As some of you might know, last Monday I had a meeting planned with Hon. Clint Camilleri – The Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Welfare. It has taken me a while to report back on what went on during the meeting, because the experience was surreal and I needed to process it before putting pen to paper.

Background:
The meeting came after many online attempts to gain information about the status of the many 2013 and 2017 electoral promises with regards to Animal Welfare.

On several occasions I had requested information from both Hon. Clint Camilleri and Hon. Jose Herrera via Facebook and via email, but information was not forthcoming.

I was finally told by Hon. Herrera, that in order to get some answers I would need to follow what he called ‘the norm’ and meet the Parliamentary Secretary in person.

Whilst willing to do whatever it takes to gain information, as a writer, blogger, or whatever it is that you want to call me, I always try to keep a safe distance from politicians and people who are likely to try to neutralize me with niceties.

I therefore accepted the meeting, begrudgingly.

The meeting:
The meeting was set for Monday 23rd October. Only a week had passed from Daphne Caruana Galizia’s brutal murder and I expected it to be postponed, but it wasn’t.

I turned up for the meeting together with Carina Camilleri and after waiting for 35 minutes, we were finally called in.

No apology for the tardiness was forthcoming and whilst we only expected to meet three people, namely – Hon. Clint Camilleri , Mr. Joseph Caruana, the Permanent Secretary, and Mr. Noel Montebello, the Animal Welfare Director, we found five men sitting on one side of a huge table.

I don’t know if this was simply a rude oversight on their end,  or if it was a planned attempt to ambush or scare ‘the ladies’ into submission. If it was meant to achieve the latter it failed miserably, not only because neither Carina nor myself are easily fazed by men, but also because logic was on our side.

Here are some highlights that emerged from the surreal, sometimes  patronising, and on occasion agressive encounter that lasted an hour:

The Permanent Secretary, Mr. Caruana kicked off the meeting defensively and I would say rather aggressively by asking us if we thought that it was a good thing that Animal Welfare rescue animals from the streets.

Since this is such a basic service that one would expect from an Animal Welfare Department I thought I had misunderstood the question; sadly, I had not.

In transpires, at least to me, that Mr. Caruana is of the opinion that the Government deserves a super pat on the back simply because Animal Welfare rescue stray animals; even if animals have to be hurt or in grave danger of being hurt before they’re collected by Animal Welfare and, even if it’s been reported time and time again that the standards at Għammieri  leave much to be desired.

The Permanent Secretary was also under the impression that Malta is the only country in the world where the Government allocates some of our tax money (albeit a pittance when compared to other things) to animal welfare.

Apparently he had missed the fact that Sweden allocates 15 SEK million a year towards animal welfare.

According to the Parliamentary Secretary Hon. Clint Camilleri, five years after the animal cemetery promise was made in the Labour Party’s electoral manifesto of 2013, they still haven’t designed a call for tenders which they believe will attract decent applicants.

We then moved on to suggest that certain offences, for example not having dogs chipped, or keeping animals without shelter or water, should carry an administrative fine. This means that perpetrators would not have to be taken to court, but would be fined on the spot, with the option to appeal. This would work in the same way as when we’re fined for parking badly for example. Though Hon. Clint Camilleri promised to take this suggestion under consideration, he was of the opinion that most people are more scared of being taken to court than of paying a fine. Our counter argument was, that this depends on how high the fine is.

Mr. Noel Montebello (Animal Welfare Director) explained that Animal Welfare do their very best with the budget that they’re allocated. He compared his situation to that of Civil Protection – both departments get a similar amount of call outs a year, but their budget is way different. Whilst he admitted that it’s a struggle to cope with the money allocated, he was overly appreciative and thankful for the pittance that his department is allocated by an administration  that can’t stop talking about ‘Malta’s infamous surplus.’

When we asked for some information about a monthly donation by a millionaire, – a story that was reported in the papers months ago – no one around the table knew about what we were on about. They told us to speak to Emanuel Buhagiar (Commissioner for Animal Welfare) about it, as they claimed to have nothing to do with it.

Mr. Caruana (The Permanent Secretary) went on to claim that the aforementioned donation might not even be significant to bother with. We argued that in the current situation, even a €50 donation would be significant, especially to animal NGOs that are struggling to survive on a daily basis. Mr. Caruana begged to differ, aggressively and hostilely.

Since then I have spoken to Mr. Buhagiar and have been informed that to date the aforementioned donation amounts to €5,000 with the potential to increase. I’ve also been informed that this has been earmarked for a much needed project to replace Għammieri, which even according to The Commissioner for Animal Welfare is no place for domestic animals.

Conclusions :
Following this meeting, that was probably meant to ‘calm me down’ or ‘put me in my place’ I’m more disappointed than before or than I ever expected to be. The state of affairs and the attitudes of those handling Animal Welfare in this country is sad to say the least.

#IWillNotGoAway until the situation improves.

Any suggestions, comments and ideas are welcome.

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7 Comments

  • Rachael says:

    First thing Alison is a huge well done for your efforts in meeting with the men you mentioned in your write up. No mention of the pet cremation there, thats very disturbing, they only closed it as no money could be allocated to such a much needed service and its discusting that the island santuray is even asked when it’s voluntary and relies on durations. The people in charge clearly have no clue or even care about the animals within their care and they think people would be more bothered about a fine than an on the spot fine, they need to wake up or ship out!

    • Alison Bezzina says:

      Thank you for being the first person to leave a comment on this blog Rachael:) Let’s not give up – things have changed over the years, albeit very slowly, but they have. We need to find a way to press the fast forward button and bring animal welfare issues in Malta into the 21st century.

  • Doris Borg says:

    Doris Borg
    I thankyou for all you are doing in the name of the voiceless.If we keep pushing and insisting on such things by time we will get there.Chaining dogs and dogs which are not yet chipped should be fined.And what about the cremation of our dogs?

    • I like your positive attitude Doris. Together we can do this. Animal Welfare (excluding hunting issues) is probably the only issue that is unlikely to find opposition in parliament. So the delays that continue the suffering are even more unjustified.

  • I am not surprised. I had “warned” you.
    I have had occasion to dialogue, albeit briefly, with the politicians appointed to look after animal welfare since 2004. Their attitude is no different.
    They only come forward with “gimmicks” to promote their presence, particularly pre-elections.
    It is a pity that they do not accept suggestions from us animal welfare NGOs.
    I have no doubt that he Animal Welfare officials would like to do their best.
    Picking up animals from the streets only if they are injured never made sense to me. On the other hand they seem adamant to stop keeping rescued animals at their Ghammieri pound. It would probably be a relief to the animals. Animal sanctuaries would willingly cooperate if reasonable financial assistance would be forthcoming from the government.
    We are charities and already perform miracles to care for those animals which we can accommodate suitably. No sanctuary could survive were it not for the generosity of the general public. We get no income for the mission that we had committed ourselves to carry out.
    I had once suggested that local councils should be made responsible for stray dogs and cats in their own region. They would also be entrusted with enforcement.
    Wardens and police officers are “de facto” animal welfare officers, I hope that they are finally aware of that! There was a time they looked at me in disbelief when I reminded them of this role. But they still seem to pass the buck to Animal Welfare.
    Enforcement can only be realistically done by applying administrative fines, as you so rightly suggested too. I have proposed this ever since mandatory registration was introduced.
    An interim period of issuing a warning prior to slapping out a fine might be the best way kick start firm enforcement.
    Over a year on, the introduction of the pre-election promised of providing free veterinary treatment for sanctuary animals is still being “studied”.
    The other promise of giving a grant to whoever adopts a sanctuary dog must be somewhere in the pipeline too. I cannot understand what good can come out of that. Responsible people who adopt our dogs, We only give away dogs to responsible people. They usually give us a donation in recognition of our having cared for the dog and also in appreciation of our work.
    I hope your work in this field will be rewarded, for the sake of the suffering animals.

  • Maria Williams says:

    I cannot say I am at all surprised by the way the meeting went, but well done for trying. Politicians (from all parties) will only sit up and take notice if enough people keep in mind all that is happening (or in many cases not happening) in the Animal Welfare field and vote accordingly, based on real results not empty pre-election promises. Otherwise, animal welfare issues will remain forever on the back burner and never receive priority. Regarding the donation by the millionaire, if this is being used to replace Ghammieri, does this mean that the Government is further abdicating its responsibilities? If Ghammieri needs upgrading, surely the money should come from state funding, with the donation being allocated to the already existing sanctuaries being ably run by volunteers with financial support from the general public. I am sure the millionaire did not intend to donate money to Government, especially at a time when we are told there’s a surplus.

    Yes, it’s definitely time to move from words to action with regards to chained dogs, microchips, pet cemetery, horse races during the hottest part of the day, adequate shelter for all working horses and so on. Many animals’ life span is much shorter than ours and it is simply not fair to procrastinate and delay when it comes to enacting legislation which could improve their lives, such as freeing them from a chain.

  • Marionne Zammit says:

    I think that the first thing to be done at Animal Welfare is a dog park for the inmates to exercise. There is ample space for such a park
    At least the dogs will have some free time out of their cells everyday
    I also noticed that the cells are bare. No toys and no proper bedding. The dogs need to get frequent basic grooming.

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