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Dec 8, 2017

The Oil Moratorium is in Effect

John Briceño

Seven years of work has resulted in an overturn of the status quo ante regarding offshore petroleum operations in Belize’s marine territory. With little debate and bipartisan support, the National Assembly passed the Petroleum Operations (Offshore Zone Moratorium) Bill, 2017 this morning.  Opposition Leader John Briceño made note of the importance of the reef to Belize. He suggested a Constitutional amendment to further buttress its importance by putting to the people the question of ending the moratorium to pursue opportunities under the waters at a later date.  Meanwhile, Prime Minister Dean Barrow made note of several changes to the Bill, particularly stiffening penalties for violations, made in committee and reiterated by Briceño.

 

John Briceño, Leader of the Opposition

“At the start of the Bill, in the introduction of the Bill, where they are talking to make further provisions for the protection of the Belize Barrier Reef, the recommendation is that we should add ‘inclusive of the World Heritage Site’, because the World Heritage Site is also a special status that has been given to Belize, and I am appealing to the Government and the members of the Government side to consider just adding it, to highlight, not only to us in Belize but even to our international partners and friends and people that come to Belize to make the point that it is so important that we are putting it into the legislation. I think they also, when we look at section three, where they are talking no withstanding the provisions of any other law, again the argument which I think is a valid one, is made to include the Petroleum Act, the Environmental [Protection] Act and any other law, because then we are specifying in particular when these are issues that have to do with petroleum and also that it has a direct impact on issues of the environment. So again I am appealing to the Minister and his colleagues to consider making that slight amendment. It doesn’t take away, I think in my mind and the minds of many other  people, it only strengthens.”

 

Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Your Committee wishes to place on record its appreciation for the assistance received from Mr. Edwards. Your Committee considered the Bill and has agreed that it be returned to the House for second reading with the following recommended amendments: ‘reef system’ inclusive of the words ‘World Heritage Site’ – what you asked for. They changed the definition of the Belize Barrier Reef System to make it more expansive. The Committee went on – in terms of your central concern about the penalties, the punishments not being steep enough; they changed that fifty thousand and one year imprisonment to two hundred thousand and five years’ imprisonment! (Applause) That’s for individuals. In terms of entities, you’re talking about punishable on conviction now, by a fine not exceeding three million dollars.”

 

Briceño did note that he had not seen the amendments until the debate since he had only just gotten his papers then. Meanwhile, OCEANA and the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage began the celebrations. In a press release, the organization notes that the legislation safeguards invaluable marine environments from the inherent dangers of offshore oil. It recognizes and respects the collective leadership and persistent involvement of tens of thousands of Belizeans.  The Bill now goes to the Senate at its meeting on December thirteenth and if passed there, would only need assent of the Governor General to become law.

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