by Simone Mizzi
I cringe with shame for my island and yet rejoice that the result of the anti spring hunting referendum is a lesson for our politicians. I cringe that with a slim majority of some two thousand voters, under 0.5% of the electorate, we have voted to allow hunters to go forth and kill this spring as the hunting season is declared open. I cringe that half the island, concentrated mainly in a few tight areas and in Gozo has voted compassion towards this group of people so they can continue with their murderous hobby for many springs to come.
While there is hope in the numbers, there is still national shame to overcome. I cringe that the two main political leaders, the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader encouraged their followers to vote ‘yes’ to spring hunting. Their example, no matter how it was dressed, did not do them or our country any honour. Desperate to placate political promises and hiding behind the majority, they have no qualms about making Malta the only European nation where hunting is allowed to take place in spring, a pathetic state of affairs that leaves Malta in the dark ages. So again the countryside is to be overrun by an army of gun wielding bird stalkers who will continue to decimate endangered species till there are none left to kill. I am comforted by the fact that hunting will by gunned down by its own pellets one day and not so distantly either. However that our leaders stoop so low to garner political favour is a painful state of affairs for our island.
Yet, despite the dishonorable example of the party leaders, despite having no television station nor any far reaching media to assist the anti Spring Hunting Campaign, and with only a handful of volunteers to help, the No movement has obtained a remarkable turn out of what can be termed 50% of the electorate, successfully moving the hearts and minds of this other half that wants to bring about change. The island has shown it has a better half and one that deserves to be listened to. This is an amazing result and those of us who want to see Malta evolve for the better must take strength from the fact that political leaders can be held to responsible action by the sheer numbers of the No voters. They have stated categorically that they want better management of our environment, that they wish spring hunting to stop and they want the countryside to be free for the enjoyment of all. Half the island has spoken up to its leaders.
The Prime Minister has brought himself some redemption by saying this result has shown that there is a great part of the electorate who wish to see government put the environment higher on the national agenda, but his ‘last chance’ warning to hunters did not impress many. He does not need the result of this referendum to communicate his intentions after two years of administration, although it is never too late to start. There are many things to be done: restricting development boundaries for further incursions by construction into the dwindling countryside must surely be priority. Even the hunters would want that.
Excellence of development to save Malta’s attractiveness for our own quality of life and as a visitor destination is of equal importance. Stringent rules for the preservation of our unique built heritage both in urban and rural spaces are essential, while the better management of our marine resources and coastal areas is of supreme urgency. These are too important to be left in the hands of an unscrupulous group of persons of influence who look on the environment as a quick means of earning money. Nor are they to be left in the hands of those who are fast relaxing policies at Mepa or approving new ones without an overriding national structure plan in place. The referendum is over, its momentary focus on one single aspect of environmental care a most worthy distraction from the next pressing issues at stake.
Where is this country going if it is to remain a pleasurable place to live in? We only need to look around us to see the havoc wreaked by construction over fifty years that has resulted in shambolic and substandard development. Malta is an island of unfinished eyesores.
The Prime Minister’s invitation for dialogue with the environmental movement and with those who simply love Malta has not been forgotten. The referendum will allow birds to be shot out of the sky, but the plea to save what is left of Malta’s beauty remains.
Simone Mizzi is Executive President of Din l-Art Helwa