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Apr 19, 2013

Revisiting the court ruling on oil contracts

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

OCEANA Belize spends as much time in the courtroom as it does on the ocean and two legal battles took place in court just this week.  The most recent included a roadblock to Oceana’s referendum case that Vice President for Belize, Audrey Matura Shepherd vows to continue possibly in the Appeals Court. But earlier in the week OCEANA won a decisive victory in the courtroom of Justice Legall. Six petroleum contracts were affected by the forty-three page ruling. Matura-Shepherd has just concluded an analysis of the documents and says that all she ever wanted was for Government to obey the law by adhering to the processes; particularly Environmental Impact Assessments.

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, VP, OCEANA Belize

“The first declaration that the judge gave was a declaration that the contracts are unlawful and null and void. People need to focus on that it was unlawful. Because to say that it was unlawful means it has gone contrary to the law. And so with that the judge says I am declaring it unlawful, null and void for two reasons: one, I believe that there should be an EIA according to the environmental protection act and regulations which were never done. And these EIAs should have been done before these contracts were entered into. Not only that, they were entered into with companies who violated the petroleum act, section eleven subsection one, which states what these companies must prove to show that they qualify. I really like that part because it exonerates our first legal argument that we made against these oil companies when we first got copies of these contracts in April 2010. When that happened, we didn’t jump and go to the court. We went to government and said, hey, we know you all didn’t sign these contracts. Maybe you are aware of the violations, but here they are. And we were hoping that the government would then take the opportunity to review and make it right. What’s ironic about it is now, after the fact, after they renewed these contracts and kept them alive for over six years; they want to turn around and issue a press release and said hey, it was the P.U.P. who signed it. We never said it wasn’t under the P.U.P. Administration that they were signed—some by honorable Johnny Briceño and some by honorable Florencio Marin. But they left office a long time ago. So if they now believe six years later what was done wrong then, how is it that for six years they never undid it?”

 

Jose Sanchez

“Isn’t it yearly that the contracts are to be reviewed?”

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“They are renewed every two years. So let’s use Princess as the example. Princess was entered into twelfth October 2007 and it was renewed on the fifteenth of September 2009. In that renewal, the minister did not seek to correct all the offense, which they obviously recognized; but rather he amended it to give them further benefit. That is when they removed the twenty-five percent relinquishment requirement that Princess should have done every two years. They removed it from twenty-five percent to zero percent. So what they said to Princess was you just keep your whole block in entirety for the whole time of your contract period, which again is also contrary to the law. Of course we didn’t know about that at the time of the filing of the case. Although that contract was signed in September of 2009, we only got a copy of that contract during the disclosure of this case.”

 

Matura-Shepherd says that in addition to the contracts being declared unlawful, null and void, there is another reason why the ruling is a victory. The court gave its interpretation of the Environmental Protection Act, and according to Matura-Shepherd, that means that G.O.B. can’t enter into contracts until an EIA is completed.  And under that law, the government can’t enter into contracts without consulting the communities.  But the government has changed legislation to affect lawsuits in the past, though Matura-Shepherd says that Oceana would not back down if that happened.

 

Jose Sanchez

“The government can change the legislation.”

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Oceana VP for Belize

“To do that then would be contrary to what they are saying because remember now they are blaming the previous administration for all that is wrong under these contracts. To do that will then mean that you don’t really mean to blame then, but only to perpetrate that wrong that you claim happened, but to make that wrong worse because then you are trying to circumvent the rights of the people to know about it. We would be vigilant if they try and do that. And I always say if they do that, I would hope that the people would take to the streets and enter into a mass process. We would want that to be our last resort. We have tried to deal with this in a civilized and enlightened form, but if it ever comes to that; that would be a blatant disregard for the rights of the people.”

 

Jose Sanchez

“What is the purpose of the government appealing this case if they are saying that they are trying to do right by the law?”

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“I can only guess because I don’t really know what is going through their mind. I am a bit baffled because their press released that they issued in one breath said that these are all wrongdoings of the previous administration, but not only that; they go on and say that these three contracts—Petro Belize, Sol and Miles—we, three days before the ruling came out, cancelled them because they violated the law and violated the terms of the act. I’m like, we’ve been telling you all that long before we went to court. That if you really wanted to get out of these contracts that were wrongly done by the previous administration, you had a way out. You opted not to use that way out. Six days laters because we were before the court, maybe you had a premonition and then you decided to let us quickly remove three.”

 

Jose Sanchez

“But aren’t there other contracts that they did not mention?”

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“Yes, there is Princess and there is Providence, but the ruling covers them. So it is interesting that you bring up those because Princess and Providence are the only two that they are saying in terms of offshore would have remained valid, but ironically those are the same two that are going to be drilling in protected areas. Contrary to the draft zonation plan that they have been promoting where the Port Honduras Marine Reserve would have been completely off limits, but even their own proposed intended zonation plan they have violated by having said that they would have allowed Providence to remain there. And then Princess was still above Bacalar Chico and Hol Chan Marine Reserve. So again you said that in your zonation plan would have been an off the limits zone. But yet, you still had these companies there.  And you weren’t finding a way to cancel these contracts. So that is very serious. But you ask the question why would they appeal it. I think what Belizeans need to understand with this ruling is that while one of the declaration clearly goes against six offshore oil companies, the second declaration which says that all agreements—whether marine or terrestrial—before entered into, must be entered into after an EIA has been done and approved. Then that means that it has implication not only for offshore; it has implication for onshore.  But we are saying that is not bad. It is time for them to start off with a clear slate and start doing things the right way.”

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2 Responses for “Revisiting the court ruling on oil contracts”

  1. mad@gob says:

    It is now a given that the only way we can get GOB to obey the laws of belize is to take them to the courts and have our taxes pay for it. If you are too poor to go to the courts then we will have to put up with the injustices which the politicians have sworn to uphold. Nobody has so great an interest as to take them to court for breaking the law on the question of rosewood.

  2. Bear says:

    About courts and the rosewood: THE MAYANS SHOULD BRING A LAWSUIT TO SEIZE ALL THE REVENUE FROM THE SALE OF THE ROSEWOOD.

    It was stolen from their communal lands, and neither GOB nor Vega nor anyone else has a right to profit from it.

    I believe they would have a reasonable chance of prevailing, depending on the judge who gets the case. Certainly there is neither law nor equity on the side of the thieves!

    ONLY BY TAKING AWAY THE PROFIT MOTIVE IN THIS WAY, SO NEITHER GOB NOR THE THIEVES PROFIT FROM THEIR CRIME, WILL THE ROSEWOOD BE PROTECTED. If the courts deny the thieves the chance to make money, no matter how ugly the process, then the thieves will leave rosewood alone and look to steal something else with fewer problems.

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