Two ministers with opposing views on hunting are “collaborating” after conversationists asked a court to decide who should be able to pull the trigger on major decisions.
Government sources told Times of Malta that Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia, a self-styled conservationist, and Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri, a registered bird trapper, were working together on overseeing Malta’s controversial hunting community, with the two jointly nominating members to the government’s expert consultative body.
The Ornis committee gives the government advice on how to handle hunting related legislation and on the timing and format of the hunting and trapping seasons.
The body, however, has been largely defunct ever since conservationist group BirdLife filed a court protest last year insisting it was Farrugia who should be responsible for nominating the group not Camilleri.
Although he is minister for the sister isle, Camilleri’s cabinet portfolio also puts him in charge of hunting, a move conservationists say goes against bird protection laws.
In January 2020, BirdLife took the matter to the courts, filing a judicial protest after Prime Minister Robert Abela passed responsibility for the wild birds regulation unit from Farrugia to Camilleri.
According to the Environment Protection Act, both the unit and the Ornis committee fall under the environment ministry.
Ornis largely defunct ever since BirdLife filed a court protest
The government had defended the decision to put Camilleri in charge, saying he would simply continue to be responsible for the hunting sector as he was when he was parliamentary secretary within the ministry for the environment.
The hunters’ federation, FKNK, were behind Camilleri, saying that while he was responsible for the sector, he acted res-ponsibly and impartially.
Meanwhile, the government is working on legal amendments that are expected to, ultimately, hand responsibility over to Camilleri.
The decision to reconstitute the Ornis committee comes at a critical juncture for hunting in the country.
Last year, Malta was served with two notifications from the European Commission about infringement proceedings over hunting and trapping.
Malta has until Tuesday to file an official response to the notifications.
Although the specific details of how Brussels feels Malta violated hunting rules remains unclear, government sources said the main issue was on how the island documents the number of birds allegedly bagged by hunters. Malta uses a self-declaration method in which hunters inform the authorities themselves of how many birds they shoot.
Conservationists have repeatedly complained that the numbers reported by hunters is far lower than the real number of birds that are actually shot.
Another bone of contention is the issue of policing the practice.
The sources said that, in the infringement notifications, the commission raised concerns over the effectiveness of law enforcement.
Times of Malta reported last week that about a dozen alleged poachers dodged justice because the police had failed to summon them to court for more than two years. The police have launched an internal investigation into the matter.
Once Ornis is constituted, it is expected to decide on whether the government ought to open a hunting season in spring, usually in April.