[WATCH] BirdLife file judicial protest after hunting regulator placed under Gozo Minister

BirdLife is protesting government's decision to transfer the hunting and trapper regulator to the Gozo Ministry rather then keeping it in the environment portfolio

Clint Camilleri was made Gozo Minister but was also handed the responsibility for the hunting regulator, a move that has angered bird conservationists
Clint Camilleri was made Gozo Minister but was also handed the responsibility for the hunting regulator, a move that has angered bird conservationists
BirdLife file judicial protest after hunting regulator placed under Gozo Minister

Updated at 6:00 pm with Hunters' Federation reaction

BirdLife Malta has called upon the Prime Minister to reverse his decision to shift the hunting and trapping regulator to the portfolio of Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri, a hunter – a move which it described as “diabolical and purely for electoral purposes.”

The NGO filed a judicial protest in court on Wednesday, arguing that whilst hunting and trapping were placed under Clint Camilleri’s remit, Malta’s Environment Protection Act (Chapter 549 of the laws of Malta) specifically states that every reference to a “minister” points to the minister responsible for the environment. The law calls on the Environment Minister as the person responsible for the protection of the environment and for establishing any authority relating to it.

This means that any legal notice or appointment made by the Gozo Minister in this regard would be in breach of the law since it is the Environment Minister who is legally recognised to act in terms of Malta’s environmental laws, argued the NGO.

“We are therefore requesting the Government and the Prime Minister to reverse this decision and ensure that the Environment Minister is given the powers granted to him by law and that the environment portfolio is assigned to the Minister responsible for the Environment. This includes WBRU’s remit covering hunting and trapping,” BirdLife said in a statement.

“Whilst it is now clear that the law entrusts only the Environment Minister to enforce the legislation and regulations in terms of wild birds, it is also very clear that the Government has deliberately breached the law when taking its decision: a vote-catching decision taken for no other reason than to appease the hunting and trapping lobby,” it said.

Lawyers Philip Manduca and Leslie Cuschieri signed the judicial protest.

In comments after filing the judicial protest, BIrdLife highlighted what it said was the Wild Birds Regulation Unit’s (WBRU) poor record under Clint Camilleri. The WBRU was under Camilleri's wing when he was parliamentary secretary within the environment ministry.

“Apart from the fact that he is a hunter himself, the absolute failure in terms of enforcement during his tenure at the helm of the Parliamentary Secretariat responsible for WBRU speaks for itself and continued to worsen after he took over from Roderick Galdes. WBRU was set up in 2013, assuming enforcement powers in 2015 by changing legislation without any public consultation whatsoever. Since its inception, WBRU took over the enforcement support role to police from ERA, resulting in a dramatic decrease in enforcement effort on bird protection regulations it is duty-bound to safeguard," BirdLIfe said.

Statistics published by WBRU itself show a downgrade in prosecutions and punishments linked to hunting offences – from 677 fines dished out in 2015 to just 47 in 2018; from 70 inspections on taxidermy collections in 2015 to just 11 in 2018, and from assistance in courts resulting in 90 convictions in 2016 to just 27 in 2018. Seizures of stuffed birds kept illegally went down from 1,046 specimens in 2013 to just 46 specimens in 2018.

“The Specialist Enforcement Branch of WBRU has in 2019 resulted in zero staff allocated to this unit, after a history of officers employed with the unit, resigned from their respective posts. WBRU also introduced a reform on the game reporting system for hunters (used to regulate hunting effort and derogations) and effectively removed a fine system for non-reporting hunting game, resulting in a poor participation of just 9% of the hunting community reporting what they catch. Such statistics form the basis of derogations to the Birds Directive for spring hunting and trapping.”

READ MOREHunting regulator pulled out of environment ministry and given to hunter minister

Hunters React

The Hunters’ Federation has accused BirdLife of arrogance, and said that since the 1970s, the department responsible for the environment had been manned by the founders, secretaries, activists and supporters of BirdLife and its predecessor the Malta Ornithological Society.

“One wonders whether Birdlife is fearing losing its influence in the sector,” the FKNK said.

One of the mentioned sectors is bird ringing, which the hunters’ federation said that has also been criticized by the Ombudsman. 

The federation said that minister Clint Camilleri has shown his integrity and impartiality in the sector, despite BirdLife’s claims.

The country should no longer fear the threats made by organisations such as BirdLife, which sought to harm the country if they did not get their way, the federation said. 

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