Tista' taqra bil- Malti.
The government has signed off the management of Miżieb and Aħrax woodlands in Mellieħa to the hunters’ lobby on Friday.
The signing ceremony was brought forward after it was initially planned for Sunday.
The media was not invited to the signing of the agreement.
The announcement had caused outrage with environmental activists planning a protest on site at the end of the weekend.
In a statement issued by the Department of Information on behalf of three ministries, it was announced that Transport Minister Ian Borg, Parliamentary Secretary for Planning Chris Agius, Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia and Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri had presided over the signing of two agreements – one signed between the Lands Authority and the FKNK, and the Environmental Resources Authority (ERA) and FKNK.
The government said that signing followed a collective decision by the Cabinet of Ministers and the approval of the Lands Authority Board of Governors.
The government said that the agreements have introduced a number obligations for the management of the two woodlands to be followed by the FKNK while permitting access to the public.
Earlier on Friday, BirdLife Malta described governments plan as a vote catching ploy in favour of an interest group which does not contribute to society.
“Introduced obligations include maintenance, upkeep of cleanliness and general upkeep of the sites, health and safety on the sites and clear signage. This is especially important as the costal 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 obliged 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,” the statement reads.
NGOs file judicial protest
Reacting to the news, non-governmental organisation Moviment Graffitti announced that they are part of a coalition which is led by Ramblers and which has filed a judicial protest against the signing of the agreement.
Moviment Graffitti pointed out that it was done without the media being invited and showed that the ministers “feared rumours of protests on Sunday”.
Government riding roughshod – Partit Nazzjonalista
Partit Nazzjonalista accused the government of riding roughshod over civil society, local councillors and all those who have demanded that the agreement is made public prior to signing.
In a statement signed by shadow minister for the environment David Thake, Partit Nazzjonalista noted that it was signed behind closed doors and without the media being invited to the event despite invites having been sent out for Sunday.
Partit Nazzjonalista stressed that it would not accept that public land is closed off to the public without a valid reason.
The Opposition acknowledged the efforts of civil society and the local councils which were instrumental in raising awareness about the case.
Government afraid of public opinion – BirdLife Malta
In a statement, BirdLife Malta said that the signing of the Miżieb and Aħrax secret agreement between the Government and the Federazzjoni Kaċċaturi Nassaba Konservazzjonisti (FKNK) on Friday without any press and prior to this coming Sunday as originally planned, shows the government’s direction to bulldoze over the public opinion.
The NGO promised that it will continue working so that Malta moves towards a healthier natural environment. It also encouraged the general public to voice their anger at the “disrespectful attitude” shown by Prime Minister Robert Abela by attending the gathering at Miżieb.
Kaċċaturi San Ubertu says it is not involved and was not consulted
Non-governmental organisation, Kaċċaturi San Ubertu, which also represents hunters, said that the organisation and its members have never been consulted or involved in the awarding of the two woodlands to FKNK to manage.
The NGO claimed that as an autonomous voluntary organisation none of its members can enter these lands.
KSU said that it believes that every citizen should enjoy the right to enjoy public land as well as the controlled use and managing of certain tracts of land for different sectors to be able to practise their hobbies. It noted that it practises such philosophy in the management of Għadira s-Safra which is open for everyone to enjoy.
The organisation said that stated that every citizen is equal and should have equal access to public land without any preferential treatment without imposing any restrictions. It maintained that while an organisation should be in charge of managing a site, it urged the authorities should ensure that access should not be exclusive to the managing organisation or subject to a fee.