Criticism of the deal handing over management of woodlands to hunters was “justified” and needed to be understood by the government, Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia has said.

Farrugia was present last Friday when the agreement was signed with the hunters’ federation, FKNK, giving them sole access to large swathes of Miżieb and Aħrax during the hunting season.


The controversial deal has ignited outrage from the public as well as from a coalition of NGOs. On Sunday, dozens of people gathered at Miżieb in protest.

Farrugia told Times of Malta that he “understands” the public sentiment after the deal was signed. 

“Over the past few days I have spoken to a lot of people and I understand that there has been justified criticism coming from those who want more open spaces,” the minister said.

Politicians, he said, need to learn from this criticism.

In the coming months, he added, the government would move to increase the number of open green spaces for the public. 

Asked whether he felt his presence at the signing ceremony for the controversial deal was ultimately an endorsement, he said there was no hiding from the fact that he formed part of the government which had signed the agreement.

The management deal was signed between the FKNK and the Lands Authority, which does not fall under his portfolio.

A separate agreement was signed between the federation and the Environment Resources Authority over the hunters’ conservation obligations at the two sites.  

The moment it was over we published the contract in full

Sources had said Farrugia was opposed to the deal but he was reluctant to come out against it when confronted on Monday.  

“Cabinet meets and agrees as a unit. Over the past few days I have understood the public sentiment,” he said.  

The sites will be accessible to the public outside of hunting season hours and these timings should be clearly indicated on signage at the sites. The hunting seasons last for five months – from September till January – and then for two weeks in spring.

It has been left up to FKNK to “make available to the public” areas designated for picnics.

Meanwhile, Ian Borg, the minister for lands, defended Friday’s secretive signing ceremony.

The ceremony had been meant to take place last Sunday afternoon but was brought forward and held in private.

The deal was signed in a private event on Friday. Photo: DOIThe deal was signed in a private event on Friday. Photo: DOI

Confronted about the fact the media was not invited, Borg argued that the government was not avoiding journalists because they had had several opportunities to question him and the environment minister on Friday.

Pressed on why the date of the signing had been changed, Borg said the hunters federation had shown maturity in avoiding confrontation following reports of the protest planned for Sunday.

“I think we should be in agreement over this course of action,” he said.

He criticised “incorrect reporting” about the woodlands agreement, saying it had not been kept secret.

Ian Borg says hunters were wise to 'avoid confrontation'. Video: Jessica Arena

“I understand that the public does not receive communication from the department... but the moment it was over we published the contract in full,” Borg said.

The contract was only made public on Friday afternoon after it had already been signed.

Protestors told Times of Malta that they were incensed at the underhanded manner in which public land had been given away and could not understand why the government was “bending over backwards” to please such a small proportion of the population.

Last week, members of the Mellieħa council were left perplexed as to why they had been invited to the ‘Sunday signing’ if they had not been consulted over the agreement.

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