Updated | Legal amendments 'to empower' Ornis Committee, parliamentary secretariat says

BirdLife official says amendments to Conservation of Wilds Birds Regulation were passed without prior discussion with Ornis Committee

A new set of amendments granting the government wider discretionary power to revise the parameters of the hunting season have been passed by “stealth” and without prior referral to the consultative body on hunting regulations, a BirdLife official said.

Speaking to MaltaToday, the BirdLife Malta official expressed his “surprise” at how the amendments to the Conservation of Wild Birds Regulations were approved by parliament on August 21 without any prior discussion. The amendments were meant to be discussed during a meeting of the Ornis Committee, on August 25, only for parliament to approve them without consulting with the Committee.

“BirdLife were left completely surprised as the amendments were approved without any prior discussion with us or the Ornis Committee,” a BirdLife official said.

According to the amendments, the Ornis Committee, the advisory body on hunting and trapping which decides on the species that may be hunted, shall now also be charged with implementing the minister’s decisions concerning the laws regulating the conservation of birds.

“Upon closer analysis, the true reason behind the amendments is to grant the Wild Birds Regulation Unit greater power, which Unit has in the past favoured hunters,” the official said.

The amendments also grant the environment minister wider discretionary power to revise the parameters of the hunting season “for any other season which the Minister deems fit to be of sufficient gravity.” At present, the minister may only revise the restrictions of the hunting season on the basis of relevant latest scientific advice concerning conservation status and maintenance of the population of bird species.

Speaking to MaltaToday, a spokesperson for the parliamentary secretariat of animal rights explained that he was not aware of any prior discussions between the government and BirdLife, despite the environmental NGO being a member of the Ornis Committee.

The spokesperson further explained that in essence, the new amendments grant the Wild Birds Regulation Unit “greater tools to combat illegalities” and are “part of a holistic reform aimed at regulating the sector and to implement tougher penalties.”

Laws regulating taxidermy have also been eased, as now, in virtue of the newly-passed amendments, any person may be exempted from the illegal possession of stuffed birds if it is proven that not more than 30 birds are preserved for personal use.  A person may also be in possession of a stuffed bird if it has been lawfully imported or a captive bred, if it was taken in a member state where it is lawful, or if it has been declared with MEPA prior to June 2003.

In a reaction on Monday, a spokesperson for the parliamentary secretariat for animal rights insisted that “the amendments were discussed thoroughly at the Malta Ornis Committee in September, October and December 2014”. He added that the final amendments published evolved as a direct result of this discussion, and have incorporated feedback received from stakeholders, including from BirdLife.

“Contrary to what is being claimed, the amendments grant greater powers to the Malta Ornis Committee, which now has the possibility of recommending changes to any bird hunting season on the basis of the relevant scientific or other factors that the Committee may adopt,” the spokesperson said.

The Ornis Committee, the government’s consultative body on hunting regulation, has recently recommended the re-opening of the trapping season in autumn 2015 despite warnings by the European Commission. It will now launch infringement proceedings against Malta on a finch trapping season.

The parliamentary secretariat is also denying that the amendments grant the minister wider discretionary power. “The amendments are being misinterpreted as the new law empowers the Malta Ornis Committee to recommend such revisions. The ‘power’ of the Minister is unchanged in this respect.”

The spokesman went on to add that the provisions concerning possession/importation have actually been strengthened and rendered more enforceable.

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