The main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) says it supports the holding of a referendum regarding oil exploration in offshore areas even as the Belize government says it has not entered into any agreement for seismic studies or for oil exploration.
Last Thursday, the international company, Oceana, said it would begin collecting the necessary signatures to trigger a national referendum.
Oceana Vice President Janelle Chanona, said the company made this decision following a conversation held on September 9, with Prime Minister John Briceño “during which he confirmed his administration’s intention to proceed with seismic testing in Belizean waters without prior approval of the public to lift the moratorium against the exploration and exploitation of offshore oil”.
But the government said the statements by Oceana “are regrettable especially given its accessibility to this administration’s offices at the highest level for open and transparent discourse to have a clear and unified approach to this issue and all matters of mutual and national interest.
“In pursuance of his commitment to environmental and social principles, the prime minister reiterated the need to understand the extent of Belize’s offshore non-renewable economic resources in order to have an informed strategy on their potential for leveraging, given the national direction towards decarbonization and nature-based economy. Furthermore, the government’s commitment to allow the determination of such an important policy to be people-centered was restated by the prime minister,” the statement added.
But Opposition and UDP leader, Shyne Barrow, speaking after his party issued a statement indicating its support for a referendum on offshore oil, said he had spoken to Chanona “and we discussed the matter and I made it clear that as with my historic position on these matters… I support a referendum.
“There is no greater voice than the voice of the people. They say the voice of the people is the voice of God. So whereas the UDP administration enacted a moratorium on offshore drilling after a robust campaign by Oceana and over 30,000 people signing a mock referendum, I believe that any reversal of that moratorium, especially given our conservation treaty legislation that we recently enacted that wiped away BDZ$500 million (One Belize dollar=US$0.49 cents) debt”.
Barrow said he also believes that any reversal, any alteration of that position needs to be taken to the people.
“That is my position. But I will say on record, I don’t usually agree with the prime minister, but I can understand where he is coming from as far as seismic testing. I believe, again, it depends on the credibility that you give him and if he’s being truthful, but I will give him the benefit of the doubt because the idea that he presents is reasonable and it is one that I, Shyne Barrow, am… inclined to support.”