A Christmas Gift to Belize: No Oil on Our Shores!
There was rare bipartisan agreement on the Petroleum Operations (Maritime Zone Moratorium) Bill, 2017, which establishes a moratorium on exploration, exploitation and other operations within the Belize Barrier Reef system, including those sections of the World Heritage Site. Several Senators agreed that today was a moment of celebration and recognition of those Belizeans who fought for such legislation for the past seven years. And the government's chief in the Senate and former Lands Minister Godwin Hulse assured that no agreements have been signed or are in effect for petroleum concessions.
Valerie Woods, P.U.P. Senator
"I am particularly glad to see, my understanding of the first version was that I believe some of the fines or penalties or years [in prison] were certainly not strong enough, and so I can appreciate that there has been an attempt to increase it; it will always be subjective whether you think it's long enough for imprisonment and the amount of fines will be big enough given that it is a billion-dollar industry at the end of the day. Under section six, referring to prior rights subject to prohibition, six-two, it says, "For the purposes of subsection one, the minister may enter into compensation arrangements with persons who have been adversely affected by prohibitions under this Act." Again, given the nature of what we have been dealing with and clearly it has been a controversial matter until it has been brought where it has, if the Leader of Government Business can state if we have an idea of how many or much of this exists, so we can get an appreciation if there are some liabilities the government will be taking on and what amount there is."
Carla Barnett, U.D.P. Senator
"This is one of those situations where I think we have to celebrate an Act, we have to celebrate the fact that as a community, as a country, we have come together to agree on what is the right thing to do. There has been a lot of discussion about this; there has been a lot of debate on the economics of it and the social impact and we have come to a situation where all of us have agreed that this is the right thing to do. So for me it is a Christmas gift, that's how I see it. (Interruption) No, a Christmas gift. I just want to see if I can clarify a couple of the issues though, that have been raised. In the interpretation section, let me speak to that first, the maritime zone of Belize includes all the internal waters, all the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone. But there has to be some line defining where land is and where water is, that line is the low-water mark. That's not anything unusual; that's how we define where land begins and where maritime ends. How much is between the low water and high water mark depends on whether we're on the cliff edge or on a nice, low beach. For definitional purposes there has to be some line where it ends and that's the sole purpose of that definition there. In terms of the Barrier Reef System containing coral reefs, all of that is just dressing on top of the very specific coordinates that are established here for the whole Barrier Reef system, it's been surveyed, it's been determined, it's written into the law. So the Barrier Reef system is just a subset of the Maritime Zone of Belize."
Godwin Hulse, Leader of Government Business
"With respect to section six and several Senators have mentioned it, it is my understanding that there are no outstanding petroleum licenses. At least it was issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources and in my short tenure I came across none in that area and certainly didn't sign any. And I think Senator Barnett, minister responsible for that department now as minister of state, has echoed the same."
The Bill now goes to the Governor General for his consent.