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May 28, 2013

OCEANA Petroleum case adjourned

Attorneys for OCEANA and the Government of Belize squared off in the Supreme Court today on separate applications relating to the issue of oil contracts. G.O.B. is applying for an injunction against them to be lifted, while OCEANA is applying for an expert witness on their behalf to be admitted. The injunction in question is one handed down by Supreme Court Justice Oswell Legall on April sixteenth when contracts between the government and six oil companies were declared null and void. The Government is appealing the decision, but in the meantime, at least one of the companies bound by the Supreme Court decision has commenced exploration for oil. But is that company doing anything wrong? We found out today that it really depends on who you ask. Mike Rudon was at the Supreme Court today and has the story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

This morning attorneys for Oceana and the Government of Belize filed out of the Supreme Court after a short session in front of Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin. The very vocal Vice President of OCEANA Belize, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, was on hand, as was government’s attorney of choice, Denys Barrow.

 

Denys Barrow

Denys Barrow, Attorney for G.O.B.

“Unfortunately the OCEANA people filed some documents very late in the day. The Chief Justice indicated that he didn’t have any time to read them. He saw them for the first time this morning before court and therefore he was forced to adjourn the application for a stay of enforcement of the judgment.”

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, V.P., OCEANA Belize

“When we won the case where the judge said that all contracts were unlawful, null and void, he also gave an injunction, and that injunction said that the government, its servants and agents should not go about drilling. That also means that the government should do everything if any oil company tries to drill. Based on the evidence that the government has presented, Princess wrote the Prime Minister, not the Minister of Energy, and so did Providence. They asked the government to please come to court now to ask that the injunction be removed, so that’s the application they wanted heard this morning.”

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

OCEANA’s application is for the testimony of an expert witness to be admitted. Matura says that has become necessary to refute evidence presented by government.She remains confident that the injunction will stand and that it is very clear that the oil companies named cannot drill. But Barrow has another interpretation of the injunction completely, and said today that the oil companies are free to drill, whenever they want and however they want.

 

Denys Barrow

“Government’s involvement is that the injunction granted by Justice Legall has the effect of preventing the government from regulating and monitoring and guiding what the petroleum explorers are doing. So the judgment enjoins the government, imposes and injunction upon the government, but it does nothing to the petroleum explorers, so they can do what they want because no judgment binds them.”

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“We know by law that the injunction stands. That injunction cannot be violated. It is still the law unless it is either removed by this process or on appeal it is removed. So definitely that is what stands right now. I think there is a misconception that people have that oil companies can just go ahead and drill, but they cannot. And I will explain why they cannot. The constitution says that all oil is owned by the Government of Belize. The Petroleum Act and the subsidiary laws also said that it is only the government that can go into oil drilling, exploration and development. However they can contract. So at the end of the day the gatekeeper is the government. So when the gatekeeper is stopped from in any way assisting the oil companies, then that is how the injunction works.”

 

Denys Barrow

“It binds the government but not them. That is the point.”

 

Reporter

“But they’re not in a contract with themselves. They’re in a contract with the government.”

 

Denys Barrow

“And the contract as between them and the government, so far as they are concerned is valid and subsisting.”

 

Reporter

“The court has ruled the P.S.A.s to be null and void. And so how can they then conduct legitimate business?”

 

Denys Barrow

“The Court has refused to quash the P.S.A.s. You remember that part of the judgment? The court refused to quash it. Therefore it means the court gave a declaration, and there is very clear law from the Court of Appeal in Belize which says that a declaration does not enforce itself…a declaration, Justice Carey says, may lawfully be ignored.”

 

Audrey Matura

“If it was true what the Prime Minister said that the injunction had no effect then why come to court and apply for it to be removed? The mere fact that they had to apply for it to be removed tells you that the injunction has great weight, has great effect. What is happening right now is that the Geology Department cannot move a finger to do anything to assist them. No government officer can do anything to assist any oil company at this point. If we ever find evidence of such a thing, we are moving the court for contempt of a court order.”

 

Denys Barrow

“They can go ahead because nothing stops them from doing anything. Justice Legall, I repeat, refused to quash the P.S.A.s.”

 

Reporter

“So why is it then that you come before the court with this application?”

 

Denys Barrow

“Because if the government continues to be bound by the injunction the government can’t tell them what to do, so they would be left to run their exploration without any supervision by the government. That is the whole point of our application…that Justice Legall made a serious mistake. You can’t stop one party from a contract, from taking actions and regulating how the contract is to be performed, but allow the other party or leave the other party free to do what they are entitled to do lawfully under the contract.”

 

According to Barrow, Oceana made a mistake by suing the government and not the oil companies, so he says those companies are home free, but Oceana definitely won’t take that sitting down, and plans to go to war if the injunction is lifted. Both parties got in parting shots, one at Supreme Court Justice Oswell Legall.

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“It then means that the injunction is lifted. Of course we will not sit by idly. We will appeal that. We’re not going away right now. This is a very important matter of national importance. So we are glad we are using the process to settle differences.”

 

Denys Barrow

“It is really a very, very unfortunate situation that Justice Legall has gotten the government into, and the nation of Belize.”

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“I think any Belizean of right thinking mind will know that the message this is sending out is that we have a system where we are trying to promote lawlessness amongst people. It is a very sad day in any country, especially our beautiful little Belize, where people don’t feel they have to obey the laws. That is very sad. So I don’t think that any Belizean should take that lightly.”

 

They return to court on Tuesday for a decision by the Chief Justice. Mike Rudon for News Five.

 

If the argument that a declaration of the Court does not necessarily assume an enforcement of that court order sounds familiar, it’s probably because that was government’s argument when the takeover of Belize Telemedia Limited was declared unconstitutional but G.O.B. refused to step aside.

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4 Responses for “OCEANA Petroleum case adjourned”

  1. Belizean says:

    PLEASE GET OUT OF OUR FACES MATURA!!! Youre really pushing it now

  2. Storm says:

    Per the PM and Treat Energy, apparently it isn’t necessary to have a valid contract to drill for oil anywhere in the Jewel, so I think I’ll start doing some exploration myself, maybe beginning at Noh Mul.

    I’m for careful development, with respect for the environment and the future of the Jewel. I’d like to see foreign investment that results in good-paying, permanent jobs for natural born Belizeans. I’m not sure why it’s necessary for the companies to break the laws and for GOB to ignore them, unless it is simply a rush to cash in on money under the table while the present cabal is still in office. The oil has been under the gorund for millions of years, why not take the time to obey the law and drill for it safely?

    There’s a separate issue about whether the people of Belize got a fair financial deal in these contracts, or only the crooked politicians.

  3. orangewalkenio says:

    so if the government cant regulate as Mr. Denys Barrow is saying…..are the pertoleum companies out to do whatever they want…..Is this what OUR government is telling us? Mada mein…..sucks big time…

  4. NY says:

    Am I the only one who find this sickening that another BARROW has been paid tax payers’ dollars to represent the GOB. There must be another qualified lawyer in the jewel who could have done the job. This shows that the PM has no shame; therefore don’t c are that the public knows that he and his cronies are padding their pockets with public dollars. Remember LOISE BARROW…..

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