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Feb 28, 2017

The People’s Referendum, Five Years After

It has been five years since thousands of Belizeans voted in an unofficial referendum called “The People’s Referendum” coordinated and spearheaded by The Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage and Oceana Belize. The initiative was to send a clear message to Government about how the people felt about offshore oil drilling; the result was overwhelming – more than ninety five percent of the voters said they were against offshore oil.  But five years later, there still hasn’t been an official national referendum or a ban on offshore oil drilling. Today, the Coalition commemorated the milestone with a press briefing and made some announcements calling on Government to take action. News Five’s Andrea Polanco was there today and shares how that went.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

February twenty-ninth marks the fifth anniversary of the People’s Referendum. Thirty thousand registered Belizeans voted and ninety- six percent of the voters voted against offshore oil exploration. But it has been five years on – and what has the Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage learnt from this? Well, to date there still hasn’t been a ban on offshore oil exploration – but it has been telling to those leading the charge.

 

Janelle Chanona

Janelle Chanona, Vice President, OCEANA

“I think, in the end, it has just clarified, if I could say the biggest takeaway that we are still talking about this issue twenty years after the fact -somebody in Belmopan is saying yes to offshore oil. That is what we have learnt. We have gained more supporters. More people are aware. More people want to know where they can sign. Where do I vote. Where can I stand up and be counted. But that this issue has not gone away is that somebody in Belmopan wants offshore oil to happen.”

 

Amanda Burgos

Amanda Burgos, Exec Director, Belize Audubon Society

“We have a set of letters that have been produced as recent as last week that have been sent to C.E.O. Hyde for a call to take action; a call to officially ban. We have had moments of great excitement when we felt that a ban was near, however, that has not really come to fruition. And so we keep calling and being the voice of this national cry that there really needs to be some form of legislation for action to be taken.”

 

Janelle Chanona

“This call to national leaders is not new. While the projects have different names and in different locations, the painful truth is that the issues that have plagues us for twenty years are the same issues that plague us today and an apparentdeliberate lack of transparency, indifference for the regulations, policies and regulations that are put in place to safeguard our resources and seemingly an ever changing development agenda.”

 

And while the discussion and actions are not where the Coalition would want them to be, today they are commemorating the fifth anniversary by calling on the Government to take action – principal among those actions is the national legislation on offshore oil; but the Coalition itself is engaging partners in a newly formed committee.

 

Nadia Bood

Nadia Bood, Country Rep, WWF

“One of the things that the Coalition is asking for is for a national legislation on offshore oil. My understanding; our understanding is that the Government is currently workingon a legislation to ban offshore oil within our world heritage site and one kilometer of the barrier reef. If we think about the potential risk that could still pose towards our marine environment and the goods and services that we are still getting, that is very minimal.  Another thing that we are asking for is for the national petroleum act – a simple measure that the government can do is for the idea of the oil exploration be removed from that act.  A third ask is as it pertains to the EIA exploration. The Government has been saying is that oil exploration activities do not pose a significant ; and so they do not currently have it in schedule one of the EIA regulation; it is in schedule two which means it is not required an EIA. So, we are asking Government to put all oil exploration activities in schedule one. And finally, in all discussions surrounding Oil, we are asking the Government of Belize to include the public in such discussions.”

 

Janelle Chanona

“So, today, we, the Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage, is announcing that we will be creating a joint committee that will include stakeholders, NGOs, the Government of Belize, to review past environmental agendas in order to update those plans and determine the most pressing issues.”

 

The Coalition has done significant work since the People’s Referendum back in 2012. They have conducted research, documented, and produced information critical to the issue at hand. While a legislation is yet to materialize.Late last year, The Coalition welcomed the Minister of Tourism’s support against the multibeam and seismic survey – which were ultimately cancelled. Today they shared what they say is another public declaration of the need to protect Belize’s assets.

 

Karen Bevans

Karen Bevans, Tourism Director, B.T.B.

“I think we are all aware as stakeholders in this industry that B.T.B.’s mandate is to promote Belize as a destination, to develop and expand the tourism industry. I want to assure stakeholders that in no way BTB would support any action that impacts our tourism assets.”

 

Janelle Chanona

“This is also why we have to call out the B.T.B., whose director on Friday, also took the position that given their mandate to develop and expand tourism in this country there is no way that they can support anything that impacts tourism assets. Given what offshore oil and spills have done to tourism across the world, we have to recognize the B.T.B. for taking the position that oil and wata nuh mix; that eco-tourism and offshore oil don’t mix and that sail boats are better than offshore oil rigs.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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