There Are Some Advantages and Disadvantages In Drilling Oil In Belize And We Should Weigh All Of Our Options
By: Wellington C. Ramos
It is being said for years now that our country of Belize possess oil and other natural resources in vast quantities but the problem is that only a few families in our country know exactly where these resources are. Most of these families are people who have relatives in government that are privy to this type of information in the past and present.
In Belize there are several citizens who have and continue to apply for lots and lands and are continually being denied without any good justifiable reason. Yet, the same families that already have enough land, continue to apply and are given additional lots and lands to add more to their vast land reserves. There is a strong possibility that these same families are applying for lands based on information provided to them by their family members, that these lands possess oil and other natural resources. If this is the case, then the working class and poor Belizean families will never be able to benefit from our country’s oil and natural resources unless we nationalize some of our industries.
When some people hear about nationalizing some of our industries they label it as something bad for the private sector or businesses. However, a good government must always put the interest of its citizens and the nation’s first before they decide to make that move as was recently done with BTL. A government that is not inclusive and serving the best interest of the majority of its citizens could be deemed as undemocratic and eventually will make itself volatile to civil unrest by a majority of its citizens.
I am a strong believer that governments serve a good purpose and that is to provide many opportunities for their citizens to have the means to become productive citizens. The government of Belize must continue its efforts to provide; employment, security, liberty, education, quality health care, lots, lands, safety, and a clean environment to all its citizens. The government of Belize can only provide these essential needs with revenues they will gain from extracting our natural resources and using them towards our industrial and technological development to limit our importation of goods and services.
Many years ago in Belize, the government had several governmental departments that played a vital role in building our infrastructure and contributed towards our development such as Agriculture, Fisheries, Public Works, Lands and Forestry. Most of these departments have been privatized or downsized and their duties and functions transferred over to private companies or by people related to members of the government which can be considered as a conflict of interest. In some cases the cost to the Belizean taxpayers is a lot higher than when the government provided some of the products or services. In the last administration, almost all of the remaining assets for the government and people of Belize were sold out completely.
Currently, there is a coalition in Belize seeking signatures from the Belizean citizens to ban Offshore Drilling in the county of Belize. To drill or not to drill oil in a country is a decision to be made only by the people who were elected to serve by the citizens of the country and in Belize that is the House of Representatives and the Senate. A Referendum, if allowed, could be challenged in court by the government on the grounds that such a decision is the constitutional responsibility of the elected government. This organization has given the following five reasons to ban drilling which are as follows:
1 - Belizean Laws do not allow for class action suits and only the Attorney General can bring about a case on behalf of the people who are injured.
2 - Petroleum companies have more rights over our land than we the citizens and the taxation is too small.
3 - There is no transparency in awarding contracts to prospective oil industries.
4 - Protected areas could be encroached upon because of the lack of an Enforcement Agency and
5 - No independent Regulatory Board to regulate and enforce all the laws that are related to drilling in Belize.
All five of these concerns are legitimate and are resolvable through the passing of additional legislations in the House of Representatives and the Senate. After the laws have been passed, Regulatory Boards and Enforcement Agencies could be established. The discovery of oil in our country is something new and we should take every opportunity to be cautious but yet open minded about the benefits that it can bring to our people and country rather than be engaged in setting up road blocks to make it beneficial to us. I am also afraid that some of these political interest groups might be influenced by some political parties or other individuals to reserve drilling until a party they support come to power to issue them their drilling licenses.
When the previous government was in power, they were allowed by the then opposition the United Democratic Party to freely explore all the avenues that existed to drill oil in our country so that we can gain additional revenues for our people and nation. Now, we have discovered that most of those contracts that were issued then had clauses giving our country a small percentage of the total revenues garnered. Pretty soon those companies contracts will be expiring and we will have the power to raise their taxes, not to renew their contracts, seek new companies or renew their contracts.
Belize is indebted to the IMF in the amount of 1.1 Billion Dollars which is known as the Super Bond Debt and we must find a way to repay this money if our country and our young generation will have any future. The current revenues that we take in annually are not sufficient to deal with this debt and we must find additional revenue sources to survive.
The government knows where all the oil, gas and natural resources are and the possible potential earning capabilities. If certain Belizean families and prospectors can have this information to their access, then all Belizean citizens should likewise. As our population continues to increase, our citizens will be making more demands from our governments whether it is UDP, PUP, VIP or BNP and without the revenues, none of these political parties will have the capacity to deliver for the needs of our Belizean citizens. People are tired of promises, rhetoric and sweet talk especially when their children have no food in their stomachs and jobs are not available for them to earn money to pay their bills.