The Referendum on Oil Drilling in the Offshore and Protected Areas is an Opportunity for True Democracy

A Referendum on oil drilling in the offshore and protected areas - how the question is framed on the Referendum ballot will not change the fact that registered Belizean voters will be asked to decide whether we should drill or not drill in either of these areas. On its face value, this appears to be a simple question; however, for any country deciding to pursue the development of the oil industry as a productive sector, the implications are complex and require thorough analysis before decisions are made. This is in fact the question that is now facing Belize, specifically as it relates to oil exploration, development and production in the offshore and protected areas. Without a doubt, it is a question for the people of Belize to decide.

The Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage, an organization of over 40 environmental, civil society, grass roots and business organizations and individuals, have joined the voices of many other Belizeans calling on Government to ban oil exploration, development and production offshore and in protected areas. The Coalition’s position is that the economic, environmental and social/cultural costs that Belizeans will have to bear outweighs the potential benefits from oil production in Belize’s offshore and protected areas, particularly in light of current revenue received from Government from oil production and the existing weak legislative framework, which does not provide the necessary environmental safeguards, specifically a comprehensive National Oil Spill Contingency Plan.

However, it is the people of Belize who should decide through the Referendum process. The Referendum Act is a tool to support the democratic process allowing for any Belizean to trigger the Referendum process on issues of local and national importance. It is one of the few legislation, which allows for true participation and direct involvement of Belizeans in the decision making process. To trigger the Referendum process, the Referendum Act dictates that a prescribed number of registered voters must petition for the Referendum. In the case of a national issue, 17,000 registered voters must petition (sign petition forms) for the petition to be eligible for submission to the Governor General to start the process. Once the number of signatures are collected and submitted to the Governor General and the Government of Belize, the Governor General will review the petition and then order a referendum where the Belizean people will be able to vote on the issue.

As of March 31, 2011, 60% of the targeted 17,000 signatures from registered voters (Fig. 1) have been collected. Signatures are being collected countrywide by organizations and individuals countrywide. Volunteers are going door to door and are at special events with petition forms for people to sign. The public can sign up at locations which have been established countrywide.

For the first time in Belizean history, the people have power in their hands to decide how our resources are used and to ensure the long-term benefit for all Belizeans. This is an opportunity for all Belizeans to be involved. Let your voice be heard: sign the petition, help to collect signatures and vote on Referendum day.

Let your voices be heard. Sign the petition!

Sign the petition at the Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development (ACCSD) Office, located on 63 Barrier Reef Drive, San Pedro Town, on the second floor above the Blu Gift Shop. Office hours are Mondays to Fridays from 8:00 a.m. to 12 noon and from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Office Number 226-2799. Thanks in advance for your support.

Ambergris Today