Oceana Belize Delivers 22,000 Signatures for Offshore Oil Exploration Referendum
After having launched a signature drive some six months ago, Oceana Belize delivered some twenty two thousand signatures to the Governor General this afternoon. The drive was aimed at collecting at least ten percent of the electorate which would then be able to trigger a referendum. It is a referendum, if successful, that would oblige the government to consult with the Belizean people when it comes to offshore oil and natural gas exploration. Currently, there is a moratorium in place, but Oceana Belize is playing it safe, in the event that moratorium is ever lifted. The media met up with Vice President for Oceana Belize, Senator Janelle Chanona, as she handed over the documents to Her Excellency, Dame Froyla Tzalam.
Janelle Chanona, Senator for NGO’s: “We had approached the current administration to look at how we could strengthen that existing protection when we learned that there was some consideration and intention to do seismic, to quote unquote know what’s out there. And we felt and continue to feel very strongly that the public deserves to be part of that decision making process in terms of lifting the moratorium because seismic would constitute exploration and the current moratorium speaks to suspension of all exploration or extraction activities. At the end of the day, what this reiterates, reminds, and truly respects is that the Belizeans since 2010 have wanted to be part of the conversation on offshore oil, part of the decision, and I think it is increasingly a point that this is environmental justice. At the end of the day we will all be impacted whether we are part of the industry or not, by what fossil fuels are doing. I think it’s critical for us as the Belizeans of today and future Belizeans to have collective, transparent, well-informed deliberations before we decide to go down that road because if it’s imperative that we reconcile we will all be impacted by it and we’ve just come out of a major heat wave so we know what’s ahead, we know what’s happening already to the planet and I think it’s really remarkable that in a country where so many things are happening all at once, when it comes to oil the situation has always been the same. We want to make this decision together.”
Aside from collecting more signatures than is necessary, Love News understands that much due diligence was placed in ensuring that they were verified in accordance with the voters’ list and that all personal information was accurate. It is to be noted, that a signature can be voided, if the information proves to be inaccurate. According to Chanona, the last referendum they held had taught them some important lessons when collecting signatures.
Janelle Chanona, Senator for NGO’s: “When we launched the signature drive exercise in the middle of November, that was certainly a guiding waypoint if I could call it in this because it was imperative for us that all signatures be accepted and what we have done in the six months since then has been to vet, confirm by phone calls, everything that we could think of to do. We’ve even built in a rudimentary but effective system to make sure there are no arbitrary disqualification of the signatures. It is a fact that 22,000 Belizeans have signed. We know we have gone through the system and to be perfectly honest we were doing so without the benefit of a master list of verifying that those persons that provided that information are registered Belizean voters. And so we can confidently say we have exceeded the legally required threshold up to 10% to trigger the referendum. This has been a way of life for the last six months and truly a labor of love but I dare say we would do it all over again this is how much we believe in this cause. But I think in terms of lessons learned, certainly as a conservationist, it was not lost that this is so much paper and we want to meet the legal requirements, so we met those. But I think truly it is historic that we’ve gotten to this point but it really should be a regular exercise. We should be going through referendum far more often than we have been. There are so many issues that I think Belizeans want to participate in. We have the technology, we have the legislation, electronic signatures have just been accepted. We can create a far more user friendly, far more regular process for a referenda so that we can get the public, as you know the referendum act the results are only advisory but it’s really important for the public.”
Oceana had launched its campaign back in November 2022. In the event of a referendum, the question to be put would read: “Do you support a legislative ban by way of an amendment to the Belize Constitution, Chapter 4 of the Laws of Belize, which will prohibit offshore petroleum and natural gas exploration (including but not limited to seismic testing, seismic surveys, multibeam surveys), development, drilling, extraction, production, storage, and disposal within the internal waters, territorial sea, and the exclusive economic zone of Belize (‘petroleum operations’), unless a referendum is held in accordance with the Referendum Act, Chapter 10 of the Laws of Belize, which approves such petroleum operations?” End of quote. The next step would be an official verification from the Elections and Boundaries Department.