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May 8, 2012

Oceana explains why it’s taking ministry and G.G. to court

Audrey Matura Shepherd

While the union has the option of seeking out the labor commissioner, nongovernmental organizations have no such recourse for redress. That is why Oceana Belize is taking its issues to court.  Oceana Belize is not giving up its drive to have a referendum on the question of offshore drilling. On Friday May fourth Oceana filed notice of application for leave to apply for judicial review of the decision of the Chief Election Officer to disqualify eight thousand and forty-seven petitioners, which prevented the environmental group from pushing the agenda forward. The disqualification, represented close to forty percent of all signatures which were collected by the Coalition to Save or Natural Heritage during a national petition drive in 2011. Oceana’s VP Audrey Matura-Shepherd explained why seeking judicial review was the only remaining route to push the agenda forward.

 

Audrey Matura Shepherd, Oceana VP, Belize

“When we got a final letter from Governor General in February seventh of this year saying that we can’t inquire into the reason for the disqualifications but I advise you to either go to the minister responsible for the ministry or the Prime Minister. Well then we realized that from the official channels or the process that was in place under the referendum act; that obviously that was the final decision under the act. But we still felt that we had the right to know the information. Subsequent to that we wrote several letters to the Government to get that information. It has never been forthcoming—but realizing also and preempting that when all else fails behind the scenes that there is always the venue to go to the court, Oceana then sent a notice because under the Public Authorities Act Section three says that you cannot bring a suit against any public authority and I guess in this case the elections and boundaries office, headed by the Chief Elections Officer, is public authority.  So we issued notice over a month ago saying to them take notice that we would take you to Court on this matter. We were hoping it wouldn’t reach there—that this matter could have been solved behind the scenes, we could have gotten answers, they would have revisited the decision and stuff like that. But it hasn’t happened. So having sent the notice and knowing that we have three month time period within which we are to appear before the court and bring a suit and that time period expiring yesterday according to our calculations, we have filed an application to the court. But for us to get judicial review, we can’t just go to the court and say review. You have to first apply to the court for leave meaning for permission to even bring case. So the way the law is designed, it puts a lot of protection against the government when you want to review their decision.  So what we did is file that application for permission and then we will await for a court date and then the matter will proceed from there.”

 

Jose Sanchez

“Let’s push it a little bit further and assume that you do get to see which signatures were disqualified. What then would be the next move?”

 

Audrey Matura Shepherd

“Getting the names of the people who were disqualified is only to help the case because a lot of people said I would want to know I’m disqualified or not. And really if we would have known the people who got disqualified, we could have gotten affidavits from them to show that they properly placed their signatures on the petition form as registered voters at time. So they should have been a valid signature. I could only imagine maybe that’s one of the reasons we were never answered; the questions that we put to the chief elections officer through the C.E.O. at that ministry. So getting the names at this stage is still not a bad thing because as governments should always do; they should always act open and transparent. And so when we request information, it should be easily given to us; after all we were the entity that started this process on behalf of the collation and all the people who signed the petition forms. So we are entitled to get that information. I find it really interesting because when the press conference was held on February second by the chief elections officer, they proudly announced their results and you were there at that press conference and they said we will be forwarding the names of these people—we will be releasing it. Well we never got it.”

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