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.
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 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.
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.