Bird’s Eye View

Kestrel; Falco tinnunculus; hovering; Cornwall

The youth known as Il-Benghazi was unfortunate enough to be the hunter who would bear the brunt of his companions’ anger – the one who would be the ultimate scapegoat in this charade that has been the 2015 Malta Spring Hunting season. I say unfortunate when I mean that this fool deserves the full force of the law for his brazenly ignorant action of shooting down a kestrel close to the precincts of a private school and in full view of kids.

The charade ended much in the same fashion as it had begun – with an imperial tweet by his excellency the prime minister exercising what seems to be his own prerogative of opening and shutting the spring hunting season at will. The biggest loser is of course the law – the rule of law. A season that should never had been (legally) whose foundation was (legally) challenged in a failed referendum and that was kept open at the mercy of a questionable prerogative of a prime minister came to an end and the scapegoat was punished in a court of law that also acted rather questionably when it came to reasoning with the FKNK and KSUmbertu’s presence.

We now have time for a Bird’s Eye View of what happened and of the damage caused – both civic and political (not to mention the dead birds and injured little dutch boy). Let’s do this in steps:

1. The season should never have opened. The lie of the automatic prerogative was spread by the Prime Minister the day after the referendum ended. The wheels had already been put in motion by the puppet ORNIS committee recommendations. No whiff of how and why the derogation criteria would be satisfied. We still act as though hunting is a god given right sanctioned by an EU directive. Even the people behind the NO campaign have much to blame for this. No education.

2. Muscat’s tricks. They’re wearing thin. I’m sure he is painfully aware of the fact that nobody was impressed by the last minute “iron fist” approach when the season would have ended anyway within three mornings. Well, some people might still swallow the line that Muscat was being tough with his “last chance” talk with the hunters – and they might be convinced by the wailing and gnashing of teeth of the presumed 9,500 innocents vaunted by Lino Farrugia who are being “punished” for the wrongdoing of a few.

3. That last statement. This idea that hunting is a right and that there is this Imperial Prerogative in the hands of a government to open and shut the season so long as the hunters “behave”. That’s dangerous reasoning that results from the erroneous thinking outlined in point one above. Even Magistrate Depasquale confusingly spoke of FKNK’s interest in the case against the last hunter as being one of an “injured party”. Really? Under what law exactly? Before Magistrate Depasquale was a man who had broken a clear cut law – his crime would exist whether or not the hunting season was open because the man shot at a kestrel (near a school) which is a bird that cannot ever be hunted. How then do the FKNK feature in this? Are the hallowed courts of law to fall into the trap of the political twisting of our laws?

4. This is not the end. It is the beginning. Muscat has lost most of his street cred with hunters. Busuttil cannot illude himself of some kind of tryst with the deluded lover. He must move fast and do it now. The time is ripe for the PN to reflect on its policy towards hunting. It has all that is needed on a plate – a directive with clear conditions and one that is intended to safeguard the environment and protect the fauna that flies over and in the islands. All the PN needs is to commit to applying the letter of the law. That would mean never again abusing of the weakness of the derogation, it could mean championing the cause of conservation and severely limiting hunting rights to what is allowed by law and by scientific testing. Heck, why not go all out and promote a policy of turning the island’s reputation over its head and transforming it into a bastion of nature observation and conservation?

Yes, the referendum did bring about some “good” when it came to voters not following the leaders. Interest may thin out now that the season is over. For the leaders among us this is no time to be complacent. In less than eleven months time the hunters will be back knocking on the door for a new spring season. No prizes for guessing that the best prepared for that eventuality will come out the victors for the future.

Addendum:

Just as I finished typing I checked the news and there it was: Muscat not ruling out the spring hunting season opening in 2016. As though it were up to him to decide.

Gone Cuckoo, in flagrante

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In his first interventions following the referendum result, Prime Minister Muscat embarked on a wonderful exercise in tautology. “Illegal acts will not go unpunished”, he thundered. or something to that effect. The audience was supposed to stand back in admiration (never be condescending to local politicians) and applaud this strong willed PM who was prepared to punish illegalities. Really? Why? Would they have gone unpunished had he not uttered those words?

Then there was the ultimate threat of cutting short the hunting season that had miraculously been declared open without so much as a by-your-leave (so long as the hunter-leaning ORNIS committee says so… backed by Labour of course…then hunt,  hunt, hunt). However Muscat did say that he would stop the hunting season should it turn out that there are “flagrant illegalities”. Flagrant eh. We smelt a rat in this blog. The key was obviously in the control Muscat had over what would be termed flagrant and what would not.

Muscat had slipped however. He had tried once again to set the goalposts but in his shocked post-referendum rush (it may be true that he did not expect such a small margin) he failed to choose his words carefully so when first a cuckoo then a lapwing were shot the trend on twitter was rightly #zommkelmtekjoseph and #closetheseason. No amount of pharisee stances on immigrant deaths would change that.

Why had he slipped? Well. He had chosen the word “flagrant” – and, no matter how many stooges he can send to provide a warped definition of the term in the hope that by the time Lilliput settles on the matter the hunting season will have come and gone, the terms meaning is blatantly evident to all. Flagrant does mean blatant, obvious, in your face. There is no implication of gravity or duration over time other than that the violation is so obvious and immediately so.

The latin term “in flagrante delicto” (caught red handed committing a crime) is where we all have got this expression. When you refer to an illegality and you tag the word flagrant you cannot be meaning anything else. Unless, of course, Muscat is prone to amnesia or short-sightedness – the dreaded curse of illegal hunters.

There is no way around this mess other than to admit that flagrant is what flagrant does. And close the damn season.

Addendum: Notes on a hunting season (The Hunter’s Runs)

  • Law: We still fail to understand the derogation and how it works. Nobody is asking what justification was given for this hunting season to open. What proof was given that the derogation criteria were fulfilled?
  • Work and Play: A postman and a bus driver. Gone are the gentlemen in tweed and their hounds. Classes aside, how far does hunting affect the employment industry? I happened to be in Gozo on the day of the referendum result. A young boy, not more than 12, approached a teacher of his who was dining at table with me. “Don’t expect me in school on Tuesday and Wednesday. I’ll be in the dura with dad.” That’s two schooldays and two workdays out of the economy. How many more of these stories?
  • High ground: It is stomach churning enough to see the bodies of the dead washed ashore following the migrant tragedy. It is even more disgusting to see the sudden moral stances being taken by many who had barely bothered with the issue before but who took to the ether to scold those speaking about the shot cuckoo and lapwing. It seems we must become a one-issue nation – for the convenience of a few.
  • Education: It strikes me that I learn what a lapwing looks like only after one is shot. If only all this energy were geared into bird spotting, bird watching and a greater national pride in caring and conserving for the birds that pass through this land. If only the hunter and his son who get up early to enjoy nature did so with a good camera, a thermos and a diary for spotting. Would it be so damn difficult not to have to pull the flipping trigger?

 We must plant the sea and herd its animals using the sea as farmers instead of hunters. That is what civilization is all about – farming replacing hunting. – Jacques-Yves Cousteau

 

Automatic for the people

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The island of saints and fireworks experienced yet another tumultuous bump on its road to democratic fulfillment yesterday. By late morning you were either looking deep into your soul and trying to decipher the reason why it would still be possible for some of your co-islanders to sport (ha!) a gun and kill birds during the mating season or you were out carcading in full camouflage dress having savaged some trees to decorate your car for the occasion.

In many quarters the crux of the discussion was who to blame. Do you blame the hapless Saviour Balzan and the running of the no campaign that managed to (cliche’ warning) snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? Do you blame the political party leaders who had pronounced themselves personally to the YES vote (biex nissalvagwardjaw id-deroga li innegozjajna – ugh more on that later)? Do you blame the voters in the districts where the YES vote was overwhelming? More importantly, how do we get rid of those Gozitans? Independence or boycott? Bridge zikk.

And what about the planters of hate and discord who had called the other side all sorts of names? Surely a referendum on a factual question such as it was ended up being lost or won because you really cannot ever call someone “uncivilised”.

I could only stand back in awe and watch the events unfold. I read a few opinion columns here and there and watched the infamous breakdown analysis on a few of the tv stations. The main impression is that facts, the real facts, have been thrown out of the window. Faced with the rule of law, legislation to interpret and scientific evidence we panic, we freeze like rabbits facing the headlamps of an oncoming car, and then we take solace in theatrics and cliches.

I was reminded of the hunter who accosted Simon Busuttil on the campaign trail in Rabat last election. There he was arguing that having paid I don’t remember what sum of money for a license (later to be rescinded by the Hunters’ Friend Joseph) he had the right to enjoy his “hobby” bis-shih. Busuttil replied quoting an ECJ court case where “ahna iggelidna ghalikom” (we fought for you) and won the right to keep holding a spring hunting season. That to me is the source of all the evil. Of all the misinformation.

In the beginning I thought I was being too technical. Too long-winded. To lawyerish. I must admit I got carried away by the charade and started to think that maybe just maybe I am not too well versed in the politics of electioneering and gathering votes. Maybe, just maybe, it was right for the NO campaign to ignore the issue of when and how the derogation came about, how it is supposed to be applied and how the referendum would never really end the possibility of the derogation being applied in Malta – even if the No camp won.

I was told to shut up and be careful (not that I did, but I did tone down my insistence) because that kind of information might render voters complacent and that they might abstain from what would be an ultimately rhetorical No result. It’s a mistake though. It always will be. To attempt to lead people on the basis of  lie – or half truth if you will. The modern antipathy towards legal and competent interpretations of the law is also to blame. Yes it is technical. Yes it is how things work. Finding ways of explaining it to the people is the business of electoral machines – not hiding it from them.

Yes, I was guilty of claiming that the referendum result would be meaningless on a technical level. Article 9 of the Derogation that is the basis of the legal Notice that we were trying to abrogate would still exist. I was however also responsible for saying that interpreting the result this way meant that the No vote should be much much louder than a simple majority because it would be binding on both parties as representatives of the will of the people. Which in layman’s talk means that even though the door would still be open to the derogation written into the Birds’ Directive they would not have dared open it for quite a while.

I was also guilty of constantly trying to remind anyone who cared that this derogation had nothing to do with anything negotiated by Malta prior to accession. Article 9 of the Birds’ Directive exists independently of what Malta negotiated. It is a list of very strict conditions under which hunting would be allowed. In my amateur non-scientific assessment (that could be proved wrong but I doubt it) it would be very very hard for Malta to ever justify the opening of a spring hunting season under this derogation.

Which brings me to the leaders’ vote. Not that we should be caring about how they voted (the little triumph of the 49 point something per cent is that of not having followed their call).

Busuttil is the biggest disappointment. Not so much because he declared his vote in favour of the Yes camp. That was understandable because he neutralised Muscat’s hope of a double-victory and turning the vote into Muscat vs Busuttil. What disappointed me most was the justification as to why he would vote Yes. Busuttil is in fact guilty of repeating the lie that this was a vote in favour of a derogation “acquired” by a previous PN government. That, to me, amounts to misinformation.

Muscat’s position is easy to assess  – until the end he remains the hunters’ friend. If you needed any confirmation you just had to look at his statements after the vote. He has done all he can to allow them to hunt – now the ball is in their court and he cannot be blamed for doing his duty and stopping them once and for all should they break the law again. He did add the term “flagrant” to violation as though there is a scale of permissibility implied.

Now to the main issue: the use of the derogation. The Times carried a constantly updated article on the day of the Yes victory. One of the statements carried was to the effect that now that the referendum had passed in favour of the Yes camp the spring hunting season would start. Automatic. For the people by the people.

The Times (and most of the fourth estate) had swallowed the lie. The main reason why we voted on Saturday was never understood. Maybe because it is too mind-numbingly technical. Maybe because we prefer arguing about what other hobbies are threatened. The point is that the referendum result is about Malta’s button that activates the request to use the derogation – not about the derogation itself. The Legal Notice empowers the Minister to evaluate whether the conditions exist for the spring hunting season to open. That should be far from automatic.

There are flaws in the system sure. The Commission – guardian of the treaties and their application – relies on information brought to it by the government of the day when it comes to overseeing the application of the derogation. When the government is in cahoots with the hunting lobby and knows that the general population cannot be bothered with a minor scandal of the killing of a few extra hundred birds (no matter how many storks and swans appear on the front page of the Times) then bob’s your uncle. Even the police are thwarted.

Malta never “won” the hunting case before the ECJ. It was a slap on the wrist telling Malta to be more careful next time. If the NO lobby does not want to die an ignoble death the next thing on the cards should not be a campaign for Birdlife memberships (to do what?) but an educational campaign on the ins and outs of the Birds Directive.

Maybe next time we can talk facts and law. And stop blaming the Gozitans.

Thought for Food

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The British election campaign kicked off in earnest this week. The Tory chief has been caught red-handed eating a hot dog with the use of a fork and knife – and nowadays that kind of information hits the headlines just as readily as a decision on nuclear disarmament. Cameron’s error lies in the fact that he was at a voters BBQ trying to look as unposh as is conservatively possible – the people’s man with rolled up sleeves (we can still spot the cuff links) and guzzling beer. It all went Pete Tong when Cameron failed to brave the hands on approach and opted for the cutlery (a historical frog import to boot – no kniffs and focks before the Normans).

Faux pas indeed! In these days of plastic politics when the Ken and Barbie approach is preferred over moral and values, knowing how to chew on your designated lunch is part and parcel of the PR. Ed Milliband learnt a thing or two about this when he was caught on camera struggling with his bacon sandwich and his reputation has suffered ever since.

Gastronomical issues have also formed part of the Hunting Referendum debate. Of course I am mildly suspicious of a hunter who tries to justify his right to shoot to kill by claiming that he intends to consume his prey. I love quails mind you, especially when cooked right, but I don’t see why your average gun toting primate cannot head for the nearest supermarket and buy his own rather than importune a breeding population (and others) during the mating season.

Prime Minister Muscat tries to give the impression that he would gladly share tripe with most hunters (that’s a bastardisation of a Maltese expression (“tiekol il-kirxa ma’) which implies a close level of friendship and familiarity. He’s played his cards quite well when it comes to this hunting business, playing as usual on misinformation, half-truths and downright lies. Originally Muscat comes from hunter territory so you could not blame him for some affinity with the shooters. The thing is though that we have gotten used to Muscat’s very macchiavellian calculations – he is prepared to enact shoddy badly prepared laws, sell off public land, give tax discounts (without any idea of where the money will come) and lie with developers and real estate magnates complete with building violation amnesties. All that and more to stay in power.

In short the most gastronomic our PM and his party can get is when they have their mouths in the trough and are busy guzzling away at the public’s expense.

Think of that while you’re having today’s lunch.

 

And don’t forget… vote No.

The Bird Brainer

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This Saturday vote No. Simple. Just vote No. You don’t need to be told why in truth, unless you are one of the horde of energumens who believe that “hunting is a right”. Legally we should not be here. The ‘derogation’ we are reluctantly discussing should never actually be triggered. Someone in the IVA campaign finally decided to explain this reality (a factual legal one) – the derogation’s conditions would rarely be triggered (if ever at all) in a decent country. This is no special derogation negotiated over blood, sweat and tears in some pre-accession death-wish with the aim of keeping up an “age old tradition”. All that is bollocks – bollocks that has been regurgitated by the PLPN quarters because… well… because it is a sweet lie that fits their alibi. What alibi? It’s the one where they keep trying to seem appeasing to the hunters.

Not that Muscat is hiding his hand. On the 1st of April he was photoshopped into hunting pose as some form of April Fool’s joke. He’s convinced that he can fool some of the people all of the time though. It’s obvious that he would do anything to get the Yes vote to win – and he’s more than hoping that Busuttil gets associated with a No debacle. Sadly for both the leaders of the parties that keep us firmly attached in the mire of mediocrity this vote concerns them not one bit. They should only be waiting for the result to implement it. We said this when the referendum was announced and we will repeat this now.

Why should the No vote win? Because the people of Malta should stand up and show that they disagree with the decisions of successive groups of representatives who have twisted and turned the interpretation of what should be a strict derogation in order to appease the hunters. Has Malta ever correctly applied the derogation? I strongly doubt it. Will it ever? Seriously? The only way we can ensure that our house of representatives apply the laws of the land (and that includes EU laws) properly is by going over their heads and giving them a strong “No’ when it comes to Spring Hunting.

As I said before, repealing the legal notice by referendum does not remove the derogation nor the possibility for a future parliament to re-enact legislation that allows for its use. Which is why the No vote must be clear, loud and unconditional. It is the sovereign people taking their power back into their hands and ordering those entrusted with its management to obey their will.

It’s a small step. The next day after the referendum we will still be in the thralls of a government-opposition game that treats the population like a mass of mentally deficient robots. We keep getting the government we deserve. A No vote next Saturday might be a step towards getting a better one in the future.

Hope Springs Eternal.

The Infamous Vote

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It’s great that people like Joseph Calleja, the Archbishop and other ‘VIPs’ such as Vanni Bonello have lent their support to the “NO” vote. I do find it a little disturbing though that there have been calls from some quarters for more “famous” people to “come out” and proclaim that they too will be voting to ban spring hunting on the 11th April. This referendum offers very little openings in terms of debate and conviction. The battle lines were drawn at an early stage and quite frankly I don’t believe that there are many people who need to be convinced either way. Convinced in favour or against hunting that is.

The crucial part is probably actually getting people to the ballot and voting. Getting them to care. In a sense that is the only value we could give to this obsession with what “VIPs” will do. It might trigger the lazy and uninterested into going out there and casting their say. Both the YES and NO camps have tried their luck with the fear factor. The NO campaign has warned of the dire consequences of a YES victory – with the images of cowboys taking over the land having been convinced that nothing will stop them now. The YES campaign has found a very convincing element in its fear-inducing threat to other “hobbies”. By spreading the lie that next on the line will be such hobbies as firework production they seem to have managed to draw what would have been a wholly uninterested sector of the population to the polls.

It’s no mean point that the expat community is once again being “treated” to the AirMalta subvention. Exercising your right to cast your opinion on Referendum Day costs your average expat 70€ (the flight), a couple of days leave, and if like me you live a 2 hours drive from the nearest airport you also can factor in the costs of diesel/petrol plus an exorbitant airport parking fee. All this because our bastions of democracy and democratic accountability still have not wrapped their heads around the idea of a ballot in embassies as all First World Democracies tend to do nowadays. Still, every penny will be well spent in my case if the NO vote carries the day.

If they do carry the day we must still bear in mind that this is a political message to the parties more than anything else. Parliamentary rules and the EU acquis are here to stay – no matter what the result – and that means that the possibility of using the derogation in the future will still exist. Which is why the NO vote should be stronger than ever. It must be a clear message to pussy-footing politicians such as those who make up the present government and who have already set the wheels in motion for the next spring hunting season (in case the YES wins).

You don’t have to be famous to vote on April 11th but by going out and voting you could be making history for Malta.

Vote wisely. Vote No.

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