Muscat vows to ‘eradicate’ illegal hunting, tougher penalties in store

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says there must be a 'team effort to eradicate the criminals involved in illegal hunting' • Muscat says decision to suspend local council elections reflected 'consensus'.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has today announced that the government will be implementing higher fines and harsher penalties against any “criminals” convicted of illegal hunting.

Defending the government’s decision to suspend the autumn hunting season, Muscat insisted that irrespective of the perceived “collective punishment,” the government took the right decision, as the hunting season was a “race to the bottom.”

On September 20, closed the autumn hunting season until 10 October to safeguard birds of prey and other protected birds. Citing the killing of protected birds, Muscat had insisted that increased penalties and enforcement did not deter the criminal acts, and consequently, the government had to interfere and suspend the hunting season.

The decision was met with heavy disdain and anger by hunters and hunting lobbyists alike, as hours after the draconian decision was taken, a group of some 200 hunters carried out an illegal protest in Valletta during which they were heard insulting the government and prime minister Joseph Muscat.

Undeterred by the backlash, Muscat has vowed to ‘eradicate’ the illegal hunting.

Addressing the Labour Party faithful at Rabat, the prime minister argued that the government fulfilled its promises in giving the hunters back what was taken from them, including the reduction in licence fees and the reopening of the trapping season.

“As the way things were going the hunting season was a race to the bottom. Every day was a day against the genuine hunters, because of illegal hunting.”

“I know people are saying that the decision was a collective punishment, but the situation was deteriorating to a point that the government could not continue like this. This is not an issue of votes, but an issue of taking the best decision,” he said.

Slamming the “criminals” that carry out illegal hunting, Muscat underlined that there must be a “team effort” to rectify the situation.

“We cannot continue with a situation where it was only up to the police to eradicate illegal hunting. There must be a team effort, the genuine hunters know who the criminals are and must weed them out.”

“We must identify and stop these criminals. They are harming Malta’s name and reputation,” the prime minister insisted.

“The government will be stronger against anyone convicted of illegal hunting. If hunters think that we are being harsh now, they have not seen anything yet. In the coming days, the government will announce amendments that will include heftier fines and harsher punishment,” he said while insisting that a €5,000 fine will be nothing when compared to the new punishments.

Turning his attention on the holding of the local council elections, Muscat said the decision to postpone them to 2019 was due to electoral fatigue. Muscat also said that there may be a "compromise solution" on the holding of the elections, claiming that a public consultation process had showed a  "convergence of ideas" between stakeholders, including local councillors, the general public, as well as "some people from the opposition."

The governnent's decision to postpone the local council elections elicited suspicion that Joseph Muscat was attempting to dead-leg a possible referendum to abrogate spring hunting by reducing electoral participation.

“A public consultation process showed there was an agreement to postpone the local council elections. Everyone, including the opposition, agrees that it is not sustainable that an election be held every year,” he said.

Moreover, Muscat also had strong words in store for the European Union, reiterating once again, that Malta must not shoulder the burden of asylum-seekers alone.

“This year, less migrants arrived in Malta, but rest assured, this is not a coincidence but as a result of the hard work and cooperation between Malta and Italy. We are saving migrants alone, but Europe must not rest and act like nothing happened,” Muscat warned.

Praising the government’s economical performance, Muscat insisted that the upcoming budget will be presented against Malta’s economic performance, and seek to reward hard work and deter social dependency.