The Malta Independent 4 December 2021, Saturday

Updated: Information blackout on FKNK Miżieb agreement, to be signed next Sunday

Karl Azzopardi Wednesday, 7 October 2020, 15:15 Last update: about 2 years ago

No information has been shared about the controversial agreement which would see the Federation for Hunting and Trapping (FKNK) take over land in Mizieb and Aħrax, yet the Mellieħa Local Council is still expected to be present for its signing this coming Friday, Councillor Gabriel Micallef told this newsroom.

Back in May, it was reported that PM Robert Abela had resurrected a proposal to turn over the two areas to the hunting lobby under a formal agreement. According to reports, the issue was brought up in Cabinet and there were no objections.

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Both the government and the FKNK faced serious backlash from eNGOs and civil society expressed concern over the situation. A petition was launched by a collation of 60 eNGOs, Spazzji Miftuħa, back then and has received over 17,000 signatures until today. Even the Consumer's Rights Association had urged the government to rethink the agreement.

The issue seemed to have died down in the months that followed, up until today when the members of the Mellieħa Local Council received an invitation from the FKNK itself to attend the signing of this agreement between the Federation, the Lands Authority and the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA). Sources said the title to the land will be given to the FKNK by the Lands Authority while the ERA agreement relates to the management of the site. The latter will impose a number of conditions, sources said.

"After the backlash, we heard nothing of it until we received the invitation yesterday evening. We were never approached or consulted by this, so, they are expecting us to go to the event as a backdrop and oversee a signing that we know nothing about," Mellieħa PN Councillor Micallef told this newsroom. 

He explained that this is something that is reciprocated among other councillors and that he has already clashed with local hunters on this issue who said that they have a right to the land, "but this is not the point, since our argument is that we were not consulted."

The fact that the invite comes from the FKNK itself rather than from the government, as per usual practice, has also raised some flags, he added. 

"This worries and angers me because we are just being used as just a backdrop. I'm sure the agreement has its positive side, but what if there is something I do not agree on that comes out then, how can I sit by and accept the agreement?"

Notably, this issue has caught the attention of NGOs and environmentalists who have also voiced their concerns on the lack of transparency in this regard.

The Outdoor Recreation and Camping Association (ORCA) posted on their Facebook page saying that its Executive Committee has met with the Mellieħa Local Council as well as the ERA in the past, "who both confirmed they had not been kept in the loop on this agreement."

"As of yet, there has been ZERO transparency with stakeholders, in fact, we still have no idea what this agreement entails despite being in contact with many local entities," the post read. "As an organization that aims to safeguard the rights of all outdoor enthusiasts, we felt that at minimum there should be an open public consultation before one of our largest green spaces is signed away."

ORCA clarified that it does not have issues with the FKNK, but with the lack of transparency and public consultation in this whole process, calling for the Federation for an open discussion.

The ORCA Executive Committee has received information that the Mellieha Local Council and the Environment Resource...

Posted by ORCA Malta - Outdoor Recreation and Camping Association on Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Environmentalist Cami Applegren also took to Facebook to express her disappointment towards the sudden turn of events.

"Bye Miżieb. Not ONLY can't I walk in the only national park - Majjistral - without fearing to be shot a Sunday morning with armed people next to me enjoying their extended hunting hours; now we won't even be able to enjoy the 'forest' of Miżieb," she said. "How are we actually going to teach our young that nature matters for ALL, when a massive area is signed over to the few to enjoy."

She made suggestions with how the government could compensate for this loss, firstly by giving back the Natural Park of Majjistral for people to enjoy all year round. Also, Applegren appealed for the Environment minister to add Private land limits to the Geoserver that everyone can double check what is private land and not.

"We have the right to know what is public and not, and by this, limit the abuse which is happening at the moment. Why is it more important for the few to enjoy this massive area, rather than the rest of the people who are deprived of natural environment in the concrete jungle? WHY don't the politicians fear OUR votes to shift?"

Like ORCA, Applegren said that this is not an issue of being for or against hunting, but one relating to public access to the natural environment.

👋 Bye Mizieb 🌳. Not ONLY can't I walk in the only national park - Majjistral - without fearing to be shot a Sunday...

Posted by Cami Appelgren on Wednesday, 7 October 2020

The coalition of 60 entities, mainly environmental and cultural NGOs, known as Spazji Miftuħa issued a statement on the issue and said they are surprised by the news.

"The decision to do this was heavily contested when the idea originally came out early this year and the issues that concerned this coalition remain unsolved."

It reminds the Prime Minister that while FKNK is a registered NGO it does not fall anywhere close to many other NGOs whose aim is to work for the common good. "FKNK's sole interest is to have space for a small segment of its members to hunt. They have already done so illegally for a number of years when they closed access without the legal right to do so. FKNK had also erected signs illegally and allowed its members to build structures for their pastime without the necessary permits. These had been reported by BirdLife Malta a few years ago and a fresh report was submitted by the coalition on this matter."

"FKNK has never proved to be capable of managing the land and even worse their members who use this area. These areas have been known to be the meccas of hunting illegalities. These include the discovery of various illegally shot protected birds during night searches along with the filming of an FKNK official shooting a protected bird at Miżieb. The Government is gifting these public lands to an entity that has taken more from our country then it could ever possibly return. This sends out the message that in Malta you can be unaccountable for your actions and even be gifted if this is gainful for the politicians on election day."

"The coalition feels that there is a great sense of anger and frustration brewing amongst the majority of the Maltese public that are witnessing the destruction of our natural and cultural spots for the pleasure of a few and the pockets of some others. The Prime Minister must start realising that political gain is by far not a justification to abuse our country's resources and that if he remains insensitive to these issues he will be remembered as the leader that had no regard to our nature and cultural heritage."

PN call for immediate publication of agreement

Spokesperson for the Environment and Climate Emergency David Thake released a statement acknowledging the situaiton and saying that the government should immediately publish the contents of the agreement.

"The PN expects to see the agreement's content before commenting more in depth. It stresses, however, that it will not tollerate public land to have closed access to the public, except for established scientific reasons."

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