The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

Government signs agreement with FKNK over L-Ahrax and Mizieb; no press call issued

Friday, 9 October 2020, 15:59 Last update: about 3 months ago

The government has signed the management agreement with the FKNK over L-Ahrax and Mizieb, not issuing any press call for the event when the original plan was for such a signing to take place on Sunday.

Both the government and the FKNK faced serious backlash from eNGOs and civil society back when the plans for such a signing were originally exposed months ago. A petition was launched by a collation of 60 eNGOs, Spazzji Miftuħa, back in May and has received over 26,000 signatures until today. Even the Consumer's Rights Association had urged the government to rethink the agreement. The original signing was planned for Sunday, but the government has moved the date forward without informing the press or the public.

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In the meantime, several NGOs and individuals have filed a judicial protest against Minister Ian Borg, Parliamentary Secretary Chris Agius and the Lands Authority for authorising an agreement which would see large tracts of land at L-Ahrax and Mizieb "being granted to the FKNK under some form of concessionary agreement."



The Government's statement about the agreement read that Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects Ian Borg, Minister for the Environment, Planning and Climate Change Aaron Farrugia, Minister for Gozo Clint Camilleri, and Parliamentary Secretary for Planning and Construction Chris Agius presided over the signing of two agreements between the Lands Authority and FKNK and the Environmental Resources Authority and the FKNK.

"This follows a collective decision by the Cabinet of Ministers and the approval of the Lands Authority Board of Governors. These agreements introduce a number of obligations for the management of Miżieb and Aħrax land for FKNK while permitting access to the public."

Introduced obligations include maintenance, upkeep of cleanliness and general upkeep of the sites, health and safety on the sites and clear signage, the government statement read. "This is especially important as the coastal perimeter will remain the public domain and sites must remain accessible to the public, while parts designated for hunting must also remain accessible, excluding during fixed hours which are clearly displayed during the hunting season. FKNK will also be obligated to designate dedicated picnic areas and camping sites for the public, and full access will be given to conservation officials to ensure that the law is observed and to guard against any abuse or illegal hunting, while a joint monitoring board will be created, including local council representatives, to ensure that obligations are fully met."

Minister Ian Borg said: "We are looking to consolidate things well. We are giving access and a dedicated space to those who practise hunting, like we see in several other countries around the world with dedicated spaces during their season. But this is also being done with a number of responsibilities and obligations, because we believe that the natural environment is at the heart of Maltese and Gozitan family life. We therefore want to ensure the protection of the public domain, and that we have accessible and well-kept spaces to further aid the improvement of quality of life for people while also making space for the practice of a popular pastime to this NGO."

Minister Aaron Farrugia said that it is within everyone's interest to ensure the proper management and protection of all the natural sites in our country. "Our role as a ministry, together with ERA, is to ensure that the organisation safeguards the natural environment within the sites in the agreement."

He said that this is being done through a number of obligations that the ministry and ERA is placing in the agreement, also through the authority's directorate which is tasked with enforcement. "Following the government's decision to formalise the agreement through which the two zones are formally designated to the responsibility of the administration of FKNK, the ministry, together with ERA, through its own initiative pushed forward an additional agreement which will ensure proper administration of the sites, implementation of a number of environmental measures, monitoring and enforcement patrolling, educational activities, and the adequate involvement of stakeholders. The agreement is also ensuring that that all public passageways and thoroughfares remain open to the public at all times," Minister Farrugia said.

Minister Clint Camilleri, who is also responsible for the hunting and trapping sector, said that the government continuously works to safeguard the hunting and trapping tradition. He said that hunters and trappers know where they stand with this government "because it never tried to fool them." Camilleri said that with these agreements, FKNK are also ensuring that they will take care of the place and that public paths remain open to the public.

Parliamentary Secretary Chris Agius added that thanks to these agreements, these lands will be organised so that while FKNK may practise hunting, they will be bound to maintain and carry out upkeep for these sites. He stressed that these sites will remain accessible to the public, except during specific hours during the season as was always the case. The difference is that the formal agreement will lead to more specific signage, protection and obligatory maintenance by the same organisation.

In their judicial protest, the NGOs slammed the decision to grant such a concession as one which is characterised by a lack of transparency, and a lack of consultation with members of the public whose enjoyment of the countryside will now be curtailed.

The NGOs emphasised the fact that the hunting season effectively spans a period of some 9 months, d"uring which families and persons who are not hunters will be prohibited from entering the l-Ahrax and Mizieb areas granted to FKNK."

The NGOs condemned the granting of the concession as an agreement "which would further reward the perpetrators of illegalities carried out on these same sites whilst penalising law-abiding users of the countryside."

The NGOs demanded that the respondents Minister Ian Borg, Parliamentary Secretary Chris Agius and the Lands Authority desist from the granting of any concession  which does not safeguard the rights of all other users of the countryside."

The two agreements signed between the FKNK and the government can be read here and here

 

Government afraid of public opinion – Birdlife Malta

The signing of the Miżieb and Aħrax secret agreement between the Government and the FKNK without any press and prior to this coming Sunday as originally planned, shows the direction of the Government to bulldoze over the public opinion, Birdlife Malta said.

It promised to continue working so that, rather than going back to the old times, we move towards a healthier natural environment.

BirdLife Mata encouraged the general public to voice their anger at this disrespectful attitude by Prime Minister Robert Abela by attending the gathering at Miżieb.

 

PN statement

In a statement, the PN said the government has steamrolled over civil society, local councils and all those who had asked for the agreements to be published before they were signed.

The agreement was signed in secret and without the media present.

The PN said it will not accept that public land is closed off to the public without valid reason. It said civil society and local councils had once again been instrumental to raise awareness on the case.


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