Justice of the Supreme Court Oswell Legall has reserved judgment for a future date in claim no. 810 of 2011 featuring OCEANA in Belize, Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), and the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage claiming against Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Hon. Gaspar Vega in regard to six oil concessions given out in 2007 to various companies which the claimants say is irregular. OCEANA Vice-President and Attorney Audrey Matura Shepherd spoke to PLUS News this morning about the merits of their case:
Audrey Matura Shepherd – OCEANA Vice-President
We looked at what we are claiming are violations of the different legislations that is the Petroleum Act, the Fisheries Act, the National Park Systems Act, and the Environment Protection Act, and we put forward our case. The other side was represented by Mr Denys Barrow, Senior Council. He then put forward the rebuttal of the Government. Basically, he’s disputing whether there’s actually a lease, and he’s disputing whether the requirements under there different legislations needed to be complied with, which is very interesting. It is very technical. So now we’re at the point where the Court wants to hear what’s the rebuttal from the claimants. So when we come back this afternoon, we’ll be answering to these allegations, or these positions, put forward by the defendant in this case, which is the Government.
In court, attorney for the claimants Godfrey Smith sought to establish that the Minister acted outside of his authority when he signed and thus entered into agreements with Island Oil, Miles Tropical Energy, PetroBelize Company, Princess Petroleum, Providence Energy and SOL Oil Belize for production sharing agreements (or PSA’s) in six vast tracts of land measuring between 200,000 and 2 million acres. Replying for the Minister, Senior Counsel Denys Barrow characterized the filing as a case of being “too late”, that is, to reverse the decisions in 2007 which can only be done by judicial review, and ‘too early’ because they want to prevent any oil exploration in protected areas and marine reserves when no evidence of such work is available at this time. The PSA’s were all reportedly approved by the then-Cabinet according to Director of Geology and Petroleum, Andre Cho, but none of the blocks have actually turned up any petroleum. It is a landmark case and judgment should be finished before mid-year, possibly April.