Oceans of Lies by Oceana Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 12 September 2012 00:00

Crown Counsel Herbert PantonWednesday, September 12th 2012

The Government of Belize this morning informed Justice Oswell Legall that it does not intend to proceed with its application to strike out two affidavits in the Oceana Claim against the Government and instead asked the court to set a date for the substantive hearing.  Oceana is presently in court seeking to have six production sharing agreements signed between the Government of Belize and private oil companies back in 2007, covering both on shore and off shore areas, set aside.  Late this afternoon in what can be considered an attempt to try the matter in the public domain, Oceana put out a press release fraught with lies and misinformation.

Oceana's first Claim is that there was a secret agreement signed between Minister of Natural Resources, Gaspar Vega and Princess Petroleum in which Princess Petroleum, one of the companies in possession of a Production Sharing Agreement that covers portions of offshore areas, was not required to give up 25 percent of its contract area.  While there is such an agreement in place, there is nothing secret about it.  That agreement formed part of the petroleum register, which is a public document that any member of the public can see, a document that Oceana itself has perused.  Furthermore, in an interview with the Guardian Newspaper, Crown Counsel Herbert Panton, Lead Counsel in this Claim against the Government, informed us that that agreement was disclosed to Oceana and the Court in an affidavit of Andre Cho Director of Petroleum many months ago.  "It is inconcieveable how anyone can regard this document as secret, and it is a sad day when good decent hard working public officers like Mr. Cho has his integrity questioned as if he were hiding documents from the public," Crown Counsel Panton told us.

What Crown Counsel Panton explained to The Guardian is that under the original agreement, and all the agreements for all the oil companies are identical, every two years, if no oil is found, the companies are required to give up 25% of their block, the block being the area granted by the Government to explore for oil.  The intention is that by the time the eight year contract comes to an end and no oil is found, the companies would have returned 100% of their block to Government.  In the case of Princess Petroleum, there was an addendum to their contract so that they would not have to give up 25 percent after the first two years but instead would commence to return portions of their block after the first four years.  It matters not in what proportions the blocks are returned because after eight years, if no oil is found, the contract is automatically terminated and the entire block is returned to Government. 

Crown Counsel Panton also informed us that it was an Olympian stretch of the imagination to say exactly what portion of Princess Petroleum's block would have been returned to Government if they had done so in the first two years.  For Oceana to claim specific knowledge of what portion of that block would have been returned is nothing short of ingenuous.  Under the contract, it is entirely up to the Oil Company what portion of their block they will return.  There was no specific schedule of what portions would have been returned so to put that out in the public domain is a blatant attempt to disregard the truth, and to mislead the Belizean people.

In response to our question regarding the way forward for the substantive hearing, Panton informed us that two days have been set aside, October 24th and 25th for the substantive claim to be heard, and he is of the opinion that the law is squarely on the Government's side.