Oceana seeks day in court against Referendum strike out decision

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February 13, 2013
Belize City, Belize
Contact:
Audrey Matura-Shepherd ( amatura-shepherd@oceana.org )




Oceana seeks day in court against Referendum strike out decision


Oceana et’al has applied for permission to appeal against the decision of Justice Michelle Arana, which resulted in the dismissal of the case against the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) and the Governor General (GG) on the basis of a technicality. Claim #255 of 2012 sought judicial review of the decision of the CEO to disqualify 8,047 petition signatures collected as part of the referendum petition drive by Oceana and the Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, which asked the GG to issue an order for a referendum to determine whether or not Belizeans support government’s decision to allow offshore oil exploration and drilling in our marine territory.

Audrey Bradley and Tom Greenwood joined Oceana in Belize in bringing the case against the GG and the CEO seeking judicial review of the decision which denied Belizean electors a direct say on the question of offshore oil exploration in Belize by way of a referendum. Justice Michelle Arana initially granted the permission sought to take the matter to judicial review. However, the respondents through their new counsels, Denys Barrow and Naima Barrow, applied to have the matter struck out on the basis that the substantial claim was not field within time.

February 2, makes one year since this CEO’s decision to disqualify the signatures was made and as a result to date Belizean have not been allowed an official vote on this issue of great national importance.

"Seeking a referendum on any issue of this magnitude was critical as the government to date does not have a mandate to proceed with offshore drilling from the Belizean population, who are the true owners and beneficiaries of the country’s marine resource," explained Oceana VP Audrey Matura-Shepherd. "It is still not too late for the government to hold true to their promise and allow the people a voice on this issue, especially now that after denying the people a say via an offshore oil referendum, they are seeking to ask the Belizean population to go out and vote to take the Belize-Guatemala dispute to the ICJ. This is after the Attorney General called our People’s Referendum an exercise in futility."


It was on March 2, 2012 after the results of The People Referendum showed that 96% of those who voted in this people -driven event said "NO" to offshore drilling, that Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow in an interview said, "I personally would be prepared to support the government sponsoring the referendum to be held at an appropriate time." Matura-Shepherd says 2013 is the ideal time to deal with all referenda and so as a cost-saving strategy the oil issue must also be placed on the upcoming referendum.

The application to appeal the matter is scheduled to be heard on April 18

th, 2013. If the permission sought is granted the applicants will be allowed to approach the Court of Appeal to review the decision of Madam Justice Arana to strike out the claim.