For several months now, 7News has been closely following Oceana’s Supreme Court challenge to 6 offshore oil drilling contracts which the Government Issued between 2005 and 2007. Today, that matter concluded in dramatic fashion when Justice Oswell Legall ruled in Oceana’s favor, vindicating the position they took in 2001 – that quite a lot of Production Sharing Agreements aren’t worth the paper they are written on.
The contracts under challenge were those issued to the companies Island Oil Belize Ltd, Tropical Energy Ltd, Petro Belize Company Ltd, Princess Petroleum Ltd, Providence Energy Belize Ltd and Sol Oil Belize Ltd.
After several months of court hearings, Justice Legall delivered the judgment against GOB along with very strict orders, which sends a clear message that the court did not agree with the procedure employed when they were granted by the then Musa Administration.
Oceana’s Vice President, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, was – in a word – ecstatic, and today, she spoke to us outside of court about how challenging it was to get to this outcome.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd – VP, Oceana Belize
"It is a historic day for Belize. It is not about Oceana, it is about this country. I'm hoping that this judgment will give Belizeans the strength they need to know that not everything that the government does, we just have to sit back and take it. We have a judicial system and I've been trying to educate people about the Judicial system for a long time and explain to them that democracy only works when we the people use the systems. The judiciary is a very important part of that system and the dependence of that judiciary is important. To me this ruling today is a victory for the country, for democracy, for the people of this nation and especially a victory for our Barrier Reef that cannot speak for itself and all those beautiful fish that we take for granted that it's there. It's an intricate part of our cultural heritage so it's a wonderful day. I'm sure you all see the excitement on our face. It's wonderful because we have had to tolerate personal attacks, threats and we've been undermined in many ways. Why we don't go public with it because we don't want a red-herring to distract the people from the issue. To me it was worth every sacrifice we made. This decision also vindicates the position of the people, when we had the People's Referendum, when we had 96% of the population said they did not want Offshore Oil. Well here we have it! It's a written decision of a first instance court. The government can take it if they want and appeal it but we're being exonerated today. Belizeans - celebrate, celebrate! Because you are people of the reef.
The court has said that these contracts and null and void. So what happens next is that everyone of those Oil Companies cannot do anything. None of them can continue any seismic testing, they cannot continue anything under that contract. We were given an injunction. An injunction means that it stopped. We will be one of those organizations that will guard and if we have to come to this court room everyday to bring that ruling against those people then we will make sure that this law is obeyed. Let me tell you what happens in this country. Many times the courts gives their ruling and people in government and in authority think that they can undermine the court system and the people will just sit back. I am calling on Belizeans that if they make an attempt to do that, this country will go on mass protest. Because if we are in a democracy; the legislation made a law and you saw that the ruling was based on the environmental act. It is saying that there was an intent that the environment should be protected and if you are to do anything or any development it doesn't mean you can develop, there are processes in place and these processes must be followed."