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.

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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

The 11 April vote : not against hunters

 

kacca u voti

The issue to be decided upon on 11 April is whether Malta should accept or repeal the regulations that permit spring hunting.

In fact the question asked in the referendum is as follows : Do you agree that the provisions of the “Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtle Dove and Quail Regulations” (Subsidiary Legislation 504.94) should continue in force?

On the 11 April we are expected to answer this question. A YES signifies agreement with spring hunting while a NO will abolish spring hunting from Malta’s statute book. It will also bring Malta in line with the Wild Birds Directive of the European Union.

The Wild Birds Directive is about the protection of biodiversity and not about facilitating hunting. As has been emphasised by university students on the campus this week, the focus of the referendum is sustainability. It is not about pleasing hunters but about our duties as a nation to protect wild birds. We have a duty, as a nation, to protect wild birds. We have a duty -all of us- to protect nature. In particular, we have a duty to prevent the loss of biodiversity.

Spring is the time when birds fly over Malta on their way to their breeding grounds. Malta, as one of the member states of the European Union along the route used by wild birds on their way to their rearing grounds, has a special responsibility to ensure that these birds are not hunted and can safely reach their destination.

The permissible exceptions are limited and very specific. These exceptions are known as “derogations”. The Wild Birds Directive permits the killing of wild birds during spring if these are a threat to aviation security. Likewise, the killing of wild birds in the spring is permissible if they are agricultural pests or else pose a sanitary threat. The Wild Birds Directive does not, in any way, permit the killing of birds for fun.

There are a number of inaccuracies being bandied around by the hunting lobby during this referendum campaign. They state, for example, that Malta has negotiated a derogation relative to spring hunting.  This is incorrect. No EU member has negotiated, or can negotiate, any spring hunting derogation. Derogations are not designed to suite the interests of individual states and the rules regulating such derogations are spelt out clearly and are applicable to all member states in equal measure.

The decision of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2009 is also being grossly misinterpreted and quoted out of context. The ECJ decision does not in any way condone spring hunting. It does, in fact, chastise Malta for infringing the Wild Birds Directive during the period 2004-2007 and concludes that, by authorising spring hunting of quails and turtle doves  from 2004 to 2007, Malta has failed to comply with the Wild Birds Directive. (ECJ decision C-76/08 dated 9 September 2009) The reports on the derogations unilaterally taken by the Maltese government to permit spring hunting from 2008 to date are still being evaluated by the European Commission.

These are briefly the issues which the 11 April will decide. As a direct consequence of abolishing spring hunting, in addition to shouldering our responsibilities as a nation to protect wild birds during their breeding time we will have the added benefit of reclaiming the countryside during spring.

This abrogative referendum is a democratic tool which is being utilised for the first time by civil society in Malta. It is being used because, over the years, the parliamentary political parties preferred to listen to the hunting lobby which repeatedly warned them: “No hunting no vote”   and had them on a leash.

Maybe this time they will take heed, that even environmentalists have a vote.  It is not a vote against hunters, but a vote in favour of wild birds and their protection. It is a vote in favour of our environment and in favour of Malta .

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 22nd March 2015

Real and imaginary referenda

Kacca + Vot

 

The abrogative referendum which was given the green light by Malta’s Constitutional Court earlier this month is the first of its kind. It is a referendum which, if successful, will delete from Malta’s statute book regulations which permit spring hunting on quail and turtledove.

In its efforts to  build up support in favour of the retention of spring hunting, the hunting lobby has been repeatedly sending out the message that if this referendum were to succeed, it would pave the way for a multitude of other referenda which, in their words, would threaten various hobbies which they label as minorities. They mention a few of these hobbies  among which pigeon racing.  Obviously, they fail to state that the only real threat to racing pigeon enthusiasts here are those who shoot at anything that flies. And it is not just a one-off incident.

The hunting lobby is not enthusiastic  about the referendum process enhancing democracy in our islands by granting the possibility to voters to demand that a specific legislative instrument is subjected to a  popular vote. They would rather that such a right did not exist.  As witnessed throughout recent years, the hunting lobby prefers the option to acquire concessions through back room deals and agreements with political parties arrived at through a process of bartering votes for concessions.  The statement “NO Kaċċa, NO vote” has been all too familiar in public manifestations organised by the hunting lobby throughout the years.

The abrogative referendum in Malta was introduced through amendments to the Referendum Act approved by Parliament in 1996. Going through the transcripts of the Parliamentary Debate of the 15th and  16th January 1996 reveals an interesting contrast between the speeches of Eddie Fenech Adami, then Prime Minister, and Alfred Sant, then Leader of the Opposition, in the second reading stage of the debate.

Dr Fenech Adami  spoke in favour of a limited right of referendum – limited in the sense that a set of identified legislative instruments could not be subjected to an abrogative referendum.  On the other hand, Dr Sant wanted to extend the limitations. In fact, he emphasised that once a political proposal was part of a political party’s electoral manifesto it should not be possible to subject it to the abrogative referendum process.  Fenech Adami and Sant had also disagreed on whether  it was the appropriate time to introduce a citizens’ initiative through which rather than using the referendum as a negative instrument to cancel a legislative instrument, it would be utilised to submit a proposal to popular vote.  This could take the form of a proposal that Parliament should legislate on a specific matter, or even possibly that policies be drafted relative to neglected issues.

The conclusions of the 1996 debate are with us today, being applied for the first time: Parliament decided to introduce the right to petition for the deletion of legislation. It did not opt to introduce the right to propose new initiatives.

When Parliament decided on the parameters within which the abrogative referendum was to operate, it specifically excluded a number of laws – the Constitution, the European Convention Act and all fiscal legislation; also, all matters required in  implementing any international treaty to which Malta is party cannot be subjected to an abrogative referendum. Likewise, the legislative measures introducing the right to an abrogative referendum as well as electoral legislation cannot be the subject of a petition leading to an abrogative referendum.

When identifying the subject matter for a referendum, the petitioners, with the help of their advisors, examine the different legislative instruments  which deal with the issues under consideration.  Care must be exercised such that the legislation selected as the subject of the referendum does not go beyond what is strictly required. For the 11 April referendum the Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting opted for a 2010 Legal Notice  entitled Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtle Dove and Quail Regulations as the legislative instrument to be voted upon. In so doing, the Coalition’s referendum petition differentiated between the general regulatory legislation on wild birds and the legislation which defined the exceptions which are being permitted during spring. The target of the abrogative referendum being the exception to the rule.

As a result the referendum petition is clear and specific and leads to one conclusion: the abolition or otherwise of spring hunting in Malta. This is the only referendum on the national agenda .

 

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 25 January 2015

Protecting the birds, reclaiming the countryside

 

turtle doves just shot

The abolition of spring hunting will lead to the protection of birds when they most need it. All birds will be protected, not just the quail and turtle dove.  Birds need our protection during the spring as it is the time of the year when they breed or are preparing to breed. Every bird which is shot during spring signifies that there will be one less nest and consequently there will be fewer birds in the following seasons.

The Birds  Directive of the European Union is an integral part of Maltese law since, and as a result of, Malta’s EU  accession in 2004. The Directive expressly states that EU Member States along migratory bird routes have a far greater responsibility regarding bird protection. This responsibility is spelled out in article 7(4) of the Directive where it is very clearly 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.

The Birds Directive is not a Directive about hunting but about the protection of birds. It does, however, recognise that circumstances may arise as a result of which it may be necessary to permit an exception, which exception is called “a derogation”. Exceptions are very well defined in article 9(1) of the Birds Directive (vide box) and these are the only circumstances in respect of which an EU member state may derogate from its obligations under the Birds Directive. It follows that whilst EU members have the authority to permit an exception, such an exception, or derogation,  must be within the three general parameters determined by the Directive. It is not a right but a tool for addressing the specific situations mentioned in the Directive. Readers will very easily notice that the permissible derogations make no reference to the killing of birds for fun – commonly referred to as “hunting”.

Member states permit thousands of derogations in their territory every year. Derogations in respect of birds that are considered agricultural pests or a potential threat to the safety of aeroplanes are the most frequent cases where derogations are permitted. I am informed that the list of these thousands of derogations all over EU territory does not contain one single case which refers to a derogation for the purpose of sports during spring. Malta is the only exception.

Being on a migratory bird route means that Malta has an international responsibility to protect all birds returning to their rearing grounds to reproduce. This return occurs annually during spring, hence the need to abolish spring hunting. It is a duty we have towards the international community in respect of all the birds migrating through Maltese airspace.

The abrogative referendum, in respect of which Malta’s Constitutional Court decided that no valid objections had been filed, will ask voters whether or not they agree with the regulations that permit a spring hunting derogation for two specific species: turtle dove and quail. These regulations are contained in the Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtle Dove and Quail Regulations, originally published in 2010.

Voting NO on the 11 April  will protect  birds migrating over Malta during spring as well as restore back to the public access to the countryside at that time of the year. It will also eliminate the negative impact (through the sound of gunfire and the trampling all over the countryside) which will further help to attract and allow other breeding birds (not just quail and turtle dove) to nest in our country.

Currently, Malta’s countryside is practically inaccessible during the spring hunting season as one runs the risk of being showered with hunters’ pellets. Maltese families have very little access to the countryside when hunters are enjoying their spring derogation- and a number of them shooting at anything that flies.

This means that Maltese families and their children are being deprived of enjoying nature in all its splendour. We are all entitled to enjoy the countryside, which belongs to us all and not just to a select few. This enjoyment is currently being obstructed by the spring hunting derogation which the Parliamentary parties have been defending continuously.  It is about time that we reclaimed our right to fully enjoy nature in spring, while simultaneously allowing birds to continue breeding.

A total of 41,494 citizens signed a petition which has resulted in the abrogative referendum that will be held on 11 April 2015. This is a unique opportunity to protect the birds and help re-establish our families’ links with nature during the spring.  Let us use this opportunity well by voting NO, thereby rejecting the regulations contained in the spring hunting derogation and consigning spring hunting in Malta to the dustbin of history.

article 9. derogation

 

published in the Independent – Sunday 18 January 2015

X’qalu l-kaċċaturi: kif wieġbet il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali (6)

spring huntng

6.M’hemm l-ebda dritt għall-kaċċa

Is-sitt oġġezzjoni li kkunsidrat il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali hi spjegata fil-paragrafi 51 u 52 tas-sentenza li jgħidu hekk:

Fl-aħħar oġġezzjoni tagħha l-Federazzjoni [FKNK] tgħid illi l-qorti għandha tqis id-drittijiet tal-kaċċaturi bħala “grupp ta’ minoranza” u għandha tqis ukoll illi:

“ filwaqt illi huwa minnu li l-prinċipji tad-demokrazija jistipolaw li hija l-maġġoranza li tiggverna, mill-banda l-oħra tali governanza millmaġġoranza għandha dejjem issir b’rispett lejn il-minoranzi.”

Il-Federazzjoni [FKNK] tkompli tgħid illi taħt l-art. 16(1) tal-Kap. 237[Att dwar ir-Referendi] , il-L.S. 504.94 [Legislazzjoni Sussidjarja, ċjoe r-regolamenti li jippermettu d-deroga tal-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa] ma tistax tintlaqat b’referendum abrogativ għax, jekk ma tibqax fis-seħħ, il-liġi “tkun inkompatibbli ma’ xi waħda mid-disposizzjonijiet tal-Kostituzzjoni jew tal-Att dwar il-Konvenzjoni Europea”.

Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali twieġeb b’mod ċar fil-paragrafi 53 u 54 tas-sentenza b’dan il-mod :

Il-Federazzjoni iżda ma ssemmi ebda disposizzjoni tal-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta jew tal-Konvenzjoni Ewropea li tgħid illi hemm dritt fondamentali għall-kaċċa, jew liema minn dawk id-disposizzjonijiet tista’ tinkiser jekk titħassar il-L.S.504.94 [Legislazzjoni Sussidjarja, ċjoe r-regolamenti li jippermettu d-deroga tal-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa]. 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. Kif ġa ingħad aktar ’il fuq, iċ-ċirkostanzi fejn referendum ma jistax isir huma previsti mil-liġi bħala eċċezzjoni għar-regola li referendum jista’ jsir u bħal kull eċċezzjoni huma ta’ interpretazzjoni stretta.

Din l-aħħar oġġezzjoni hija għalhekk miċħuda.

X’qalu l-kaċċaturi: kif wieġbet il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali (5)

eu-flag

5. It-trattat tal-EU u r-referendum

Il-ħames oġġezzjoni li kkunsidrat il-Qorti hi spjegata fil-paragrafu 32 tas-sentenza, ftit twil għax jikkwota silta twila mir-rikors tal-kaċċaturi. Fil-qosor  fir-rikors tal-kaċċaturi jingħad illi l-avviż legali dwar id-deroga tal-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa huwa obbligu li jirriżulta mit-trattati Ewopej. Fir-rikors tagħhom il-kaċċaturi jgħidu li jekk dan l-avviż legali jitneħħa kif qed jitlob ir-referendum  Malta tkun qed tonqos milli twettaq l-obbligu tagħha li timplimenta d-Direttiva dwar l-Għasafar.

Is-sentenza tal-Qorti Kostituzzjonali twieġeb fit-tul  is-sottomissjonijiet tal-Kaċċaturi u fost affarijiet oħra fil-paragrafi 37 sa 39 tgħid hekk:

Il-qorti tosserva illi, min-natura tagħha, “deroga” hija mezz kif stat membru jkun jista’ ma jimplimentax għal kollox dak li trid direttiva jew liġi oħra ewropea. Jekk jitħarsu l-kondizzjonijiet li trid direttiva, deroga tkun mod leġittimu kif dan isir. Fil-każ tallum, il-L.S.504.94  [Legislazzjoni Sussidjarja, ċjoe r-regolamenti li jippermettu d-deroga tal-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa] hija mezz kif l-istat malti jista’ leġittimament ma jimplimentax għalkollox id-Direttiva 2009/147/KE. [Direttiva dwar l-Għasafar]

Il-fatt iżda illi deroga hija leġittima – għax iseħħu l-kondizzjonijiet kollha li fihom tista’ tingħata – ma jfissirx illi – għax iseħħu l-istess kondizzjonijiet – hija obbligatorja. Fil-fatt, l-art. 9 tad-Direttiva 2009/147/KE – id-disposizzjoni li tippermetti d-deroga u tgħid f’liema ċirkostanzi tista’ tingħata – igħid ċar illi “L-Istati Membri jistgħu – u mhux “għandhom” – jidderogaw … … …”. Fi kliem ieħor: bid-deroga stat membru jista’ ma jimplimentax għalkollox id-Direttiva; mingħajrha, stat membru huwa marbut illi d-Direttiva jimplimentaha għalkollox u bla eċċezzjoni.

Taħt id-direttiva l-istat membru qatt ma hu obbligat li jimplimenta deroga, anqas meta jirrikorru ċ-ċirkostanzi li jippermettu tali deroga. Għandu għażla jimplimentahiex jekk iseħħu ċ-ċirkostanzi meħtieġa, u, jekk jimplimentaha, għandu obbligu li jħares il-kondizzjonijiet li skonthom trid tigi implimentata dderoga, iżda jekk – ukoll biex iwettaq rieda popolari espressa f’referendum – jagħżel li ma jfittixx deroga dan l-obbligu li jħares il-kondizzjonijiet tad-deroga ma jibqax relevanti għax l-istat ikun qiegħed, minflok, iħares l-obbligu li jwettaq fis-sħiħ id-direttiva. Wara kollox, id-Direttiva 2009/147/KE stess mhux biss ma tgħidx illi l-istati membri huma marbuta li jimplimentaw deroga meta din hija possibbli, iżda anzi tgħid fl-art. 14 illi “L-Istati Membri jistgħu jintroduċu miżuri protettivi aktar stretti minn dawk li hemm previsti f’din id-Direttiva”

Imbagħad il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali fil-paragrafu 50 tas-sentenza tgħaddi biex tgħid li:

 L-oġġezzjoni illi l-L.S. 504.94 hija “leġislazzjoni li tagħti seħħ lil xi obbligazzjoni derivanti minn trattat li jkollha sehem fih Malta” hija għalhekk miċħuda.

Min irid jidħol daqsxejn iktar fil-fond jaqra is-sentenza hawn, b’mod partiklari l-paragrafi  32 sa 50.

X’qalu l-kaċċaturi: kif wieġbet il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali (4)

euros floating in space

4. Il-ħlas ta’ liċenzja ma jagħmilx liġi waħda fiskali

Ir-raba’ oġġezzjoni li kkunsidrat il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali hi spjegata fil-paragrafu 29 tas-sentenza li jgħid hekk:

“Fir-raba’ oġġezzjoni l-Federazzjoni [FKNK] tgħid illi l-L.S. 504.94 [Legislazzjoni Sussidjarja, ċjoe r-regolamenti li jippermettu d-deroga tal-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa] hija leġislazzjoni fiskali u għalhekk hija mħarsa taħt l-art. 16(1)(f) tal-Kap. 237 [Att dwar ir-Referendi]  . Tgħid illi hija leġislazzjoni fiskali għax min imur għall-kaċċa għandu jkollu liċenza li biex jiksibha jrid iħallas.”

Għal din ir-raba’  oġġezzjoni l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali twieġeb hekk fil-paragrafi  30, u 31 tas-sentenza:

“Leġislazzjoni fiskali hija dik, bħall-Att dwar it-Taxxa fuq l-Income jew l-Att dwar it-Taxxa fuq il-Valur Miżjud, illi l-għan ewlieni tagħha huwa l-ġbir ta’ flus għall-erarju. Liġi ma titqiesx leġislazzjoni fiskali għar-raġuni biss illi taħseb għal ħlas ta’ dritt talli jingħata servizz speċifiku bħal ma hu l-ħruġ ta’ liċenza. L-għan ewlieni tal-L.S. 504.04 [Legislazzjoni Sussidjarja, ċjoe r-regolamenti li jippermettu d-deroga tal-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa] ma huwiex il-ġbir ta’ flus iżda r-regolamentazzjoni meħtieġa biex tista’ ssir deroga taħt id-Direttiva 2009/147/KE. [Direttiva dwar l-Għasafar]

Billi għalhekk il-L.S. 504.04 [Legislazzjoni Sussidjarja, ċjoe r-regolamenti li jippermettu d-deroga tal-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa] ma tistax titqies leġislazzjoni fiskali, ir-raba’ oġġezzjoni wkoll hija miċħuda.”

Celebrating democracy

 

turtle dove

Last Friday the Constitutional Court gave the abrogative referendum on spring hunting the green light. In a 24-page decision it threw out each and every objection which the hunters’ organisations submitted for the Court’s consideration.

The nit-picking strategy of the hunters’ lobby has failed, with the Constitutional Court declaring in clear terms that the objections listed by the hunters’ organisations do not constitute valid reasons for halting the abrogative referendum. In particular, the Constitutional Court underlined the fact that the hunters had not in any way attempted to prove their claim that some minority right was in danger of being trampled upon as a result of the proposed abrogative referendum. The Constitutional Court pointed out that the FKNK had failed to identify any provision of the Constitution – or of the European Convention – that spells out a “fundamental right to hunt”. Nor, added the Constitutional Court, had the FKNK specified which of the provisions of the Constitution or of the European Convention would be infringed by the proposed abrogative referendum.

The voice of 41,494 electors is now being heard loud and clear. These electors triggered the call for an abrogative referendum to abolish spring hunting by removing from the statute book the regulations which permit it. These regulations are contained in Legal Notice 221 of 2010 entitled Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtledove and Quail.

This is the third referendum to be held in Malta during the last 12 years. The abrogative referendum authorised by the Constitutional Court on Friday is, however, of a completely different nature from the other two.

Both the 2003 European Union referendum and the 2011 divorce referendum were consultative in nature. In 2003, the government consulted the electorate on Malta’s accession to the EU. It had no legal obligation to do so but it did, however, have a political commitment which it honoured by putting the question of Malta’s accession to the popular vote.

In 2011 Parliament asked the electorate for political direction as to whether or not divorce legislation should be approved by Parliament. It was the political way out for both the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party when faced with the private member’s Bill on the introduction of divorce. Both had then hoped for a no, yet they got a resounding yes.

The referendum this time is not consultative in nature. This time, the referendum will deliver a decision as to whether regulations permitting spring hunting are to be deleted from the statute book. This initiative originated outside Parliament on the initiative of the Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting, made up of 13 environmental NGOs together with Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green Party in Malta. It is the first time that the provisions of the Referenda Act on abrogative referenda are being made use of.

This is the direct result of the backroom dealings practised by the parliamentary parties and the hunting lobby over the years. The hunting lobby has managed to cling on to a spring hunting season through lobbying the parliamentary parties and trading votes for concessions on hunting issues. Public opinion, consistently contrary to the agreements reached by the hunters’ organisations with both the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party, was ignored. Faced with this attitude, the only remaining option was to use the provisions of the Referenda Act, which have been left idle since being enacted in 1996.

Contrary to what some may think, it is not possible to hold an abrogative referendum on any matter whatsoever on merely a whim. The areas that can be subjected to an abrogative referendum are limited by a number of provisions of the law. A basic limitation is the number of signatories required to initiate the process. Ten per cent of the registered electorate is a substantial number of signatures. But then this is a necessary safeguard in order to ensure that the proposal being placed before the electorate is supported by a reasonable number of voters.

Fiscal measures, the Constitution, international treaties, electoral legislation, referendum legislation and issues of human rights are matters that cannot be subjected to a referendum.

Friday’s decision by the Constitutional Court means that the issue of spring hunting will now be decided by the electorate itself. While the specific issue being addressed by the abrogative referendum is spring hunting, the significance of the process is much more than that. It is an empowerment of the electorate, an exercise in direct democracy. The realisation will soon sink in that, on a number of matters, we voters have the right to recall the decision-making process from Parliament. It is a right that has been available but left idle for the past 19 years.

The abrogative referendum – which will be held between mid-April and mid-July – is a celebration of democracy. It strengthens democracy at its roots as it gives each and every one of us the right to participate in specific decisions. To be effective, however, it requires the participation of the largest possible number of voters.

That is the next challenge.

published in The Independent – Sunday 11 January 2015