Controversial Referendum Amendment Bill 2023 Signed into Law, Quashing Oceana’s People’s Referendum
The Referendum Amendment Bill 2023 has been signed into law by the Governor General after having gone through its three required readings in the House of Representatives, and the ratification of the Senate. The Bill essentially quashes Oceana’s People’s Referendum, which was seeking a guaranteed consultation with the Belizean people if the government should ever decide to lift the moratorium on offshore oil drilling. The changes to the Referendum Act expand the circumstances in which a referendum must be held to include any proposed amendment or repeal, whether express or implied, of the Petroleum Operations (Maritime Zone Moratorium) Act or to any proposed legislation affecting the carrying on of petroleum operations converting the Bill into Law, within the limits of the maritime zone of Belize. In August, OCEANA delivered 22,000 signatures to the Governor General, and according to the organization’s Communication Director, Alysa Noble, it was that endeavor that sparked the amendment to the act.
Alyssa Noble, Communications Director, Oceana Belize: “This is a testament to people power. You know it’s a collective effort and it’s really a continuation of people’s position on this, Belizeans’ position on this offshore oil for years. If you can recall you know the first effort towards doing a referendum was in 2011/2012 we had the people’s referendum and so it’s just I think a furtherance to their position in terms of wanting their voice heard on this issue and it’s something that the government has recognized and has accepted and has championed and saying that’s what they’re gonna enshrine and upkeep. So we commend them for that but it really is as a result of over 22,000 voters signing those petitions and saying this is what they want to ee happen in regards to this industry. Well really a decision of this magnitude is huge right? Any sort of major industrial development in Belize’s marine space will have an impact on the bread and butter for lots of other industries like fishing and like tourism and we know how many Belizeans depend on that so it’s a fair way for them to be able to have a voice on this issue and to be heard and it’s something that Belizeans for many years have been asking for.”
Belize Vice President for Oceana, Janelle Chanona, also thanked the Briceno administration, stating “exerting leadership on this national issue and recognizing the importance of the people’s participation in decision-making around a precious resource – our Caribbean Sea.”