No more secret petroleum deals, says Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage
Both the current and the previous administrations have been in the habit of issuing petroleum concessions without public consultation or notification, and Oceana is calling on the Government of Belize to discontinue the practice of penning these secret petroleum deals.
As we reported in the headlines of the Sunday, January 30, 2011, edition of Amandala, a new concession was granted by Government in 2010 to Paradise Energy Limited, owned by Kimano Barrow and Alfredo Acosta, giving the contractors the biggest petroleum concession block onshore, over the Maya Mountain area, spanning several protected areas and a major archaeological reserve.
Oceana is calling on the Government of Belize to immediately amend Section 13 of the Petroleum Act, Chapter 225 of the Laws of Belize, which provides for open competitive bidding
for petroleum contracts, because, in its view, it has been abused by government administrations, so much so that all except one of roughly 20 contracts have been given out behind closed doors, only with sanctioning by Cabinet.
The problem with Section 13, though, is that it also provides for ministerial discretion to grant contracts selectively.
Proviso 3, says Oceana, “removes this layer to transparency and accountability and allows the Minister ‘with the approval of the Cabinet, [to] select contractors other than through competitive bidding procedures in the following cases: (a) where the technical or economic circumstances make it advisable; or (b) where he determines that the circumstances so require.’”
Oceana contends that the issuance of contracts to such companies as Paradise Energy Limited with no petroleum experience violates section 11 of the same law, which lists experience as one of its prerequisites.
Oceana vice president Audrey Matura-Shepherd said, “We must continue to demand accountability and transparency, but sadly, every government has sought to ignore subsections 1 and 2 of Section 13 of the law, because it suits their purpose, which is not to be transparent and not to be accountable to the people of Belize when entering these deals.”
She continues to point out that Section 13 of the Petroleum Act says that “selection of contracts should be carried out through public competitive bidding or such other competitive procedure as may be determined by the Minister.”
There is also a requirement for the minister to publish a notice in the Gazette declaring the areas to be open for bidding, as well as detailing the procedures and rules for submission of tenders.
This practice of issuing petroleum concessions in secret cannot continue, she urges.
Meanwhile, the Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage issued a press release calling on the government to cancel all offshore leases, and to not consider granting any new ones, in light of the fact that the Government of Taiwan surrendered its 1.139 million-acre offshore concession in 2010.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow told Amandala Thursday that the relinquishment was not a consequence of public pressure, but resulted because “their preliminary analysis showed that it was not worth it.”
He also said there are contracts that have to be honored and he is not prepared to impose any arbitrary ban on offshore exploration. Additionally, he maintained his stance that petroleum exploration will be permitted in protected areas.
“Government has repeatedly lamented that their hands are tied, as the contracts for these leases are legal,” the Coalition says. ”Now that one company has untangled Government’s hands, Government can now do what is right to protect the Belizean people, the environment we depend on and for our livelihoods and not re-issue any lease(s) for the relinquished area.”
It also points out that the government has five days before a deadline by UNESCO for Government to respond to UNESCO’s request that it demonstrate what corrective actions it would take to maintain the status of the Belize Barrier Reef as a World Heritage Site.
“A public declaration by the government not to re-issue [the] said lease, would surely be viewed as steps in the right direction,” the Coalition urged. ”UNESCO has clearly stated that Government should prohibit oil drilling in a World Heritage Site, as it is incompatible with the criteria for such prestigious status.”
Barrow told us Thursday that there should be no award on any new contracts pending a final position, for which he will consult with Cabinet. He said that he is prepared to take into account the results of a national referendum for which the Coalition has been calling.
“The Coalition believes that a more definitive step to addressing the grave concerns raised by UNESCO over the issuing of oil exploration leases within the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve, would be to cancel all existing offshore oil leases and prohibit offshore drilling,” the Coalition asserted. “The Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage calls on the Government of Belize to not let this opportunity slip away,” it further stated.
The Coalition also urges the Barrow administration to stop issuing contracts secretly, based on Cabinet approval and not on open public bidding.
“The Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage says NO to oil exploration and exploitation in our offshore and protected areas, and calls for immediate review of the legislation and regulations before any further steps are taken to further expand and develop the onshore oil industry of Belize,” its statement concluded.