Just one PN and three PL candidates responded to a Birdlife Malta questionnaire on key issues related to wildlife protection, law enforcement and countryside access.
The questionnaire was distributed to general election candidates from all parties on 18 January. All AD candidates responded to the questionnaire, which contains eight yes or no questions and takes roughly two minutes to complete.
The questionnaire forms part of Birdlife’s ’your voice counts‘ campaign which focuses on encouraging dialogue on environmental issues between public and environmental stakeholders.
“The results were worse than we expected. While all AD candidates answered, only three PL candidates replied and just one PN candidate bothered.” Said a disappointed Christian Debono, Birdlife Conservation and Policy Officer.
The questionnaire included questions;
Do you agree that ‘No- Hunting ‘ Zones around residential areas should be increased along with penalties for those who violate, to ensure improved safety for the Maltese public?
Do you agree that Hunting and trapping should be banned in public nature parks like Xrobb l-Ghagin and Majjistral Nature and History Park?
When asked why so few PL candidates completed the questionnaire, PL leader Joseph Muscat replied by discussing the merits of democratic government stating that in a democracy, candidates are accountable for what they answer and what they don’t. To which Mr Debono responded “it’s a democracy for the public, they are responsible to answer to the public! It’s time to speak up! That’s why we launched the ‘Your Voice Counts’ campaign, we want to urge the public to voice their concerns.” The situation Mr Debono described sounds troubling to say the least. “Hunting lobby groups are holding successive governments at gun point.”
In 1996 PL repealed countless environmental protection laws. Similarly, in 1998 PN buckled under lobby group pressure to lower the legal hunting age from 21 to 18, reshaping the dynamics of local hunting. Birdlife condemns both political parties for not putting the public interest first as today marks the official closing of the autumn hunting season.
“Bowing to the will of pressure groups at the cost of public land and okaying the militant occupation of the Maltese countryside is not okay. Hijacking the elections is not acceptable and neither is hijacking our countryside,” said Mr Debono, ”How much longer will Maltese governments be held hostage by hunting lobbies, using their vote as a threat?” he added.
The relationship between Birdlife Malta and the Federation for Hunting and Conserving (FKNK) seems to have changed from the ‘rubber johnny Ewros f******’ youtube sensation to “a more open form of dialogue.
(In 2009 the FKNK boasted over 10,000 full members)
“We’ve been pushing for a specialized wildlife crime unit which the FKNK has shown public support for. As things stand, the Administrative Law Enforcement Unit (ALE) is ill equipped to deal with wildlife crime, mainly due to a lack of training, expertise and funding. During peak hunting season they are forced to draft in extra officers.”
Mr Debono described his disappointment at a government which ” Year after year ignored calls for such an essential task force”.
Stay tuned for a student interview discussing the inadequacies of the ALE and the injustice of Magisterial discretion in dealing with wildlife crime.