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

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Il-kaċċaturi jikxfu l-maskra

 

estevan mallia + Kastiljaglenn briffa sfida

(kummenti fuq MaltaToday online)

 

Xi kaċċaturi l-bieraħ kmieni wara nofsinnhar organizzaw dimostrazzjoni l-Belt u wara baqgħu sejrin sal-Buskett.

L-insulti ma naqsux. Fil-Buskett , għall-ħabta tal-5.00pm madwar 30 kaċċatur wara li telqu mill-protesta li kellhom il-Belt, attakkaw ukoll in-nies.

Fuq is-sit tal-Malta Today online ma naqsux il-kummenti li jħeġġu iktar vjolenza.

 

Huwa forsi l-mument addattat biex kull min fil-passat kien jagħti l-appoġġ lill-kaċċa u lill-kaċċaturi jaħsibha sewwa dwar dak li fil-fatt qiegħed jappoġġa. L-inċidenti tal-bieraħ kienu serji. Setgħu weġġgħu serjament in-nies.

Tajjeb li niftakru li dan mhux l-ewwel inċident. Kien hemm fil-passat inċidenti vjolenti oħra li kienu jinvolvu lil dawk il-kaċċaturi li malajr tisħnilhom rashom.

Fil-ġimgħat li ġejjin tibda l-kampanja tar-referendum biex tispiċċa l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa.

B’dak li għamlu l-bieraħ, il-kaċċaturi ta’ rashom sħuna, bdew il-kampanja referendarja fuq togħma morra. Il-kampanja referendarja għandha tkun waħda paċifika bbażata fuq ir-raġuni. Sfortunatament, iżda, dejjem jidher iżjed ċar li ma tantx hemm ma min tista’ tirraġuna.

Bid-deċiżjoni tal-Gvern fi tmiem il-ġimgħa li jwaqqaf temporanjament l-istaġun tal-kaċċa tal-ħarifa ngħata messaġġ li wara kollox l-irkatt bil-vot mhux dejjem għandu effett. Jista’ jkun li fl-aħħar il-Partit Laburista ukoll beda jiftaħ għajnejħ li l-appoġġ li kien qiegħed jagħti lill-kaċċaturi kien wieħed żbaljat.

Kuraġġ hemm spazju għal kulħadd fil-Koalizzjoni kontra l-Kaċċa fir-Rebbiegħa.

Snippets from AD’s electoral manifesto: (21) Biodiversity

buskett.02

The following extract is taken verbatim from Chapter 14 of AD’s Electoral Manifesto

Biodiversity.

Biodiversity is not exclusively concerned with bird protection but on our interaction with the eco-system.

Alternattiva Demokratika shall focus on the need for the complete cessation of spring hunting as well as in ensuring that Malta’s EU accession commitments on the halting of bird trapping are honoured.

It is necessary that zones identified for protection under the provisions of the EU Habitats Directive are well managed. In particular it is necessary that Il-Buskett is no longer considered and utilised as a garden. The status of Il-Buskett as a Special Area of Conservation should be respected, something which is currently ignored.

Valley protection is also necessary. This has to be done within the context of a clear and holistic plan to rehabilitate valleys in such a manner that their resident biodiversity is respected and invasive species introduced throughout the years are removed.

L-Estratt segwenti hu mehud kelma b’kelma mill-Kapitlu 14 tal-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

Bijodiversità.

Il-bijodiversità mhix kif inħarsu lejn l-għasafar u l-ħarsien tagħhom biss iżda dwar l-interazzjoni tagħna mal-ekosistema.

Alternattiva Demokratika taħdem biex tkun eliminata darba għal dejjem il-kaċċa tal-għasafar fir-rebbiegħa kif ukoll biex l-obbligi li Malta assumiet bis-sħubija fl-Unjoni Ewropea li l-insib spiċċa darba għal dejjem ikun onorat.

Huwa neċessarju li jkun mħarsa sewwa iż-żoni li Malta identifikat għall-protezzjoni taħt il-provedimenti tad-Direttiva tal UE dwar il-habitats. Fost oħrajn wasal iż-żmien li l-Buskett ma jibqax meqjus bħal ġnien u ma jibqax ikun sfruttat bħala tali. L-istatus tal-Buskett ta’ Żona Speċjali ta’ Konservazzjoni huwa meħtieġ illi jiġi osservat, ħaġa li fil-preżentement mhix issir.

Huwa neċessarju ukoll illi l-widien ikunu mħarsa. Dan għandu jsir billi fil-kuntest ta’ pjan ċar u olistiku jkunu riabilitati l-widien b’mod li tkun rispettata l-bijodiversità ta’ ġo fihom u jkunu ukoll eliminati l-ispeċi invażivi li ġew introdotti tul is-snin.

Barely scratching the surface

The Noise White Paper, just published for public consultation, identifies the need to coordinate the existing fragmented administrative structures as its first target. This is being done in the belief that it will eventually lead to a smoothening out of administrative inconsistencies. Better coordination could also ensure that, in the long term, issues in respect of which the authorities have, to date, been reluctant to act upon can be addressed in an appropriate manner. Hopefully.

The White Paper deals with the abatement of neighbourhood noise. Its reach should have been much wider. It postpones dealing with the noise generated by fireworks and village feasts to some future date. Cultural aspects and tradition are reasons used to justify this postponement. In reality, the government at this time cannot withstand the anticipated reaction of the fireworks lobby, which has yet to come to terms with restrictions based on safety as is evidenced by reactions to the findings and recommendations of the November 2011 inquiry report on accidents in fireworks factories. Clearly, the government considers that now is not the time to regulate excessive fireworks noise. On the eve of a general election, votes are considered to be a more important consideration.

We have been informed (correctly) that the EU Environmental Noise Directive is not applicable to our airport because the traffic it handles is below the established threshold.

The White Paper does not address the issue of noise generated by aircraft approaching or taking off from Malta’s only airport when flying over residential areas. In particular, the impact of approaching aircraft on Birżebbuġa’s residential area at all times of the day (including during the night) comes to mind.

Now, to be fair, one must state that the airport cannot be transferred to any other site. The flight paths leading to the airport are fixed and their use is determined by the prevalent winds. Malta needs its only airport to be operational. Yet, its operation must be such that it does not cause unnecessary hardship to residential areas along the approaches to and around the airport.

This leaves only one option: regulating the airport’s operating times to restrict aircraft movements during the silent hours as is done at Heathrow, Brussels and Fiumicinio, to mention three airports with which readers are familiar.

The airport authorities need to encourage the use of less noisy aircraft through the determination of differentiated aircraft landing charges dependent on the noise generated by the aircraft. It is about time that the airport authorities start respecting the surrounding communities. This is a missing but essential element of the airport’s sustainable development strategy.

The Noise White Paper draws up a list of those authorities that are empowered to regulate some aspect of noise control. One would expect that the police, the Malta Tourism Authority, the health authorities and the Malta Environment and Planning Authority coordinated by the Noise Control Board to now be in a better position to ensure that commercial outlets (particularly those in a mixed use area) are no longer a nuisance to residents in the vicinity.

It should also be less problematic to deal with nuisance caused by air conditioners fixed in the most awkward places.

But noise does not only impact the health of human beings. It also has a health impact on flora and fauna. This is partly regulated through the Habitats Directive of the EU, which is an integral part of Maltese law.

It is positive that the Noise White Paper recognises this and emphasises the need to ensure its implementation. This should now place more onus on Mepa to ascertain that open-air activities generating excessive noise are immediately brought to order. Examples that come to mind are open air discos at Buskett, Paradise Bay and Ta’ Qali. The first two impact biodiversity in Natura 2000 sites and the last is too close to residential areas, particularly Attard. The aborted Mistra “Spin Valley Disco”, which the Nationalist Party and its stooges at Mepa defended before the 2008 election, would also fall foul of these provisions as it was sited right in the middle of a special area of conservation.

Excessive noise also has a damaging impact on the welfare of animals, both farm animals and pets. The impact of noise on farms and agriculture is completely ignored by the White Paper.

Fireworks regulations, for example, are only concerned with residential areas and the distances to be observed from areas that serve as a residence for more than 100 humans.

Excessive noise in agricultural areas severely impacts agricultural production (like milk, poultry, eggs, rabbits…) and can have a considerable economic impact.

It is up to the minister in question to decide whether to prefer the fireworks at the expense of negative impacts on animal husbandry. He may not worry unnecessarily as animals do not vote!

While the White Paper on Noise Prevention is welcome, it barely scratches the surface. We need to go deeper and tackle areas ignored by the White Paper because noise pollution is an issue that has been neglected for far too long.

 

This article was published in The Times of Malta , April 14, 2012

 

on the same subject on this blog :

7th February 2009 : The value of silence

7th November 2009 : When pigs are able to vote

Jum il-Biodiversita’

 

Il-Buskett

 

 

  

Illum 22 ta’ Mejju huwa jum il-biodiversita.

 

Ġew ippubblikati diversi artikli dwar il-materja f’dawn il-ġranet. Fil-blog tiegħi nhar il-ġimgħa 16 ta’ Mejju ippubblikajt il-post bit-titlu Biodiversita .

 

Hemm ukoll dawn l-artikli, fost oħrajn :

 Environment : Not Enough Done To Protect Biodiversity

 Environment : Trapped Between Economy and Ecology

 Small scale farmers struggle for EU funds

 

F’dawn l-artikli naraw kif il-problemi li niffaċċaw aħna jinsabu kullimkien. Imma xi kultant insibu postijiet fejn hemm ftit iktar volonta’ li l-affarijiet isiru sewwa.

 

Il-ħarsien tal-biodiversita’ huwa obbligu li mhux kulħadd jifhmu għax mhux ilkoll napprezzaw ir-rikkezzi naturali fi pjanti u annimali li aħna mdawrin bihom. Uħud minn dawn fihom benefiċċi li għadna ma nafux bihom għax għadha ma saritx riċerka biżżejjed.  Nittamaw li ma nibdewx napprezzaw biss dak li jkun intilef, għax imbagħad ikun tard wisq.

 

Fost il-postijiet traskurati għal dik li hi biodiversita’ għandna l-Buskett. Hu ismu miegħu, bosk  żgħir li l-Gvern Malti għadu jqiesu bħala ġnien. Bil-mod kif jitmexxa il-Buskett il-biodiversita’ li fih hi mhedda. Anke biss minħabba l-Buskett hemm l-ħtieġa li tfittex tiġi mplimentat l-istrateġija nazzjonali dwar il-biodiversita.