Oceana win against oil drilling

Oceana Wins Strike
Out Case Against GOB

A breakthrough decision in a claim brought before the Supreme
Court, whereby Oceana is challenging the validity of six oil concessions granted
by the Government of Belize in 2007, was handed down in the chamber of Justice
Oswell Legall this morning.  The ruling went in favor of Oceana and it is the
organization’s second legal victory against the government in its pursuit to
argue the legitimacy of contracts awarded to Tropical Energy, Island Oil Belize,
Princess Petroleum, PetroBelize Company, Sol Oil Belize and Providence Energy
Belize Limited. On June seventh, an application to have COLA, as well as the
Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, join the case as interested parties, was
granted despite objection from government’s attorneys. The consortium of
environmental organizations charge that the companies that were given oil
concessions do not meet the requirements of the Petroleum Act, and as such their
contracts should be canceled. While they have won phase two of what is expected
to be a long legal battle, Oceana’s Vice President, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, told
the media today that the victory precedes their substantial challenge.

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Vice President,

“I think this morning’s ruling is a historic ruling and
it is important for our democracy and justice. I think what was most important
about the ruling is that once and for all we’ve answered the question of whether
or not the decision of Gilharry, the principle stated in that case, that the
Public Authorities Act and by extension the Limitations Act which is saying that
you can put a limit on claims being brought against the government in terms of
time. This case now says conclusively that that decision in Gilharry applies to
not only judicial review [proceedings] but to all administrative law. And just
so that people know, administrative law is any case where you bring an action
against the state where you, a citizen or a group, and it is a way that
democracies works because they want to know that no government could act
highhanded and do whatever they want without accounting to the people. So when
we told the people during the constitutional consultations that the judiciary
was critical to keeping a balance in democracy this is what we mean. This is it
in action.”

Isani Cayetano
“What does the ruling
mean at this point for Oceana?”

“Well for Oceana, the Coalition [to Save Our
Natural Heritage] and COLA it means that now we will be able to discuss the
merits of our case in the judicial system and have a ruling. Not because we’ve
won this stage it means that we will win the other stage. There are so many
legal arguments, so many things that will come out. But of course we are going
to court because we are optimistic. We’re being advised by some of the best
legal experts locally and abroad that there is a viable case here. And of
course, we will leave it to the court system and like I’ve always said, whenever
there is a decision that we don’t think is fitting the system allows you to
appeal and so we are very optimistic moving forward. So it is a victory, a
second round two because as you would recall they had even opposed the joiner of
COLA and the Coalition and we won that round.”

The Government has given
immediate notice that on Monday it intends to file an application asking the
court to strike-out the affidavit evidence of Bob Danenburg, a petroleum expert
who is slated to give evidence on behalf of the claimants. That will be dealt
with on September twelfth but Oceana is also expected to appear in the Supreme
Court on September twenty-fifth to seek judicial review of thousands of
signatures that were disqualified during an aborted referendum exercise on
offshore drilling earlier this year.