Author: Audrey Matura-Shepherd
Date: January 12, 2012
On December 8, 2011 Oceana in Belize on behalf of the Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage delivered to the Office of the Governor General of Belize boxes wrapped as Christmas gifts containing petitions forms requesting a referendum to be held on whether or not Belize should allow offshore oil exploration and drilling in its marine areas.
This is an issue of national importance, and of utmost delicacy, given the fact that Belize’s marine areas and resources are our number one tourist attraction and foreign-exchange earner. However, it is also our source of food, jobs, cultural identity and national pride. Our waters represent our patrimony and heritage and that is why the Belize Barrier Reef System is classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, but it is now being placed on a danger list by UNESCO with threats of declassification.
According to the Referendum (Amendment) Act of Belize, 2008, once the petitioners present the petition forms to the Governor General, he must forthwith turn these over to the Chief Elections Officer for verification. This therefore means that each signature will be scrutinized to ensure it was provided by valid registered voters. This process should be done within two months, but not beyond.
Presently, this is the process that is ongoing and which should be concluded by 9th of February 2012, the latest. Sources within the Election and Boundaries Office indicate that additional scrutinizers have been hired but that very tenuous grounds, signatures are being disqualified to ensure that the 10% threshold is not met. Oceana delivered 18,500 signatures and under the law the Coalition needed to have 17,620 valid signatures to meet the legal obligation of 10%. If this is achieved then we move on to the next step.
The next step after verification is that the Chief Elections Officers will provide a verification certificate certifying the amount of valid signatures to the Governor General. If it is verified that we met the threshold then the Governor General will issue a Referendum Writ within 31 days of receiving this certificate and he will set the date for the Referendum.
We have asked that the Referendum be held to coincide with the Municipal Election slated for March 7, 2012. We also anticipate that early National Elections will be held and anticipate that it will coincide with the Municipal elections. If this indeed happens, it would mean that we would have a national election to affix the referendum to- thus this one small step can be viewed already as a major success, since it automatically increases our chances of getting the required 60% registered voters’ turnout to participate in the referendum.
Of course to win such referendum we must obtain the majority votes. By February 9th, 2012, however, we will know if there is even a referendum that will make it on the ballot. The possibility of being sabotaged is high because oil is high stakes, big money and power. In addition, the government of Belize has already made it publicly known that it does not support our referendum and will sanction oil drilling anywhere offshore. With this position already stated, it’s almost inconceivable that this government would risk allowing for a referendum on the issue to make it on the ballot when any election is being held. Again we have no guarantees that even if the process is allowed to run its course that the referendum will be allowed to coincide with any of these elections.
As we await the outcome of this people process to take its course; and wait with baited breath for a positive outcome – one cannot help but to acknowledge that truly when it comes to our natural God-given inheritance – no one has a monopoly on the decision and thus, us the PEOPLE, should decide collectively through a referendum triggered by us the People of Belize!
The question we are asking to be put the electorate is as follows:
Do You agree to oil exploration and drilling offshore and in its protected areas? Vote on our Facebook page!