Scientific consultative council on environment to be chaired by Victor Axiak

Environment Minister Leo Brincat says polluter pay schemes for fish farming activity ‘needed to stop rampant pollution of our waters’

A scientific consultative committee on the environment will be chaired by Professor Victor Axiak, Minister for the Environment Leo Brincat announced this evening.

Axiak is the former head of the Church Environment Commission.

Addressing parliament, Brincat said the consultative committee, the first of its nature in Malta, will include leading chemist Alfred Vella, ecologist Sandro Lanfranco, Noel Aquilina, Charles Galdes, Elizabeth Conrad and Paola Grech Bonnici.

The committee, who according to Brincat did not ask for any remuneration, will be advising the ministry on environment matters. It is set to meet for the first time in the coming days.

During his address, the minister addressed a number of concerns and points raised by participating MPs, including that on the budgetary measure introducing polluter pay schemes.

For the first time, the government will be introducing an excise duty on feed for use by fish farms. The measures, while deemed positive by environmentalists, also raising questions on whether pre-emptive measures should have been adopted to prevent such pollution from taking place, “rather than foster a culture which encourages pollution to take place with a ‘pay later’ mentality”.

Brincat said that while the government could not underestimate the profit generated by the fish farms, yet it could not allow the pollution to go on.

The minister reiterated that the separation of the environment and planning authority will strengthen the authority’s environmental arm.

The government is set to hold consultation meetings on the green belt policy, which would see the involvement of the private sector. Separately, the government is studying a report on the implementation of a national restoration and afforestation project.

On his party, parliamentary secretary for animal rights responded to criticism on the reopening of the finch trapping season by arguing that such season used to be allowed by the Nationalist administration.

The Maltese government last opened a trapping season in September 2012, applying a derogation from the EU ban on trapping of golden plover and song thrush. The rules set seasonal bag limits at 5,000 song thrush and 1,150 golden plover, and the season ran for 83 days between October 2012 and January 2013.

On hunting, Galdes said this was exempt from the Animal Welfare Act, falling under EU law.

According to Galdes, a 15c excise on wine, including Maltese wine, would help “to monitor” importation of wine as all importers will now be forced to apply the excise duty. The measure reportedly is one way of addressing the importation of alcohol – such as wine – which goes undeclared.

The police, he added, were also investigating allegations that imported vegetables were being mixed and sold at the Pitkalija as local produce.

More in Budget 2015