PN’s agricultural proposals would lead to widespread land speculation - Herrera

On Tuesday, the Nationalist Party presented a set of proposals meant to address a number of shortcomings it had identified in a new legal notice on government-owned agricultural land leases

Siblings and grandchildren should be added to the list of persons who can inherit an agricultural lease on the death of the farmer, the PN is proposing
Siblings and grandchildren should be added to the list of persons who can inherit an agricultural lease on the death of the farmer, the PN is proposing

A set of proposals put forward by the Nationalist Party to address challenges faced by the agricultural sector would lead to widespread speculation of agricultural land, according to Environment Minister Jose Herrera. 

“They didn’t understand the law. The law is not business but just to promote farming in Malta,” Herrera told MaltaToday. “What the PN is proposing will lead to speculation speculation on the little agricultural land we have left.”

Earlier on Tuesday the PN tabled a parliamentary motion calling on the government to amend a legal notice published last December containing a number of provisions, including one that disallows the transfer of agricultural lease if a building with a footprint greater than 40 sq.m is present on it. 

It said that the legal notice was making it more difficult to transfer leases across generations, which the PN said was not conducive to helping the sector survive. 

Addressing a press conference PN MP Marthese Portelli said the party did not agree with the provision, insisting that the PN believes “the land which is being used by the farmer, and which contains a building meant to house his machinery and produce should also be permitted to be transferred.”

The proposals were announced during a press conference today
The proposals were announced during a press conference today

The legal notice provides that government-owned agricultural land by title of lease may be granted to anyone who has successfully completed an academic course in agricultural studies in the preceding five years from the entry into force of the regulations, but the PN is suggesting that this be extended to the last ten years.

It is also proposing that all bona fide farmers should not be obliged to register themselves with the agricultural directorate, and that any decisions taken by the Lands Authority on lease transfer applications should be open to an appeals process.

The PN is also proposing that the transfer of agricultural lesees be extended to siblings and grand children of the lease.

Addressing the press conference, PN MP Edwin Vassallo said that while the new legal notice was meant to facilitate the transferring of agricultural leases, it had ended up creating more impediments for farmers.

“When farmers took stock of the new law, they realised that the government was actually creating more obstacles for the transfer of land and finding reasons to impede this,” Vassallo noted.

Legal notice intended to consolidate agricultural land

Reacting to the PN’s proposals Herrera stressed that the majority of agriculatural land in Malta was owned by the government.

He said that a study carried out by parliamentary secretary for agriculture Clint Camilleri had commissioned a study which found, among other conclusions, that some 70% of agricultural land was not being used because it has been subdivided to an extent that makes it economically unviable.

As such, he said the legal notice was intended to facilitate the transfer of agricultural land to bona fide farmers, so that they can consolidate their land and become more productive.

“Farmers can buy other leaseholds and obtain enough territory to make their business productive,” Herrera said, stressing that if the land keeps being inherited, farming will eventually finish because most of the land will be too small to work.

Herrera pointed out that government land can’t be sublet or rented out, and that allowing the transfer of the lease was an exception to rule. “We made this exception only to protect and encourage agriculture.”

Regarding the PN’s proposal to allow land to be transferred even if it contains a structure greater than 40 sq.m., Herrera said that studies and consultations carried out by Camilleri’s secretariat as well as his ministry and the Transport Ministry, had concluded that the footprint was big enough for an agricultural store.

“The idea is that if you have a store, that is fine. But if you have two tumoli of land and you’ve built a farmhouse and I let you assign it someone else, you can make thousands,” Herrera said.

He said the PN also wanted to allow for the transfer of agricultural land which inside the development zone in the same way, adding that the suggestion was “incredulous”.

“The scope is to protect agricultural land,” Herrera insisted, adding that the PN’s proposals were “pure land speculation to make a few people millionaires”.  

Asked about the proposal to allow leased land to be transferred to lessee’s siblings and grandchildren, Herrera said that the legal notice already allows for the transfer of a lease to any other farmer, meaning that there was no obstacle in transferring it to siblings, as long as it is to be used for agricultural purposes.

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