by Audrey Matura-Shepherd on Monday, October 29, 2012
It is difficult to sit-by and watch as the people of this country are exploited by our very own…. It is disgusting and shows how we are the downfall of our own society. I find it even more offensive when it is educated people who crack the whip over the back of the poor and less informed and then turn around and justify their action. One of my cherished quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. states: “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”
Thus this means that we do have more intelligent people around – intelligent enough to become those who enter into contracts, perform Environmental assessment, craft media messages, give speeches and presentation and a range of professional work – but that it is it. For them to be truly educated they must pass the other test and that is have positive character. So ‘character’ is a word we use loosely and many don’t stop to consider what it means, thus my searched led me to http://www.characterunlimited.com/character_ethics.htm which states: Character is – “The action you take to carry out the values, ethics and morals that you believe in; consistency between what you say you will do and what you actually do; putting the ethics into action; defines, builds, or breaks your reputation; who you are and what you do when no one is looking”.
No genuine people consultation
This brings me to the matter weighing on my mind – the outright denial of time to the Indigenous people of Belize to a full and well processed consultation on the proposed drilling in their village and national park, which was a traditional forest area they were convinced to give up for protection and non-extraction. But I guess when big oil money is placed in front of any official their knees weaken and they succumb… so yes they may have education, but no character.
It is a legal requirement that people should be consulted when development projects that will impact on their area and surrounding is coming on stream. But maybe the problem is that the officials do not understand what is a consultation, thus I turned to the web for help at http://www.encyclo.co.uk/define/consultation: Con`sul·ta’tion noun [Latin consultatio : confer French consultation] 1. The act of consulting or conferring; deliberation of two or more persons on some matter, with a view to a decision.
My point is simply, if you genuinely want to consult people and have a true deliberation isn’t it important for all parties to have an idea and understanding of the topic? Or is the intention in Belize to have so-call consultations and speak above the head of the people? Let’s look at the facts, US Capital has presented a 300 page EIA in English to over 38 indigenous communities. This documents is 1. In a language which is not their native language; 2. Is in technical terms not familiar to them; 3. Was given to them only weeks before the consultation are now due; 4. The village leaders have no means of making hundreds of copies to deliver to all the villages and explain prior to the consultation; AND 5. Worst yet, time is not allowing for the translation of this document to get the genuine involvement of the indigenous people.
Access to information allows involvement
But I want my readers to envision the context within which this is happening. The southern villages are at a greater disadvantage than many other rural areas you will ever visit in Belize. To begin with the roads to them are in terrible condition and many do not have electricity, so unlike so many of us who take for granted hearing the morning shows, calling in to complain on the radio shows; seeing the mid-week newscast and accessing the internet – they do not have this advantage… so in many ways they are a bit isolated. Imagine our local newspaper is not even circulated vastly, if at all in some of the villages (yet by section 20(1) Environmental Protection Act, notice about the completion of the EIA is to be published in a local newspaper). What is the sense if the people don’t even get to see nor read the newspaper? Add to that, communication into their villages is not in the language they are most comfortable with. Unfortunately, their battery operated radio more easily access Guatemalan stations, music and news. And of course the easy travel across the invisible borderline – just adds further division to the setting within which all of this is happening.
On September 27, as the new Minister of Energy, Science and Technology, Hon. Joy Grant, launched her ministry’s strategic plan she stated “On further analysis we note that for technological readiness Belize is rank 101 for internet users for every 100 people in the population and ranks 136 of 142 countries for foreign direct investment and technology transfer…. with regard to information and communication technology in the region Barbados has a 70% ICT penetration for internet. Costa Rica which is closer to Belize in size and topography has 30% penetration, Belize has 10% penetration.” Her statistics confirm just my point and in terms of district Toledo fares off the worst. So why is this important?
It is important because for counties to develop, people must develop, and communication and access to it is a driving force of development. And for people to participate in development it has to be that they are not duped nor feel duped. And even if they are duped, yet don’t know it, because they just don’t know better, doesn’t change the fact that they were duped and thus withheld from full participation in our nation-building. Duped people are denied involvement despite any charade of meetings, bussing in of supporters, or the tactics used at a political rally. Then there are those of us who know better and should not exploit our less fortunate and informed brother… thus the need for character to accompany our intelligence if we are to say we are truly educated.
The false interpretation of our law
Now this brings me to the interview by Minister Lisell Alamilla whom I had always considered an intelligent person yet here what she says to Channel 7 News “Jules as I sit in this post I am learning more and more about the intricacies about how these things work and ideally I would have wanted to grant them more time. However we are obligated under the EIA regulations that we must facilitate the entire process within 60 days and from the beginning to now we are almost at the end of those 60 days. If not then we are open to a legal challenge from the company but also I think what is most important is that the consultation is not the end of it.” And this was supposed to have been the Minister of Ingenious people… or is this payback to them for them denouncing her appointment without their input? And what about the legal challenge by the Indigenous people? And if she believes her ministry must give a decision within 60 days, then what is the sense of doing anything after the 60 days, especially further consultation after 60 days – wouldn’t that be an exercise in futility? How contradictory and an unenlightened stance!
So the section of the law being referred to by the Government is found in the Environmental Protection Act Section 22(1) “ The Department shall advise the developer of its decision within sixty days after the completed (this being the key word) environmental impact assessment has been received by the Department.” It seems that the consultation over the EIA is an exercise in futility since clearly the minister already declared her position that the EIA is “completed”, thus the strict adherence to the 60 days limit is embedded in her mind. Do note this limit only applies where the Government is satisfied with the EIA and considered it completed. But my review of it shows it is still lacking in many pertinent components and sadly neither the minister nor her experts have picked up on this. Logic would dictate that before the 60 days provision kicks in the GOB needs to tell US Capital all else it needs to do before it hands in a complete EIA on which to base a decision.
In addition, I want readers to know that I take this position because I opine the interpretation by GOB officials comes despite Section 21, which makes it clear that before the Minister takes a position that the EIA is completed there are mechanism available to ensure accommodation of what the Mayan people are asking for. Instead they already accept is as completed and have section 22 kick in, circumventing their power under section 21….hmmm makes me wonder!
Readers need to understand what Section 21 states:
“21. (1) Upon receiving the environmental impact assessment, the Department:
(a) may direct that copies of the environmental impact assessment be made available for inspection by interested persons;
(b) shall examine the environmental impact assessment or cause the same to be examined to determine whether it complies with the previously-agreed terms of reference; and
(c) shall examine the environmental impact assessment or cause it to be examined to determine whether:
(i) further environmental assessment is required; or
(ii) any significant harmful impact is indicated.”
It is after this provision at section 21 is satisfied by GOB, that they can then allow Section 22 to kick in. The highlighted portion is critical since it allows the Minister to stay the 60 day time limit, under GOB’s claim that the EIA is not satisfactory and “COMPLETED” for failure to give adequate consideration of the points raised by the Mayan people, etc…
Furthermore, in the revised regulations No. 24 of 2007, there is an addition of regulations 22A (1) immediately after this same section 22 which states: “The Department may approve an environmental impact assessment or a limited level environmental study subject to such conditions as may be specified by the Department, including a requirement for the Developer to sign an Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) containing the conditions specified by the Department, and the payment of an environmental monitoring fee.” So clearly there is no rule that the EIA has to be blanketly approved even when the 60 days provision kicks in, otherwise if this was so then the leaders of our country need not have power bestowed within Section 21. So sorry but someone in the Ministry is ill advising the Minister, but she is smart, surely she took time out to go consult the Government’s well paid in-house and privately hired lawyers and read her copy of the law to appraise herself before she spoke on such a critical and delicate matter so vastly affecting the people in her southern constituency!
But the final screw…
Personally I believe people should be given the right to access information, be part of a discussion and even decisions, and this is regardless of whether or not they are native, indigenous, rich, poor highfalutin (meaning pompous) and investor, etc.. etc… to me it’s just common courtesy, which we seem to have lost, but when the state teams up with and sides with the oil company from the onset against one of our most marginalized set of people … then I must say this is the lowest of the lowest….and every attempt to screw the South over, which totally did not vote for the party in power! And I never expected this from this government… but maybe the Southern voters smelled the rat.
I however, never expected this bias treatment under the watch of this minister, who left Benque Viejo del Carmen and Belize City to go live amongst these people and working in a job that required sensitivity and respect for environmental protection and preservation. Supposedly, she is the political appointed representative of the far South, yet in no way she seems to be trying to even give the semblance of fighting to give them just and fair hearing… not even a decision to just allow them free, informed and open dialogue. This reeks of having a friend coming to live in your house and she wears your clothes, takes your jewelry and runs away with your husband… hmmm!
So before I end this piece I must show how cold-blooded our government can be against our own people and in favour of the oil company – yes foreign own… yes I said foreign – surely you all remember all their anti-foreigner platform and attacks against foreigners, when it suits them, yet they love foreigners more than any government I have known! So back to the bloodied part…
ONE: to date I cannot find a still valid petroleum contract under which US Capital is operating… The Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage has officially asked for the existing legally valid one to be made available and to date no answer. However, through other means I have made inquiries and all credible indications are that there is no new valid contract, only the old expired one. This is important because the contract was first issued to US Capital in 2001 under the hand of Florencio Marin and then was extended September 28, 2004 but made retroactive January 22, 2004 under the hand of Johnny Briceno.
The Petroleum Act, Subsidiary Laws at Section 9 (1) states : “9. (1) The exploration period shall comprise –
(a) an initial period not exceeding two years in duration; and (b) upon renewal in the prescribed manner, three further periods each not exceeding two years in duration.” Thus, legally the maximum years of exploration is only eight years and that is not even automatic – is has to be in compliance with the proviso that states “Provided that each period may be further extended to permit the completion of a well which was commenced before the end of such period, and provided further that the final period may be further extended to appraise a discovery of petroleum….” US Capital never drilled any well to merit the extension, yet the government clearly kept extending… oh what illegal act by our own government! But if a new contract exist I stand corrected and welcome a copy – but this does not nullifies the right to seek court action against the company and GOB.
TWO: the government had no right to have even given out a contract to begin with because they are doing so on land already determined by the court to be vested in the Indigenous people under a native title. But they have ignored the court’s ruling! The Human Rights Commission (HRC), in General Comment No. 23, has interpreted Article 27 with regard to the rights of indigenous peoples to include the protection of a way of life that is connected to the control over, and use of, lands and resources. The HRC goes on to state that with regard to the cultures of indigenous peoples and the use of their traditional lands and resources, Article 27 includes the positive duty of the State to “ensure the effective participation of members of minority communities in decisions which affect them.” So many lawyers in the Government yet they don’t seem to keep abreast of our obligations under these agreements and maybe don’t even know that since 1992 Belize has been a signatory to the Agreement establishing the Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.
In deliberating on matters in Chile, Panama and Nicaragua the HRC has used this interpretation of article 27 to call on States Parties (i.e. governments) ‘to respect their duty to consult with indigenous peoples prior to any economic development or granting of any resource concessions within their traditional lands or territories.’ Soon the Indigenous people in Southern Belize will have to take their matter to the international Human Rights Court and the fact that unknown to the Mayas and Garifuna in southern Belize, US Capital was given an oil exploration and drilling contract, will only work against those presently in bed against them.
I am writing this article before the official consultation in Sunday Wood on Thursday, but I will go sit in and witness first hand how a company, its turn-coat agents and government official and hired hands screw over the South! God if it’s your will turn things around… but if hardened heart of men and mighty and arrogant government officials are in your plans, I stand aside and let your will be done! God bless my people, God bless Belize!