Despite Ombudsman’s recommendation, artisanal fishers still paying more than double the price for diesel

A judicial protest filed by the Marsaxlokk Artisanal Fishers against the government went unanswered

Yannick Pace
3 October 2017, 7:30am
Questions sent to fisheries parliamentary secretary Clint Camilleri remain unanswered
Questions sent to fisheries parliamentary secretary Clint Camilleri remain unanswered
Members of Marsaxlokk Artisanal Fishers, an NGO set up last year to protect the interests of small-scale fishermen, are still being forced to pay more than double what other registered fishermen are paying for fuel, despite this practice being flagged as discriminatory by the office of the Ombudsman.

Last May, the MAF filed a judicial protest against the Prime Minister, then parliamentary secretary Roderick Galdes, Fisheries director general Andreina Fenech Farrugia and then transport minister Joe Mizzi. In it, they claimed the authorities’ refusal to grant them duty-free diesel to which they are entitled, was blatant discrimination and a breach of their right to freedom of association. The judicial protest went unanswered.

According to the EU Directive on the ‘taxation of energy products and electricity’, member states are allowed to exempt registered fishermen from paying duty on fuel used to navigate in EU waters, and allow fishermen to buy fuel at a price of €0.44 per litre rather than €1.18.

A few months after its inception in July 2016, MAF informed the fisheries department that its members would be represented by the NGO, rather than by one of Malta’s two fishermen co-operatives.

“When the department was informed of this decision its reaction was to stop our duty-free diesel with immediate effect,” said MAF president Martin Caruana.

He said that the decision was taken within 24 hours.

Caruana emphasised that fishermen’s right to duty-free diesel stemmed from the country’s implementation of the EU Directive, and was not a right granted to fishermen by the government of the day, as many still believed.

He said that when the NGO was set up, fishermen were interested in joining, however many believed that if they were to relinquish their membership of either of the two cooperatives, they would also lose their right to duty-free diesel.

In addition to filing a judicial protest, the MFA also took its case to the Ombudsman, who wrote to the fisheries department recommending that it apply the directive to all fishermen.

“In view of the EU directive which supersedes all the provisions of the 2012 agreement and the 2016 directive, and irrespective of what the department’s policy dictates, this Office recommends that the EU directive should be applied to all registered fishermen, irrespective of whether they are co-operative members or not,” the Ombudsman wrote to the director general of the fisheries department.

It was “discriminatory that fishermen were being compelled to join a co-operative in order to benefit from exemption”.

When contacted, Fenech Farrugia said the situation was “sensitive” and concerned multiple ministries and stakeholders – including the state-owned Mediterranean Oil Bunkering Company.

Although MAF’s four members, were receiving duty-free fuel until seven months ago, Fenech Farrugia said there were administrative issues that needed to be ironed out and which were the subject of high-level discussions.

She stressed that the talks aim to ensure an equitable solution for all parties, including the small-scale fishermen and the suppliers of the fuel, MOBC.

Attempts to contact MOBC were unsuccessful, and questions sent to fisheries parliamentary secretary Clint Camilleri, remained unanswered at the time of going to print.

Yannick joined MaltaToday as a journalist in 2016. His main areas of interest are politics...