also made it possible, through a unique communication framework, to bring together various levels of Government during the consultation and decision processes.
The system has generated different levels of return on investment. Firstly, processes within the Organization have been re-engineered and are now more effective and efficient. Paper use has reduced and the Organization now relies heavily on electronic documentation. Communication costs have also reduced. However, the most important impact is the increase in transparency of the whole application process and of user participation within the application cycle.
This has resulted in establishing the eApplications systems as the primary gateway to online up-to-date information for such a sensitive process within the local community.
Architects are the major users of the eApps system. They are the agents who make the application and submissions on behalf of applicants. There are some 550 warranted architects in Malta.
These are the applicants who may apply for a given permit. Correspondence and communication with this user group is carried out electronically.
These are the Government entities, committees and other organizations with whom MEPA consults during the application cycle. These bodies are consulted on their own areas of expertise which MEPA relies on during the determination of the case. There are some 200 consulting bodies with which MEPA corresponds on a regular basis.
These are companies or individuals who are in possession of an environmentally-based permit which enables them to operate in a given field. Usually such operators would be responsible to communicate regularly with MEPA and send data and up-to-date information relating to their operation.
5. Representees/Interested Bodies
This user group encapsulates the community that is interested in a particular application. During the process, this group would be permitted to put in the representations about the case electronically, and are also kept up-to-date on the permit cycle.
Different levels of Government are involved and kept up-to-date. This includes both the national Government and Local Councils who may be interested in the policy context and also on the local level for any permitting process.
7. General Public
The general public is interested in obtaining online up-to-date information about permits and permitted activities.
MEPA (Malta Environment and Planning Authority) is primarily responsible for the processing and issuing of permit applications for the environment and development on the Maltese islands. It is the national agency responsible for land use planning and environmental regulation in Malta. Established under the mandate of the Environment Protection Act (2001) and the Development Planning Act (2001) of the Laws of Malta, MEPA is also responsible for the implementation of around 200 Directives, Decisions and Regulations under the EU Environmental Acquis.
MEPA forms part of the eGovernment infrastructure and adheres to its security policies and standards. It is the only entity authorized to decide and issue permits related to the land use in Malta, which, being very restricted, and Malta being a very densely populated country, makes it a difficult and sensitive task.
The authority operates also under the agreement established during the Aarhus Convention which links environmental and human rights and establishes that sustainable development can be achieved through the involvement of all stakeholders. The convention focuses primarily on the relationship between people and the government. It also takes into consideration government accountability, transparency and responsiveness. The Aarhus Convention grants the public rights and imposes on public Authorities obligations regarding access to information and public participation and access to justice.
The authority also operates under the INSPIRE directive which lays down general rules in relation to environmental policies and activities which may have an impact on the environment.
The framework of the application incorporates different uses and technologies. This includes full case information, GIS integration inclusive of map-based technologies and features, documents and minutes, billing and payment, and security features.
The system has been implemented in such a way that it offers one homogenous user-friendly web-based interface which interacts with various back-end systems through web services. Back-end systems include RDBMS SQL databases, GIS servers, e-Gov e-id infrastructure and payment gateways.
The aim of the system is to offer a full electronic interface that eliminates the need of physical files and documentation. Internally, different processes have been re-engineered and are maintained to support the process. This includes document imaging and management, and also the capability of workflow within the system. In fact, Case Officers and Managers are not only informed through special To-Do lists, but also timely information is posted and generated to enable a better workflow. Full electronic minutes are generated by users and actions support the different committees and decision bodies on making their final decision. The system itself is enabling effective co-ordination and decision making since it offers an up-to-date singular source which can be accessed by different institutions and bodies.
The system is fully owned by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority. However, it is being developed in collaboration with private development partners and is in line with the national e-Gov vision and priorities.
The system itself is very innovative, especially in the use of GIS technology whereby through a map-based interface, users can search and obtain up-to-date information. Furthermore, it enables architects to generate a digital site plan interactively through the site and also geo-reference plans. The knowledge based within the system is essential to the Organization on various levels, both in policy making and also on the decision making processes. The Organization is also now increasingly relying on electronic data and the retrieval of up-to-date information from back-end databases. The system is fully maintained by a small group within the ICT department in collaboration with the developers. Full risk management exercises have been undertaken to ensure that the system is operational 24x7, as not only the Organization itself relies on the facility available, but also the different user groups who make use of the system.
The system uses propriety web-based technologies, particularly the .net framework which is the standard adopted within the e-Government framework. The architecture of the system has been developed in such a way that the users do not need to install any client software and can fully use the system through a normal browser. The front-end itself incorporates different technologies to display and enable interactivity for the different components such as the GIS interface and the Document Viewer which is used to display the various documents and plans available. The system interacts with back-end databases through web services based on XML technology.
Full electronic consultations have resulted in reduced printing and postage costs and the increase of efficiency within the process thereby increasing the compliance of consultations which have to be carried out within a 30-day deadline as directed by the legislative framework.
Representees can send their objection or comment online thus ensuring timely delivery within the process. This has resulted in enhanced user participation and increased transparency.
Policy documents and constraints are fully accessible through the site thus enabling different levels of Government a framework for policy formulation
Operators can apply for environmental permits as these are coming on board within the same framework. It is also envisaged that operators will also have the facility to report on their activity through the same interface.
7. General Public
The general public has full online up-to-date information about applications and permits. This has resulted in a tangible increase in trust by the general public in the permitting process, which is very sensitive in the context of a small island state with scarce land resources.
The Malta Environment and Planning Authority eApplications system is being used in order to exchange experiences and also transfer knowledge to other organizations, both locally and abroad. It has been awarded several accolades such as the Special Achievement in GIS by the ESRI User Conference and E-Business Solution in 2007 by the Malta Computer Society.
During these past months several presentations have been done about the case in the local community and the local Government ICT agency is using the MEPA eApps system as a basis to demonstrate not only electronic permitting systems but also as a framework for document imaging and management plus workflow technologies supporting key activities.
The geographical interface is also being used to increase participation and efficiency. Internationally, the system has been demonstrated to other countries through twinning exercises such as Bulgaria and Slovakia. It has also been presented as a best-practice case in the 5th Quality Conference for Public Administration in the EU, which was held in Paris in October 2008.
The system was also demonstrated within the Electronic Tools Task Force UNECS for the Aahrus Convention as a best practice for access to environmental information.
The development of a web-based framework which can seamlessly be integrated with key back-end systems is perceived to be the ideal solution which can be adopted by different organizations in making their systems more efficient, whilst at the same time increasing transparency. The biggest technological challenge was that of incorporating several technologies within one user interface. It is important that when one is implementing such a system all stakeholders are involved and all supporting activities are taken into consideration. We would say that the most important element is the architecture of the system which has enabled us to deliver an application which can be used for different permitting streams which are coming on board and being implemented.