Today, OCEANA Belize, the Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage, and COLA all got their opportunity to present to Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin why the injunction against the Government of Belize should not be lifted.
Viewers may remember that at the last adjournment, GOB’s attorney, Denys Barrow, presented his case as to why the injunction granted by Justice Oswell Legall should be lifted in relation to the 6 PSA’s which were declared null and void for offshore oil drilling.
Today, there was another marathon of legal arguments, and we’ll get to that later but first, Oceana released a copy of the oil exploration maps that the Department of Petroleum and Geology currently recognizes as valid.
They are outraged to find out that weeks after the contracts for Providence Energy and Princess Petroleum were declared null, their oil blocks remain intact.
So, we spoke to them about it, and we got a response from the Government. Here’s how that conversation went.
Dr. Colin Young - CEO, Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology
" Based on our advice from our attorney the judgment from Justice Legal specifically did no squash the PSAs. He declared that the contracts were null and void, however, we are of the opinion, based on the advice from our attorney, that the judge refuse specifically to squash the PSAs. Based on that advice, then the companies are not injuncted and the companies still in fact can proceed with exploration so based on that advice they have not been removed from the contract map"
"It is amazing that not only the Prime Minister and his government but the servants of the government, the people whom we pay with our tax dollars are willing to propagate this nonsense that you can disobey a court order. Let me tell you the court ruling of Justice Legal was clear, he said that those contracts were unlawful, null and void, it means that in law they don't exist. For the petroleum and geology department to then send out a map dated May 13th after the ruling which was the 16th of April and then tell you that they view it as still being valid is a blatant disregard for the laws of this country. I don't know how else to tell you, it's as simple as one, two and three, and it is a reflection that we are coming to the courts but we are ridiculing the court because they are not even waiting for a ruling of the court to say we will lift the injunction. They are saying 'we are above the law, we are above the rulings, we are above the court, and we will proceed' and here you all have it in black and white and in color the proof that they would be disrespectful"
"OCEANA says that you're not complying with the courts. You gus believe that you're fully complying."
Dr. Colin Young
"Well that is, I guess, a difference of opinion"
"When you have a court, a court won't go through an academic exercise, will not give a ruling in futility. If the court had believed that the declaration has no grounding, then the judge would not had given it, it would not be as a remedy in our legal system. A declaration by any court is a valid decision of a court, it's a valid instrument that can be implemented by a court"
"I noticed that four of the six from the case which was ruled upon from Justice Legal have been removed from the map, can you explain to us why those four and not those two specifically?"
Dr. Colin Young
"Well those four were removed prior to the judgment, if you recall correctly, and they were removed because of failure to comply with the stipulations of the PSA and one of them had expired naturally, right, I think it was Island Oil that was, the expiration date had come to a close a year before."
And now to today’s hearing, arguments from both sides went for approximately 5 hours today, but finally, the injunction hearing has gone to completion, and Chief Justice Benjamin has reserved judgment to be delivered at a later date.
7News was outside the court room, and we got an opportunity to speak all attorneys involved:
Godfrey Smith - Attorney for OCEANA Belize And COLA
"The principles of Law applicable to a stay of execution which is what the government applied for is that the starting point is that a successfull litigant, OCEANA and the others are entitled to the fruits of their judgement unless very good reasons exists while having made those orders and before any appeal is heard, why the injunction should be stayed. Our submissions highlighted the fact that in our view the government, the applicant, the Minister of Petroleum fell woefully short of putting before the court the quality of evidence necessary to demonstrate to the court that the applicant would suffer some irepperable harm if the stay of execution is not granted."
Antoinette Moore - Attorney for the Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage
"On behalf of the coalition to save the natural heritage, we wanted the court to know that although offshore, protected areas are of concern to the coalition - onshore protected areas are also of great concern. The paying creek National Park is almost fully outlined now by Princess' concession for oil drilling and there are obvious ecological and environmental concerns about Oil explorations or drilling in and around a National Park which is a protected area. So the coalition wanted the court to be aware of their particular concern in that regard and that's what we're expressing."
Denys Barrow - Attorney for GOB
"It is something of a matter of good administration, the government should see about getting for this reason - it is undesirable when the government is in a position where persons looking on and perhaps not having a full keen appreciation of all the facts. They see the government doing something and thinks that what the government is doing is disrespecting a court order or violating some order made by the court or has been said disregarding and violating the rule of law. So we want to have the position very much clarified as you would have heard me say in the submissions, the injunction stops the minister from carrying the provisions of the PSA's which is the contract but as I said the act and the regulations under the act require the Minister independently of the PSA from monitoring, regulating, controlling, supervising, determining what the contractors do. Therefore it would be neater, it would make for good public appearance, it would make for an upholding of the rule of law for the government to get this thing as early as possible if it can be awarded."
"Are you able to tell us why is it that the companies in which the government entered these 6 PSA's in were not joined to litigation originally when it was filed before the court?"
"What happened when you decide who will be a party to the court you have to look at who is the violator and it's the government who ultimately has the power. These companies are just benefitting from government's lack of complying with the law but they are not the ones at fault. There was a second opportunity to bring them on board - they got notices and opted not to come on board, you have to understand if you're joining a party you have to look at cost and what they have to say. We didn't feel at that point that they were the ones that we were complaining about - we were complaining about how the government went about giving these contracts. However, when Justice Legall issued an order to us that we must notify the companies then they were all given notices and they all opted not to be in it. In some instances we never found the companies, they were just shell companies we didn't find a register office. In at least three instances the attorneys represented them told us they would not be representing their client, that their client do not wish to enjoined. That's a good question you ask because interestingly we find that now Princess and Providence are the ones who wrote a letter to the Prime Minster and put fire under him and said 'go now and on behalf of us spend your money, pay a private attorney and get this injunction removed.' They could have done that themselves."
Chief Justice Benjamin will deliver his judgment on this case next week Thursday. Both sides have indicated that, they will consider their option to take it to the higher court if the decision is not in their favor.