Activists gathered at Castille Square, in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Valletta, to voice their opposition to an agreement the government signed granting large swathes of areas in the countryside to hunters and trappers.
The protest organised by Spazji Miftuha, a coalition of 60 NGOs, followed legal action taken yesterday to challenge the agreement.
Josianne, 33, addressed the crowd that gathered, seated in the square and observing social distancing rules. While thanking the 30,000 people who signed the petition, she stressed that the intensity of development in Malta makes the few remaining open spaces precious.
She said the government giving away public land for votes was a “selfish act”. Citizens have long been demanding a different kind of politics – one that prioritises the preservation of natural and cultural heritage, she added.
The agreement between the government and the hunting federation over the concession of two woodland areas has left NGOs and the public angry.
The ‘management’ agreement with Federazzjoni Kaccaturi u Nassaba Konservazzjonisiti (FKNK) was signed two days prior to the original date set date. Ahead of the signing, a coalition of 60 NGOs, had slammed the deal.
On Friday, five environmental organisations filed a challenge to the agreement before the Administrative Review Tribunal.
The NGOs are claiming that the Authority has acted in an arbitrary, untransparent, discriminatory and unreasonable manner and that it has committed numerous procedural violations resulting in it acting outside its powers as established by law.
The agreement grants the hunting lobby the full management of two huge areas of woodland in Mizieb and l-Ahrax in Mellieha, for three years, with the possibility of renewal. These two sites together are five times larger than the Buskett woodland, according to Spazji Miftuha.
Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg said the FKNK was chosen to manage the woodland because they have been “doing a good job”. The federation has informally managed the woodland for years, and largely controls access during hunting hours. Hunters have also built a number of hunting hides without a permit at Mizieb.
Other, smaller hunting groups like Kaccaturi San Ubertu and Moviment Kaccaturi Nassaba Ambjentalisti have distanced themselves from the deal. They said they agree, in principle, but were never consulted about it.
What irked one particular NGO is the transport and infrastructure Minister Ian Borg claiming that this move will only bring FKNK and the hunting lobby on a par with BirdLife Malta.
The environmental organisation’s CEO Mark Sultana lashed out at Minister Borg, saying that the two can never be compared. “BirdLife Malta manages the Ghadira, Salina, Foresta 2000 and Simar nature reserves. The combined size of these four reserves is approximately half the size of the Mizieb woodland,” Sultana said in a video message.
Hunters have little regard to the environment and yet, they are being rewarded by the government, Sultana said.
According to the agreement, FKNK will have to notify the public of the areas accessible to the public during the hunting season. The federation has to pay the token sum of €200 each year for the concession.
Eight NGOs had filed a judicial protest against Minister Borg, Parliamentary Secretary Chris Agius and the Lands Authority requesting them to cease and desist from gifting huge parts of Maltese countryside to the hunting lobby.
“The decision to transfer the lands was done unilaterally, opaquely and in secret and without any respect towards the rights of the citizens to be informed that public land would be used in such a manner,” the organisations said in a statement.
The fact that there was no public consultation or call for proposals also makes it an illegal and discriminatory act under EU directives, they said.