PUP Leader discusses oil contracts on Rise & Shine

Justice Oswell Legall last week issued two major rulings against the Government, quashing six offshore oil agreements granted between 2004 and 2007 and ruling that GOB should guarantee security of tenure for judges. Today the Prime Minister announced that GOB will appeal. On the matter of the oil contracts he notes one point on which he said Justice Legall, who is retiring soon, got it all wrong.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow:
vlcsnap-2013-04-29-22h29m31s193Our concern and where we think the judge went egregiously wrong, and I say this with the greatest possible respect, was when he conflated the application for a PSA with a contract. He said that there is a need for an EIA, under the law, as he read it and understood it, before you award a PSA. The Environmental Protection Act says that you must have an EIA once you are intending to proceed with a project. Now the PSA is not the project and the law does say that as soon as somebody is granted a PSA, the Minister can require an EIA. For him to says that no the EIA must come even before you grant the PSA, makes absolutely no sense at all in my mind.

The Prime Minister added that the ruling injuncted Government rather than the concession holders and that the court while ruling the PSA’s null and void did not give certiorari to enforce the formal quashing. On the second case, the Prime Minister said he thought the Court tried to dictate regarding security of tenure.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow:
Again, I think, no practical effect, the two instruments of appointments that were being quarreled over, the judges has already (inaudible). Where the sting comes in is by way of what I consider to be dicta of the judge, talking generally, saying of course that our changing the Constitution to say where there are open-ended instruments, after the change, they last for a year, that that is unconstitutional. He can only do that because he subscribes to this basic structure doctrine, which I believe is rubbish, which is currently before the Court of Appeal for a ruling and which in my view, out of respect, the judge not ought to ought not to pronounce (inaudible) since the ruling, the case is finished. The ruling is imminent, for sure, is we don’t get it before, we will get it in June, when the Court of Appeal comes back. But he could only have done that because he subscribes to this basic structure doctrine. And then when he says – and generally, the Court of Appeal judges well to be consistent with security of tenure – the Constitution doesn’t say how long they must Be given, he will reason by analogy and say it should be up until 75? Well, this Government is not going to pay any attention to that, because as far as we are concerned, that is dicta and that is not to be found within the four corners of the Constitution.

The Prime Minister noted that Justice Legall, who has gone on holiday since the rulings and turns 68 in June, has written the Governor General indicating that he will not seek an extension of his current contract, effectively ending his tenure on the court. Leader of the opposition Francis Fonseca was on Rise and Shine this morning and he also commented on the ruling of the court.

Francis Fonseca – PUP Leader:
vlcsnap-2013-04-29-22h29m50s128We noted as a party, just in the last week, that there were two important decisions by the Court.  One that Belizeans refer to as the OCEANA case, having to do with petroleum contracts that were issued under the Peoples United Party Government, but licenses which have been renewed by this UPD Government, and which have been defended in court, and continue.  They have indicated that they intend to appeal these decisions.  And we thought that it was a fundamentally important court ruling.  The Court ruled, as you have reported, that in fact the licenses were not issued in compliance with the laws of Belize, that the Environmental Impact Assessments that should take place had not been done properly, and secondly that some of the companies that were issued licenses did not in face demonstrate the capacity to carry out the work required of a licensee.

The PUP leader also said that he believes that Government should respect the court’s decision.

Francis Fonseca – PUP Leader:
I wanted us as a party to do, and what we have done, is to make it very clear to the Belizean people that we will respect the decision of the court.  I believe that, regardless of what took place, and when it took place, that we need to look forward and say this is what a future PUP Government under my leadership will do:  We will ensure that any licenses that are issued, that those licenses are issued with the requirement that the EIA be held at the beginning of the process.
Any company that is given a license must have have the capacity, and that must be demonstrated, to carry out the work that is called for under the license.  We have also said, very clearly, we believe the Government, and I have said this many times, the Government should stop trying to frustrate the referendum that OCEANA is holding.  So, as a first step, we believe we need to hear from the Belizean people on this matter.  So we should have a referendum on the matter, so that the Belizean people can vote on this very important issue of offshore drilling

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