Il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa: referendum ieħor?

 

F’konferenza tal-aħbarijiet illum il-Birdlife qalet li qed tikkunsidra jekk għandhiex tibda t-triq biex jissejjaħ referendum abrogattiv ieħor dwar il-kaċċa.

Il-Birdlife hi motivata mill-attitudni tal-Gvern li jfittex kontinwament li jikkuntenta lill-kaċċaturi. F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi, tgħid il-Birdlife, m’għandiex triq oħra. Għax la ma tistax tasal bir-raġuni mal-Gvern, tipprova tasal bil-vot permezz ta’ referendum.

Ir-referendum tal-2015 dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa ntilef bi ftit: tikka iktar minn 2000 vot. Il-Birdlife taħseb li r-riżultat din id-darba jkun differenti minħabba li l-ebda wieħed mill-mexxejja politiċi m’hu qed jirrappresenta l-interessi tal-ambjent.

L-analiżi biex ikun ġustifikat referendum abrogattiv ieħor dwar il-kaċċa (fir-rebbiegħa) trid tibda minn analiżi profonda tar-referendum tal-2015. Trid tkun analiżi li twassal biex wieħed jifhem sewwasew x’ġara.

Jiena naqbel li l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa tieqaf illum qabel għada imma għadni mhux konvint li d-diffikultajiet li wasslu għat-telfien tar-referendum abrogattiv tal-2015 għad jistgħu jingħelbu f’dan il-mument. Il-ħidma li trid issir hi kbira ħafna.

Huwa tajjeb li l-Birdlife iżżomm l-arma ta’ referendum abrogattiv bħala oġġettiv għax fl-aħħar mill-aħħar, probabbilment li din hi l-unika triq prattika. Imma l-ostakli mhumiex żgħar u biex naslu mhux faċli daqskemm wieħed jista’ jaħseb.

L-esperjenza tgħallimna kontinwament li filwaqt li l-opposizzjoni għall-kaċċa hi kbira, meta niġu għall-vot ikun hemm kwantitá ta’ persuni li joqgħodu lura u dan għal elf raġuni. Hekk ġara fl-2015 u wisq nibża’ li s-sitwazzjoni għadha sostanzjalment l-istess.

Advertisements

Is the abrogative referendum under threat ?

article 14. Referenda Act

 

Until Alternattiva Demokratika announced the abrogative referendum campaign  on spring hunting almost two years ago, few Maltese citizens were aware that they had such a right.  Now that this right has been used for the first time since it has been placed on the statute book, it is apparently under threat.

The hunters’ lobby is now aiming at curtailing the right to an abrogative referendum. The hunters maintain that when the Referenda Act was applied in trying to abrogate the regulations permitting spring hunting it was aiming at their rights – “minority rights” they said.

Hunters had presented these same arguments though their representatives for the consideration of the Constitutional Court, which shot them down last January. In fact the Constitutional Court in paragraphs 51 to 54 of its 24-page decision, considers this very point. The hunters, said the Constitutional Court, claim that their rights are minority rights. However no potential breach of a provision of the Constitution of Malta or of the European Convention of Human Rights have been indicated in their submissions. The Constitutional Court goes on to say the following :

“It is right to emphasise that in implementing majority rule the rights of the minority should be respected. However this respect is not attained, as suggested by the Federation [FKNK] by obstructing people from expressing themselves through a referendum.”  [Tassew illi d-dritt tal-maġġoranza għandu jitwettaq b’rispett lejn id-dritt tal-minoranza, iżda dan ir-rispett ma jinkisibx billi, kif trid il-Federazzjoni, il-poplu ma jitħalliex isemma’ leħnu f’referendum.]

This same argument  was also the subject of a petition to Parliament organised by the hunters’ lobby and presented in Parliament by Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon some months ago.  In recent days, comments have been made indicating that shortly we may be hearing of the government’s reactions to this petition. These reactions will most probably be in the form of proposals for amendments to the Referenda Act of 1973, in particular amendments to the provisions regulating the holding of an abrogative referendum – provisions which were originally approved by Parliament in 1996 and brought in force in 1998.

The provisions of  the Referenda Act in Malta providing for the holding of an abrogative referendum are already very restrictive.  From what has been stated, hunters want such provisions to be even more restrictive.  In this sense they have already made public a proposal that a definite time window within which signatures for an abrogative referendum have to be collected has to be established.  In Italian legislation, for example, there exists a 90-day window within which the collection of signatures has to be carried out. Such a time window may be a reasonable proposal within the Italian legal system, but then in Italy the number of voter signatures required to trigger the abrogative referendum process is proportionately much lower than that required in Malta.

The number of signatures required to kick-start the abrogative referendum process in Malta is 10 per cent of the registered voters. This currently stands at slightly under 34,000 signatures. In Italy, by contrast, half-a-million signatures – or the consent of five regional councils – is required. The number  of signatures required in Italy amount to approximately one per cent of the electorate, meaning that the corresponding requirement in Malta is ten times as much!

I will not speculate over how the government will seek to translate the hunters’ petition into legislation. I have limited myself to one specific proposal.

It is still unclear as to what type of amendments to the Referenda Act will be submitted by government. One thing is, however, very clear:  we need to keep our eyes wide open to ensure that our rights are not reduced.

The abrogative referendum is an important tool in our democratic society, even though it has been made use of only once in its 19-year existence.  Let us hope that government will not succumb to pressures to have it diluted or removed.

published in The Malta Indpendent on Sunday : 19 April 2015

Ir-referendum : dawk li ma vvutawx

referendum counting process

 

Smajt u qrajt diversi kummenti ta’ tmaqdir kontra dawk li ma ġabrux il-vot, inkella li ma vvutawx. Dawn il-kummenti fil-fehma tiegħi naħseb li huma inġusti. Għandna nirrispettaw l-għażla li għamlu dawn il-votanti wkoll.

Dawk li ma ġabrux il-vot, inkella kien għandhom u m’għamlux użu minn għandhom ir-raġunijiet tagħhom biex waslu għal din id-deċiżjoni. Raġunijiet li probabbilment ma naqblux magħhom, imma li għandhom kull dritt għalihom.

Hemm uħud minn dawn il-votanti li ma jaqblux mar-referendum fil-prinċipju. Dawn jidhrilhom li huwa l-Gvern, direttament inkella  permezz tal-Parlament , li għandu jieħu d-deċiżjonijiet. L-idea tal-parteċipazzjoni demokratika tal-poplu, għal dawn il-persuni, għaldaqstant, hi waħda limitata. Għax għalihom inti tista’ taqbel jew ma taqbilx mal-pakkett politiku kollu kif imfisser fil-manifest elettorali tal-partiti politiċi fl-elezzjoni ġenerali. Bejn l-elezzjonijiet, imbagħad, inti ma’ jkollokx vuċi.

Fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom, dawk li ma vvutawx dehrilhom li la kellhom jivvutaw IVA u l-anqas setgħu jivvutaw LE.  Probabbilment li waslu għal din il-konklużjoni għaliex ħadd ma ikkonvinċihom fuq l-utilità demokratika tal-parteċipazzjoni tagħhom. Inkella għax ma interessahomx li jsegwu d-dibattitu. Inkella dehrilhom li ma kellhomx ħin x’jaħlu dwar l-għasafar.

Kienet x’kienet ir-raġuni biex madwar 25% tal-votanti Maltin ma għamlux użu mid-dritt li jivvutaw għandna l-obbligu li nirrispettaw id-deċiżjoni tagħhom.

Aħna poplu li nħobbu nivvutaw. Għandna għatx kbir u kontinwu biex nipparteċipaw fid-deċiżjonijiet li jieħu dan il-pajjiż. Għalhekk ħafna ddejqu li 25% tal-votanti kellhom opportunità u ma għamlux użu minnha.

Imma għandna ukoll ikollna sodisfazzjoni illi fir-referendum abrogattiv tal-11 t’April ipparteċipaw 75% ta’ dawk li kellhom dritt. Fid-dinja demokratika dan hu persentaġġ għoli ħafna  parteċipazzjoni, iktar u iktar meta wieħed iqis li s-suġġett (il-ħarsien tal-għasafar fir-rebbiegħa) mhuwiex meqjus bħala ta’ xi importanza kbira mill-parti l-kbira tan-nies. Xi snin ilu, fl-Italja, f’referendum abrogattiv simili pparteċipaw madwar 42% tal-votanti, inqas mill-kworum rikjest ta’ 50%.

Imma l-kotra tal-votanti Maltin ipparteċipat għax għarfet illi din hi għodda demokratika importanti. Darba oħra, forsi, jkunu konvinti iktar votanti biex jipparteċipaw. Jiddependi minna jekk id-demokrazija tagħna għandhiex tibqa’ ħajja.

Ir-referendum u l-partiti politiċi (3)

pn-arma2

Anke Simon Busuttil qal li hu kien ser jivvota IVA għax ħass l-obbligu li jiddefendi l-posizzjoni dwar id-deroga li li ħa l-PN fil-Gvern.  B’din id-dikjarazzjoni Simon Busuttil ipprova jilagħab mossa politika li biha jevita li minn kmieni d-diskussjoni pubblika dwar ir-referendum tispiċċa battalja bejn il-PN u l-Labour.

Simon Busuttil għażel posizzjoni tattika flok posizzjoni fuq prinċipji politiċi u valuri. Ħadd ma ħa gost b’dak li qal. Għax in-nies tippreferi ħafna kieku jitkellem ċar, flok joqgħod jilgħab bil-kliem. Kien hemm opposizzjoni qawwija internament fil-PN għal din il-posizzjoni. Din l-opposizzjoni, li ma rnexxietx, jiena infurmat li kienet immexxija minn ex-Ministru.

Araw ftit x’qalulu lil Simon fuq il-facebook wall tiegħu wara li ħa posizzjoni pubblika favur l-IVA:

simon 1

simon 3Simon 4simon 5Simon 6

 

Ir-referendum u l-partiti politiċi (2)

partit-laburista-logo

Joseph Muscat qal li hu kien ser jivvota IVA. Qal ukoll li l-Partit Laburista ma kienx ser jinvolvi ruħu fil-kampanja referendarja.

L-istrateġija politika tal-Partit Laburista kienet waħda ċara ħafna. Kienet illi jipprova jagħti palata lill-kaċċaturi mingħajr ma jiġġieled mal-ambjentalisti.  Għalhekk dak li qal Joseph Muscat.

Meta, iżda, beda jidher illi parti mdaqqsa tal-votanti Laburisti kienu fehmu dan il-messaġġ bħal li setgħu jivvutaw kif xtaqu u fil-polls (kemm dawk pubblikati kif ukoll dawk li nżammu kunfidenzjali) beda jidher vantaġġ għal-LE, anke b’voti minn żoni tradizzjonalment laburisti, bdiet tiżdied id-doża tal- involviment tal-Partit Laburista fil-kampanja referendarja.

Il-kandidati Laburisti għall-Kunsilli Lokali (f’ħafna lokalitajiet) huma u jduru d-djar bdew jikkampanjaw favur l-IVA. Bdew ukoll it-telefonati, prinċipalment fl-aħħar ġimgħa.  Anke fid-djar ta’ attivisti tal-Birdlife u tal- ADZ (AD Żgħażagħ) ċemplu jikkampanjaw favur l-IVA. Araw ftit dak li kiteb Steve Borg, ambjentalist rispettat u ex-kandidat tal-Partit Laburista għall-Parlament Ewropew.

Jiena m’inix sorpriż b’dan kollu minħabba li l-Partit Laburista kellu commitment politiku fuq il-materja. Kien baħnan min emmen jew ittama li l-Partit Laburista ser jibqa’ barra mill-kampanja u b’ħalqu magħluq. Il-kritika tiegħi lill-Partit Laburista mhux li ikkampanja favur l-IVA, iżda li ma kellux il-kuraġġ li dan jikkonfermaħ fil-pubbliku. Ipprova jistaħba wara subgħajh.

Ir-referendum u l-partiti politiċi (1)

new-identity.jpg

 

It-tlett partiti politiċi f’Malta ħadu posizzjonijiet kompletament differenti fir-referendum abrogattiv dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa.

Alternattiva Demokratika ġiebet flimkien l-għaqdiet ambjentali kollha u flimkien magħhom organizzat il-ġbir tal-firem li kienu meħtieġa biex ir-referendum ikun jista’ jsir.  Sad-data tad-deċiżjoni tal-Qorti Kostituzzjonali  Alternattiva Demokratika kellha rwol ċentrali fil-kampanja referendarja. Wara dik id-data dan ir-rwol ċentrali kif inhu xieraq għadda għand il-Birdlife. Alternattiva Demokratika baqgħet tinvolvi ruħa fil-preparamenti kollha meħtieġa.

Alternattiva Demokratika kien l-uniku partit politiku f’Malta li ikkampanja favur il-LE. Alternattiva Demokratika hi ukoll l-uniku partit politiku f’Malta li fil-programm elettorali għandu imniżżel ċar u tond li l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa trid tispiċċa.

Ivvotajt LE ? Stedina biex taħseb ftit ieħor

rizultat referendum 2015

 

Ir-referendum intilef b’2,220 vot.

124,214 votant ivvutaw favur il-ħarsien tal-għasafar, favur l-ambjent.

Jekk trid tivvota favur l-ambjent m’għandekx għalfejn toqgħod tistenna referendum. Għandek ukoll l-obbligu li tagħmel dan fl-elezzjonijiet l-oħra: dawk ġenerali u dawk lokali. Jekk trid tkun konsistenti anke f’dawk l-elezzjonijiet għandek tikkunsidra li tagħti l-appoġġ bil-vot tiegħek lil dawk il-partiti f’Malta li għandhom politika li tħares l-ambjent. Partit politiku wieħed hemm: Alternattiva Demokratika.

Joseph Muscat u Simon Busuttil qalu li ivvutaw IVA. Jekk inti ivvutajt LE,  għaldaqstant, ma tistax tkun konsistenti  jekk wara d-dikjarazzjonijiet tagħhom tibqa’ tappoġġa lill-partit tagħhom.

L-ambjent niddefenduh dejjem mhux fir-referendum biss.

Inkella il-vot tal-LE il-bieraħ kien biss biex isserraħ il-kuxjenza.

Taking back control

turtle dove

 

Throughout this Sunday morning the Electoral Commission will supervise the counting of the votes cast  in yesterday’s  spring hunting abrogative referendum. The first reliable projections of the result should be available at around  10.00am with a final result early in the afternoon.

Irrespective of the result, this is history in the making as, for the first time ever, Maltese voters will be directly taking a decision on environmental policy. They will decide whether spring hunting in the Maltese islands will be consigned to the history books.

This is the end of a two year journey that began in  April 2013 when the first steps were taken to form a broad-based anti-spring hunting Coalition of  environmental NGOs together with Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party in Malta. Initially, Alternattiva Demokratika’s initiative was met with scepticism: there was widespread fear of confronting the parliamentary political parties which had created the current spring hunting mess.

Constructive dialogue with both the Maltese authorities as well as with the EU Commission had failed to yield results, yet when push came to shove there was still considerable reluctance to think outside the box.  This mess could not be cleared by applying the same thinking that led to its creation. The spring hunting mess was created by successive governments that were held to ransom by the hunting lobby. There was only one solution: government was the problem so it could never be part of the solution – civil society had to take back control of the decision-making process to have order restored.

This was going to be a mammoth task. The fact that the abrogative referendum tool had never been used since its introduction in 1998 understandably added to the reluctance.

As late as 18 June 2013, some environmental NGOs were still hoping that the Maltese Government, or the EU Commission itself, would act in a reasonable manner and stop spring hunting.  In fact, reports in the press at that time were speculating on then EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik initiating an inquiry into spring hunting in Malta.

Early in the day, few people were conscious of the empowerment potential of the abrogative referendum. Almost none of the eNGOs was aware that the abrogative referendum process is independent  of government or Parliament.  Some eNGOs  supported the initiative almost immediately but it was an uphill struggle to convince others, taking weeks and a great deal of patience until practically all eNGOs were on board.

The collection of signatures to initiate the process for calling this abrogative referendum was launched on 10 August 2013 at Il-Buskett. Initially the uptake was very slow, as voters took some time to understand that this was no ordinary petition.

Then, on 23 and 24 October 2013, one of the worst massacres of wild birds in Malta took place. It is best described in a Birdlife Press release which stated  as follows :

“Despite the presence of six BirdLife Malta teams and as many ALE units in the Buskett area this morning at least one Booted Eagle, Ajkla tal-Kalzetti, was shot down inside Buskett Gardens as it left its roost this morning. Several others, including Short-toed and Booted Eagles, were shot at and many more were seen carrying injuries after last night’s shooting spree by hunters in Dingli, Buskett, Girgenti, Siġġiewi and Zebbuġ.

This morning’s second confirmed victim was a Short-toed Eagle, Ajkla Bajda, shot down in Gozo.

The shootings follow what can only be described as a massacre yesterday evening, after more than 50 eagles were seen by birdwatchers counting passing migrating birds in their regular watch-point above the wooded valley of Buskett. At least 10 eagles are known to have been shot down and many more targeted by dozens of hunters in locations around Buskett. Several as yet unconfirmed reports were also received from members of the public who saw eagles and other large birds of prey being shot at and shot down.”

This marked the turning point in signature collection as within ten days of the massacre of these eagles the required number of signatures had been received . The verification process was commenced immediately and the petition was finalised for submission to the Electoral Commission.

By July 2014, the Electoral Commission had concluded its vetting of the signatures submitted and six months later, in January this year, the Constitutional Court threw out the hunters’ objections.

For the past three months we have been actively campaigning to drive the message home: spring is the time when birds are on the way to their breeding grounds. They need to be protected. This message has been conveyed through the different spokesman and women ambassadors who, together with hundreds of volunteers, have done wonders to ensure that practically every voter is aware the he or she has the power to take a decision in order to clean up the mess which Parliament and the government have created over the years.

Today we will know what the decision is.  Saving any last minute surprises, it is clear that after today’s result Maltese civil society will cherish its newly discovered empowerment. Tomorrow, Monday, will not be just the start of a new week.  Hopefully, it be the start of a new era of ever-vigilant NGOs, now armed with the knowledge that they can hold government to account for inadequate legislation whenever they consider that this is necessary.

The abrogative referendum is the tool through which civil society can bring government to order. Today’s result will just confirm whether it can make use of it.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 April 2015

Il-Ġimgħa 10 t’April hu jum ir-riflessjoni dwar ir-referendum abrogattiv

turtle doves just shot         submission of referendum signature requests

 

Qed nikteb dan l-artiklu ftit qabel ma jibda l-jum tal-Ġimgħa. Jum ir-riflessjoni. Nirriflettu dwar dak li smajna matul l-aħħar ġranet, ġimgħat u xhur.

Kif wasalna s’hawn?

Wara snin twal li fihom il-kaċċaturi mexxew lill-Gvern Malti minn imnieħru kellhom ikunu l-firem ta’ 41494 il-ċittadin Malti li poġġew il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa fuq l-agenda nazzjonali. Dan sar billi talbu li jsir referendum abrogattiv biex jispiċċaw ir-regolamenti li jippermettu l-kaċċa tal-gamiem u tas-summien fir-rebbiegħa.

Il-kaċċaturi u l-għaqdiet tagħhom, kif kellhom kull dritt li jagħmlu, marru l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali bit-tama li jsibu x-xagħra fl-għaġina u b’hekk iżommu r-referendum abrogattiv milli jsir.

Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali f’deċiżjoni li tat f’Jannar li għadda qalet li ma hemm l-ebda raġuni li tista’ żżomm lir-referendum milli jsir. Fuq dan il-blog ktibt sitt artikli li fihom spjegati fil-qosor dak li qalet il-Qorti. Dawn l-artikli tista taqrahom hawn : 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 u 6.  Jekk trid tista’ taqra ukoll id-deċiżjoni sħiħa tal-Qorti Kostituzzjonali hawn.

Fis-sentenza tal-Qorti Kostituzzjonali għandkom spjegat l-istorja kollha f’dawn is-siegħat ta’ skiet u riflessjoni.

Nerġgħu nitkellmu wara l-10.00pm tas-Sibt meta tieqaf il-votazzjoni.

Ftakru ħaġa waħda : huwa l-vot LE biss li permezz tiegħu tista’ twaqqaf il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa.

A future for the birds

sample ballot

 

Next Saturday we will be voting to give a future to the wild birds that migrate to Malta. By removing from Malta’s statute book the legal notice that permits the spring hunting of quail and turtle dove, Maltese voters will bring Malta in line with its obligations.

Nowhere does the Conservation of Wild Birds Directive of the European Union or Malta’s treaty of adhesion to the European Union permit spring hunting as a sport. The basic rules in the Directive, in fact,  prohibit the killing of wild birds in spring. The only permissible exceptions are related to aviation safety, the protection of public health and safety, and the prevention of serious damage to livestock, agricultural crops, fisheries and water as well as the protection of flora and fauna. Hunting as a sport does not feature anywhere in the list of reasons as a result of which a derogation from the duties spelt out in the EU Directive is permissible. It is a Directive that deals with the conservation of wild birds and not with hunting!

The Conservation of Wild Birds Directive of the European Union has been an integral part of Maltese law since – and as a result of – Malta’s  accession to the EU in 2004. It expressly states that EU Member States along migratory bird routes have a far greater responsibility for the conservation of wild birds. This  responsibility is very clearly spelled out in article 7(4) of the Directive, where it is stated that : “In the case of migratory species, [Member States] shall see in particular that the species to which hunting regulations apply are not hunted during their period of reproduction or during their return to their rearing grounds.” This applies to all bird migratory routes throughout  EU territory without exception.

Prohibiting spring hunting is not a question of numbers. It is not an issue of establishing a number of birds that can be shot without such a shoot-out having an impact on the bird population. It is an issue of principle. And there should be no playing around with principles. Wild birds require protection during the time of year when they are most vulnerable – in the period leading up to, and during,  the breeding season, that is spring.

Besides, the populations of both quail and turtle dove do not have a favourable conservation status in the EU and, as a result, are subject to  management plans. The aim of these management plans is to restore the species to a favourable conservation status. The EU management plan for quail, for example, specifically states that “Spring hunting that overlaps with the return migration or the start of breeding should not be permitted under any circumstances.”

The EU Management Plan for turtle dove, on the other hand, states: “of particular concern is hunting during the spring migration, which is practiced outside the EU and (illegally) in some other Mediterranean countries.”

This is the subject of the referendum: the future of wild birds in Malta in the spring.

There are, however, other issues that will be decided as a result of the 11 April referendum. Banning spring hunting on Maltese territory will remove a major obstacle which is impeding  access to the countryside to our families because of the dangers and arrogance of the men with the guns.  It will put the bullies roaming the countryside in the spring in their proper place.

This bullying is still going on, because in recent days we have had one of the leaders of the hunting lobby stating that, in the event of a victory for the NO vote in the referendum, the abolition of spring hunting might be contested. It comes as no surprise that the hunting lobby has no respect for the democratic will of Malta’s voters. Its members have repeatedly been sending clear signals that they are allergic to the democratic process. For years, they have  been holding  the parliamentary political parties to ransom. They have also presented a petition requesting the practical abolition of the right to call an abrogative referendum. Fortunately, the government had the good sense to ignore that petition!

A No vote on 11 April is hence also a vote on democracy. It will give a clear message to everyone of the ability of Maltese voters to decide. In the process it will liberate the parliamentary political parties from the clutches of their blackmailers.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 5 April 2015