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ORNIS Committee 2013 – do we need to read between the lines?

In 2006, the Maltese government set up the so-called ‘ORNIS Committee’ in the soon to be defunct Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA). This committee was set up in order to:

“decide on issues such as the study on trapping, licensing and registration. It also co-ordinates the collation of the carnet de chasse (which is a note of the birds caught by each hunter) and it introduces any necessary controls on hunting and trapping in case of a serious decline in certain species. The Committee decides on new species which may be hunted. The committee includes representatives of hunting and environmental organisations”

Malta is still leaps and bounds from achieving proper stakeholder participation in issues relating to the environment, but this can be seen as a start.

FYI, stakeholder participation is a concept widely applied in several countries (with a better environmental conscience than Malta), which calls for a holistic approach to a decision-making process. This approach highlights the importance of including different stakeholders from the private and public sphere – governmental bodies, NGOs, SMEs, charities, service providers, and the public (dependent on the case).

For the issue of hunting, the most rational composition of the committee was to consist of MEPA representatives (from the Environment directorate), NGOs (BirdLife Malta), ‘service’ providers (FKNK representing the hunters), representatives of the Ministry (the appointed chairman), and experts to act as advisors.

While I will not go as far to say that the previous committee conducted exceptional work, they did contribute to a somewhat fair decision-making process. The committee ran quite smoothly, albeit a tantrum or two by the FKNK or BirdLife Malta who always seem to agree on disagreeing.

Photo credit: Maltastar

With the new change in government, the ORNIS committee has been totally revamped. The justification is that it is a ‘natural process’ when the government changes (which I agree with). But let us take a look at the new committee and note the voting counts:

* * *

  • Chairman: Dr Louis Cassar (1 vote + casting vote)
  • Secretary: Victor Agius (no vote)


  • Ms Petra Caruana Dingli: Environmental Protection Directorate (1 vote)
  • Members nominated by Minister
  • Ms Emeline Fenech: (1 vote)
  • Mr Gwido Baldacchino: (1 vote)
  • Mr Marco Falzon: (1 vote)

FKNK Representatives – (1 vote)

  • Mr Lino Farrugia and/or Mr Joe Perici Calascione – FKNK representatives

Birdlife Representatives – (1 Vote)

  • Mr Joseph Mangion and/or Mr Nicholas Barbara

Experts – (No vote)

  • Mr Mark Gauci – Avifauna expert
  • Mr Frank Vassallo – Hunting and Trapping expert

 * * *

Who are these representatives for the Minister? I have tried to find out something about their background but my Google skills have failed me this time. Is it necessary for there to be three?

If you take stock of the eligible voters in this new committee, it is very evident that government representatives have up to 6 votes (including MEPA, chairman and his casting vote), NGOs have 1 and the FKNK has 1. You really do not need to be a genius at mathematics to realise that this scenario coupled with the hunter’s ‘behind closed doors’ with the new government is a sure recipe for disaster.

And please do not tell me that Ministry representatives will vote with an independent and critical thinking process – this is Malta and most ministry officials have historically abided by what is expected of them by the government at the time

Such is the fate of environmental issues on this little rock we call home. Politics will always muddy the waters, and without going into the whole issue of whether corruption exists or not, the current ORNIS committee scenario is soooooo bad.

How can such a committee function when it is inherently dominated by government representatives? It just does not make sense, and will not live up to its purpose (we have already seen this with the changes to the recent spring hunting season).

This article should not be misinterpreted as a ‘new government bashing’ rant. After being given the opportunity to study environmental social science, I feel compelled to bring these situations to light. People need to start understanding that the environment cannot be continued to be used as a bargain chip. The new government can rightfully change as many committees as he wants, but they need to be done sensibly. Adding these three ministerial representatives (who we know nothing about), and removing someone like Mark Anthony Falzon is a step in the wrong direction – especially when the latter individual is an expert in social scientific issues of hunting in Malta (who is also renowned in the UK for his social science research methods).

And I shall ask once again, WHY ARE THERE THREE representatives for the Minister?

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  1. Pingback: ORNIS Committee – a despicable excercise in double negativity | The Malting Pot

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