There was no activity in court, but plenty of it outside as the next stage of the OCEANA vs. GOB case on offshore drilling began today at the Supreme Court. The Government is seeking a stay of the injunction granted to OCEANA and its NGO partners COLA and the Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage in April’s landmark judgment issued by Justice Oswell Legall, but OCEANA intervened asking for time to prepare its expert to counter the Government’s arguments. OCEANA Vice President Audrey Matura Shepherd summarizes what transpired and discusses the importance of expert testimony.
Audrey Matura Shepherd – OCEANA Vice President:
This and the evidence that the Government has presented, Princess wrote the Prime Minister and not the Minister of Energy. So Providence wrote the Prime Minister, not the Minister of Energy again, and asked the Government to please come to court now, to ask that the injunction be removed. So that’s the application they wanted to hear this morning. The Chief Justice said he was not able to hear it for two reasons. He had not seen the bundle before, with all the cases and authorities. So it would not be fair for him to hear the matter. Also, because of what the Government has put in as evidence, we had to go find an expert to dispute it, because they make a lot of claims. But for us to get an expert, we must then apply to the court to have an expert admitted. That’s the rules of our court. So that was another application that we were not able to do until this morning. So again, in fairness, the Judge needs to look at all the evidence, then consider that.
For us to get an expert testimony we had to go abroad at first, because in Belize there are no Belizean who are experts. But abroad there are these experts who testify all over the world. They study our industries everywhere. the person we got is a lady by the name of Susan Harvey. So everything that was presented by the Government we had to send to that person. it took some time for her to review, and then say to us “Yes. I can be an expert and present.? Because these people are very professional. What makes them professional is that their name means everything to them and their reputation. She’s known to have testified all over the world, especially in the US where she monitors the oli industry, and gives professional opinion on whatever oil companies present, or whatever Governments present.
Matura-Shepherd indicated that her group will fight the Government all the way to prevent further activity in the area , which presently has two offshore contracts for Princess/Treaty Petroleum and Providence Energy. But attorney for the Government, Senior Counsel Denys Barrow, contends that Justice Legall’s ruling leaves the Government in an “unfortunate situation,” because it has lost its power to actively regulate the companies who are not covered by the injunction. He explains.
Denys Barrow – Senior Counsel:
The court has refused to quash the PSAs. You remember that part of the judgement. The court refused to quash it. Therefore it means the court gave a declaration, but there is very clear law from the Court of Appeal of Belize which says that a declaration does not enforce itself. A declaration may lawfully be ignored.
[The companies] can go ahead because nothing stops them from doing anything. Justice Legal, I repeat, refused to quash the PSAs.
If the Government continues to be bound by the injunction, the Government can’t tell them what to do. So they would be left to run their exploration without any supervision by the Government.
Additionally, says Barrow, the court cannot now go back and injunct the companies because the case proper is finished and is now in the appeal stage. Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin will hear the case next Tuesday.