BCSNH reply to PM’s comments on Judge’s decision

After a few false starts, two of the three claimants in last month’s Supreme Court judgment quashing six production sharing agreements for various violations of local law and policy, OCEANA in Belize and the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage (BCSNH) hosted the press in Belize City to reply to Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s scathing review of Justice Oswell Legall’s judgment against the Minister of Natural Resources. OCEANA Vice President Audrey Matura Shepherd upheld the legitimacy of the judgment, insisting that Justice Legall not only hit the Government for failing to ensure that the relevant laws including environmental impact assesments (EIA)’s were done, but also the concession holders for not being properly equipped or capable of following through on the contracts they were granted. She discusses the impact of the injunction granted by the court.

Audrey Matura Shepherd – OCEANA Vice President:
vlcsnap-2013-05-08-19h34m18s111The beauty about that, it’s a way of making Governments be transparent and accountable, because it therefore means that if an EIA has to be done in an area where you live, before a contract is given, you the people get wind that something is going to come in your neighbor and then you get an opportunity to have an input. I don’t see anything wrong with transparency and accountability, where people who will be impacted by anything can have an early input and that’s the beauty about an EIA. To change that is really an injustice, a social injustice that is caused on our people. 

Matura-Shepherd pointed out that none of the companies affected by the suit agreed to join in as interested parties. The Government’s complaint that it is being left holding the bag on their behalf, she says, holds no water.

Audrey Matura Shepherd – OCEANA Vice President:
It could never be that the ruling doesn’t have impact on the oil companies. The gate keeper is the Government and the Government was issued an injunction against them. The reason there is no need to injunct the companies is two-fold – one, if the Government does not enable anything, no oil company can perform, because the Constitution makes it clear that all oil is owned by the Government for the people of Belize. The petroleum Act also makes it clear that the only person who can be involved in oil exploration development is the Government, but they can bi-contract and then contract other parties. So it is not the oil companies that outright did a violation, it was the Government, so the Government was taken to court. But the ruling also said that the people injuncted are the Government, its agents and servants. So it means that in no way can the Government move one hand to facilitate or encourage in anyway, any oil company to then implement any provisions of the contract.

As for the appeal process, Matura Shepherd says OCEANA, the Coalition and Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) will welcome what she believes will be an endorsement from the higher courts.

Audrey Matura Shepherd – OCEANA Vice President:
And the ruling, we say, has declared them, contrary to what he believed unlawful and this was the way out. To our surprise not only has the Government issues a press release quickly saying that they did not sign the contracts, but also saying they will appeal it. So they are saying they didn’t sign the contracts, they are saying they are not responsible for it, but yet they are saying that will defend it at the Court of Appeal? We would have thought that this would have marked a new era where they say, clean slate now, let us do things form the start in the proper way. But the response has been different and we know the appeal will go on and we like the idea that it will go appeal. We will defend it at the appeals level and if needs be of course we will go to the Caribbean Court of Justice. The good thing about that is when you get a ruling off a first instance court as we have, you want the stamp of approval from the highest court, because then that becomes the binding law. 

Government has said it has filed its appeal.

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