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

Abolish spring hunting

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Spring hunting has been a contentious issue for many years in the Maltese Islands. Throughout the years both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party have sought to deal with spring hunting through backroom deals with organisations representing the hunting community. Time and again promises to uphold hunters’ privileges have been made by both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party.

Only one political party in Malta, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party, expressed itself clearly and unequivocally against spring hunting. The others boot-licked their way through imaginary exceptions and ineffective enforcement measures.

The current state of affairs is the direct result of government policies which have repeatedly ignored Malta’s obligations. Unfortunately even the Environment Directorate General of the European Union has proven itself to be ineffective in enforcing the provisions of the Birds’ Directive in Malta. Hence the only practical solution to tackle spring hunting is for the Maltese electorate to decide the matter itself as is provided for in the Referenda Act.

The Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting is composed of Ramblers Association of Malta, Nature Trust (Malta), Movement of Organic Agriculture in Malta (MOAM), Moviment Graffiti , International Animal Rescue Malta, Greenhouse Malta, Gaia Foundation,Friends of the Earth Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), Din l-Art Ħelwa,Coalition for Animal Rights, Birdlife Malta and Alternattiva Demokratika. It was formed some eight months ago for one specific purpose: the abolition of spring hunting at the earliest possible date.

Last week, the Coalition submitted a petition to the Electoral Commission calling for an abrogative referendum to end spring hunting on the Maltese islands. The signatures to the petition had to exceed 10% of the registered voters in the latest electoral register, that is 33,418 signatures were required as a minimum.

44,376 persons signed the referendum petition making it the first ever submitted petition requesting an abrogative referendum in the Maltese islands since the Referenda Act was amended in 1996 to introduce the right to call an abrogative referendum.  Those who signed the petition have considered it their duty to respond to the Coalition’s invitation because they care. They care about the birds and they care about Malta. They deserve everybody’s appreciation as their commitment is sending one clear message: that voters can decide on spring hunting and in so doing they will clear the mess created by the parliamentary political parties.

This is an historic moment, very important for the protection of biodiversity but also of paramount significance in the development of democracy in the Maltese islands. It was not easy to achieve and cannot be underestimated.

There are various reasons which have motivated voters to sign the petition calling for a referendum to abolish spring hunting.

Spring is breeding time for birds which fly over the Maltese islands on their way back to mainland Europe. Signatories to the referendum petition believe that birds should be able to fly safely over Malta on the way to their breeding grounds.

During the spring hunting season, when nature is at its best, people do not feel at ease in the Maltese countryside as they consider themselves to be under the constant threat of hunters, few in number but convinced just the same that they have a free hand. Access to the countryside during spring is further hampered by public footpaths which are closed to the public so as to facilitate the free access of hunters. The aggressiveness of some hunters has given all their colleagues a bad name.

Spring is a very special time of year when the Maltese countryside invites all to appreciate its abundance of life and colour. Those who have signed the petition feel that they are being impeded from enjoying nature’s gifts. Furthermore, hunting in spring definitely has a negative impact on birds which breed or can breed in the Maltese islands.

A large number of the signatories of the petition believe that the deals (both secret and the not so secret) that the hunting lobby has signed with successive governments to gain more privileges is not how a modern democracy should function. They believe that governments should work in the common interest. This has not been the case so far and the only solution is the utilisation of the referendum as a decision tool. It is only the referendum which will settle matters once and for all.

These birds flying through our airspace in spring do not belong to us. Other countries dedicate a lot of time and resources to ensure that these birds are adequately protected, only to be blasted when they fly through Malta.

We now await the Electoral Commission to verify the petition signatures and hand over the process to the Constitutional Court. This will enable all of the Maltese voters to finally have their voice heard on spring hunting so it can be stopped on these islands once and for all.

 

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday April 5, 2014

Meta taqbeż iċ-ċinga

spring huntng

Qrajt l-istqarrija oriġinali li l-uffiċjali tal-FKNK qraw waqt il-konferenza stampa li kellhom il-bieraħ. Hemm differenza sostanzjali bejn dak li qalu huma u dak li irrappurtaw il-media.

Il-media kienet prudenti  u ħalliet barra l-attakki vojta u bla sens li l-FKNK għamlet kontra l-Birdlife, il-Fondazzjoni Gaia, Arnold Cassola Chairman ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika u David Camilleri Tal-Bediq kandidat Għawdxi ta’ Alternattiva Demorkatika.

Lill-uffiċjali tal-FKNK  Lino Farrugia u Joe Perici Calascione m’għandi xejn xi ngħid kontra tagħhom personalment. Ilni snin twal nafhom it-tnejn li huma. Il-kritika tiegħi hi kontra l-idejat li qed imexxu l-quddiem. Għandhom kull dritt imexxu l-quddiem l-ideat u l-ideali tal-membri tal-FKNK.  Naf li m’għandhomx bżonn lili biex jgħidilhom dan. Huwa dritt li jiena nirrispetta anke jekk diversi drabi, fil-fehma tiegħi, jesaġeraw kemm f’dak li jgħidu kif ukoll fil-mod kif jgħiduħ.

L-FKNK allura, issa bdiet ħidma fuq l-inizzjattiva tagħha. Triq li l-liġi dwar ir-referendum tkun emendata b’mod li jkunu rispettati dak li huma qed isejħu d-drittijiet tal-minoranzi.  Issa l-liġi dwar ir-referendum diġa tipproteġi dawn id-drittijiet. Fil-fatt id-drittijiet bażiċi tal-bniedem fil-Kostituzzjoni kif ukoll fil-Liġi dwar il-Konvenzjoni Ewropeja dwar id-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem ma jistgħu jintmissu minn l-ebda referendum.  Dwar il-minoranzi, kontra dak li qed jgħidu tal-FKNK, jeżistu konvenzjonijiet u trattati li jiddefinuhom. Fosthom fil-Ġnus Magħquda. Fil-qasam tal-ħarsien tad-drittijiet tal-minoranzi normalment nifhmu minoranzi reliġjużi, minoranzi kulturali jew assoċjati ma’ lingwa minoritarja kif ukoll minoranzi etniċi. Hemm ukoll obbligi li jirriżultaw minn liġijiet lokali u trattati internazzjonali li permezz tagħhom hi imħarsa d-diversita’ : dik dwar orjentazzjoni sesswali, kulur tal-ġilda jew razza.

Il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa ma taqa’ taħt l-ebda waħda minn dawn il-kategoriji.

Il-proposta tal-FKNK li biha qed jitolbu lill-Parlament jibdel il-Liġi tar-Referendum biex referendum kontra l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa ma jkunx jista’ jsir jirrifletti l-egħruq fondi tal-valuri demokratiċi li jħaddnu l-istess FKNK.  Jidher ċar li qabżitilhom iċ-ċinga. Għax tilfu kull tama li jikkonvinċu jridu jattakkaw il-proċess demokratiku tar-referendum.

MEPA: from bad to worse

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Government acting through MEPA is playing to the interests of property developers and speculators. This was stated by a group of environmental NGOs who decided to act together in voicing their concern. The eNGOs are Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Birdlife Malta, Friends of the Earth Malta, Moviment Graffiti, Greenhouse Malta, Malta Organic Agricutural Movement, Nature Trust Malta and Ramblers’ Association.

There is nothing new in stating that government is in cahoots with property developers and speculatiors. The new element is that it is much more obvious that it ever was. MEPA in fact is functioning worse than it ever did in its 21 year history.

And we have seen nothing yet. It will get worse .

The recent approval of the redevelopment of the Mistra Village site is a case in point.  In addition to its being a blot on the landscape the approved project consisting of 774 residential units [yes its seven hundred and seventy four] as well as 1,800 square metres of retail area [including a supermarket] spread in 6 rectangual blocks of various heights up to and including 13 floors.  The traffic load on an area already bursting at the seams will be enormous.

In fact, Transport Malta  had initially objected to the project as it was considered that the situation would inevitably develop from bad to worse.

Transport Malta has however had second thoughts and withdrew its objections.  FAA is on record as commenting that “In dropping its objection, Transport Malta insults local residents by claiming that the traffic situation is already so bad that adding heavy construction vehicles and another 1,500 cars to the area will not make a difference.”

This signifies that Transport Malta will now go back to its archives and reconsider the development of the TEN-T road network in the area. All the options have already been discussed and all of them will create even more probelms.  One proposal signifies cutting through the Miżieb aquifer. Other proposals pose serious threats to Manikata, the agricultural community in L-Imbordin as well as being a threat to the Simar Nature Reserve.

This is what MEPA’s decisions are leading to.  It will get worse soon.

Having nine NGOs voicing their concern together on the above and more is a good step. Their protest in Valletta’s streets on the 30th November 2013 deserves everyone’s support.

I will be there.

Kaċċa fir-Rebbiegħa? Le grazzi !

turtle dove

Tnax-il għaqda ambjentali flimkien ma Alternattiva Demokratika ġimgħat ilu waqqfu l-Koalizzjoni għall-Abolizzjoni tal-Kaċċa fir-Rebbiegħa.  Dan hu kunsens wiesa’ u uniku : l-ewwel darba li f’Malta daqstant organizzazzjonijiet li japprezzaw l-ambjent ingħaqdu flimkien biex imexxu l-quddiem proposta waħda.

Dawn l-organizzazzjonijiet huma : Ramblers Association of Malta,  Nature Trust-Malta,  Moviment Graffiti,  Malta Organic  Agriculture Movement,  International Animal Rescue Malta, Greenhouse Malta, Gaia Foundation, Friends of the Earth Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Coalition for Animal Rights, BirdLife Malta u Alternattiva Demokratika.

Il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa m’hemmx lokha. L-għasafar li fir-rebbiegħa jpassu minn fuq Malta jiġu maqtula fl-iżjed mument li huma vulnerabbli, meta jkunu qed iħejju biex ibejtu biex ikollhom il-friegħ. Hu l-iżjed żmien li jeħtieġu protezzjoni. Din il-protezzjoni għandha tingħata billi l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa tieqaf, darba għal dejjem.

La l-Gvern tal-lum u l-anqas il-Gvern tal-bieraħ ma jaqblu ma dan u allura l-unika mod kif miżura ta’ din ix-xorta isseħħ hu billi l-poplu jieħu d-deċiżjoni f’idejh permezz ta’ referendum. Referendum ta’ din ix-xorta jissejjaħ mill-poplu kemm-il darba jkun hemm 10% tal-votanti li isimhom jidher fir-reġistru elettorali (madwar 34,000) li jaqblu li dan isir.

Il-ġbir tal-firem beda u s-issa diġá qabeż l-10,000 firma. Meta n-numru ta’ firem jaqbeż l-34,000 dawn jiġu ppreżentati lill-Kummissjoni Elettorali biex jibda l-proċess ta’ referendum abrogattiv, jiġifieri referendum li jħassar ir-regolamenti li jippermettu l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Dan għandu jwassal biex nissejħu ħalli nivvutaw dwar jekk naqblux jew le li dawn ir- regolamenti li jippermettu l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa jispiċċaw darba għal dejjem.

Jekk fil-votazzjoni li ssir il-maġġoranza taqbel li dawn ir-regolamenti jitħassru, hekk isir. Dak il-ħin stess mingħajr il-ħtieġa li jintervjeni l-Parlament. Għax il-poplu jkun iddeċieda.

Ma dan, hemm min jaqbel u ovvjament hemm ukoll min ma jaqbilx. Għalhekk hemm bżonn li niddeċiedu billi nivvutaw.

Jekk inti li qed taqra dan l-artiklu taqbel ma dan ħu ħsieb li tiffirma l-petizzjoni biex jissejjaħ dan ir-referendum. Tista’ tikkuntattja lil waħda mill-għaqdiet li jissemmew hawn fuq inkella billi tikteb lill-Koalizzjoni għall-Abolizzjoni tal-Kaċċa fir-Rebbiegħa fuq cashmalta2013@gmail.com.

 

Ippubblikat fuq iNews It-Tlieta 8 t’Ottubru 2013

Spring Hunting Referendum (2) collecting the signatures

flamingo

Not less than 34,000 signatures need to be collected.

The organisations forming part of the Coalition to Abolish Spring Hunting are currently organising their teams to commence the collection of the signatures.

Some have already commenced.

Your help would be appreciated.

Contact Alternattiva Demokratika, Birdlife Malta, Coalition for Animal Rights, Din l-Art Helwa, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Gaia Foundation, Moviment Graffiti, Greenhouse Malta, Nature Trust (Malta) and the Ramblers Association of Malta. Your help will make a difference.

Spring Hunting Referendum (1) signing the petition

hunting in Malta 02

The signature collection is in hand, organised by the organisations forming part of the Coalition, that is to say Alternattiva Demokratika, Birdlife Malta, Coalition for Animal Rights, Din l-Art Helwa, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Gaia Foundation, Moviment Graffiti, Greenhouse Malta, Nature Trust (Malta) and the Ramblers Association of Malta.

If you have any difficulty in contacting any one of these organisations contact the Coalition on cashmalta2013@gmail.com and you will be put in touch with the appropriate persons.

Dawl li jniġġes

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mill-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa bil-lejl dan tara

Il-Birdlife għadha kif ippubblikat rapport dwar it-tniġġis ikkawżat mid-dawl u kif dan jeffettwa għasafar li jbejtu f’Malta. Ir-rapport huwa intitolat Light Pollution and its effect on Yelkouan Shearwaters in Malta; causes and solutions. Dan ir-rapport huwa parti minn proġett iffinanzjat mill-EU biex tkun imħarsa l-Garnija u fejn din tbejjet, magħruf bħala l-Rdum tal-Madonna fl-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa.

It-tniġġis kawżat mid-dawl huwa problema fiż-żoni madwar il-kosta u jeffettwa lill-għasafar li jtiru l-iktar bil-lejl. Dan it-tnġġis mid-dawl ma jeffettwax biss lill-għasafar. Minbarra ħlejjaq oħra jeffettwa ukoll lilna.

Fid-dwal mixgħula bil-lejl għandna ħafna ħela. Ir-rapport jirrakkomanda x’miżuri jistgħu jittieħdu biex dan it-tniġġis mid-dawl ikun ikkontrolat u possibilment eliminat.

It-tip ta’ fittings għad-dwal użati fit-toroq jista’ jnaqqas ħafna din il-problema ta’ tniġġis u dan billi jidderiġi d-dawl lejn fejn hu meħtieġ. F’ċerti toroq hemm dawl żejjed.

L-istudju jiffoka fuq il-kolonja tal-garnija fl-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa u jikkonkudi li l-garnija li tbejjet hawn hi efettwata mit-tniġġis tad-dawl li qed joriġina minn Buġibba, l-Mellieħa, il-Campsite fl-Aħrax stess, iċ-Ċirkewwa u l-Għadira.

Ir-rapport fih lista ta’ rakkomandazzjonijiet li jinkludu mod kif jitnaqqas it-tniġġis mid-dawl kkawżata mid-dwal fit-toroq, mal-bajjiet, mal-lukandi u anke dak madwar bini pubbliku, bħas-swar u l-knejjes.

Vandalizmu fid-Dwejra Ghawdex

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Ninghaqad mal-NGOs ambjentali Birdlife Malta, Din L-Art Helwa, Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Gaia Foundation, Light Pollution Awareness Group, Nature Trust (Malta) u Ramblers Association fil-kundanna taghhom ghall-vandalizmu ricenti fid-Dwejra Ghawdex.  

Id-Dwejra illum hi indikata bhala sit Natura 2000 minhabba l-importanza taghha fl-oqsma tal-paleontologija, geologija, ekologija, ornitologija, ekologija marittima.  Id-Dwejra huwa ukoll sit turistiku imfittex u jikkontribwixxi b’mod sostanzjali ghall-ekonomija tal-pajjiz.