The Malta Independent 8 December 2022, Thursday
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Illegal hunting: Government has final say on season closure, PM confirms

Thursday, 5 October 2017, 11:48 Last update: about 6 years ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat yesterday confirmed that the government has the final say on whether to close the hunting season, despite his earlier comments placing the onus on the Ornis committee.

The crux of the matter, however, is whether he can take this decision without such a recommendation.

In recent weeks, Muscat caused a stir when he said he cannot take the decision to close down the hunting season unilaterally, telling journalists that, after changes to the law, “there are permanent structures in the form of the Ornis committee that makes this decision.”

His comments jarred with what Environment Minister Jose Herrera had told this newspaper in an interview last year, where he confirmed that the government still retained the power to close the season “in extremis.”

And on Monday, BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana also told this newspaper that the claim that the PM needs to receive advice from the committee to close the season is “simply untrue”.

When confronted with this information yesterday, and asked which version was the right one, the PM confirmed that the government still has the decision making powers. “The point is that the Ornis Committee has the power to recommend its closure, and we [government] would thoroughly consider closing it”.

This implies that, while the Ornis committee has the power to make a recommendation, this may or may not be accepted by the government.

The Ornis Committee is a government appointed body with the aim of advising the Environment Minister on matters related to wildlife bird conservation.

Mark Sultana revealed in the Monday interview that the Committee never met before the start of the autumn hunting season. Normally it meets before the season commences to share information about hunting hot-spots, share concerns and prepare themselves.

The committee met just two weeks ago, however the minutes from the meeting will not be made available to the public until the next November meeting, when they will be approved before being shared. Sources close to the situation say that the issue of closing the season was not raised in the meeting or placed on the agenda despite the fact that more than 20 protected birds have been shot so far.

The chairman of the Ornis committee, retired magistrate David Montebello, skirted questions by this newsroom on whether the committee suggested that the hunting season should be closed, whether the Prime Minister or environment minister contacted the committee, who has the power to close the season and what Committee’s views are over the numerous shot protected bird. In response, Montebello said:

“As Chairman of the Ornis Committee my role is to ensure that the Committee procedures are regularly carried out in accordance to the law. The committee's functions are exclusively those listed in the Wild Birds Conservation Regulations and consist chiefly in the making of recommendations including those involving the hunting season after taking note of all relevant current facts.

“Moreover my role precludes me from expressing my personal opinions and even more so from taking any decision that is reserved for the Committee or commenting on matters placed or that may be placed before it.

“However I am also informed that minutes of meetings are regularly published on the relative Web site.I am copying this to Mr. Sergei Golovkin, the Ornis secretary who will surely give you all the information available to the public.”

An e-mail has been sent to Golovkin for a copy of the minutes from last meeting, however sources who were formerly involved with the committee say that a subsequent meeting has to take place to approve the publication of a previous meetings’ minutes. 

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