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Screen_shot_2012-03-01_at_8.26.45_PMAfter having over 8000 signatures rejected and their first try to trigger a referendum on Offshore Drilling basically thrown into the garbage, the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage held its People Referendum countrywide yesterday. The polls opened at 6:00 in the morning and closed at 8:00 in the night. After the results were counted and publicly made, it was clear that the people had spoken and for the first time, in a Peoples Referendum.

Audrey Matura Shepherd Vice President Oceana

“This message is more than clear, it can’t get clearer than this it is the message to any person or to any administration that will come in, we don’t know who will form the next government, but whoever the next government is need to take key and the earlier decided to do that the better it will be because this is just a momentum that is building up now it is the center of our work and I think the people in this nation has joined forces with the NGO community by coming out and by showing that they support this issue and I am sure that as we expose more Belizeans to know more this country about it more and more will join our rank so that number can increase from 29,000 next time to up to 60,000 and from 60,000 to 100,000 the quicker the government get the sense of it the happier this nation will be because having seeing of what we are capable of doing as people I don’t think the Belizean public will back down now.”

It was indeed a mock referendum but a symbolic one nonetheless which loudly voiced out the notion of the people. On the ballot, a single question was asked: DO YOU THINK THERE SHOULD BE OIL EXPLORATIN AND DRILLING IN OFFSHORE AREAS?

Today at a press conference the coalition released the result of the Peoples Referendum which showed that 29,235 registered voters voluntarily visited the 51 polling stations across the country to cast their vote. Of the 29, 235 voters, 96% or 28,208 voted against exploration and drilling offshore.

Audrey Matura Shepherd Vice President Oceana

“We feel very confident and exonerated of the fact that now we actually have 29,235 voters who came out, remember in this process 8,000 signatures were disenfranchised and by doing so the whole 20,000 people were not allowed to the referendum well obviously we are building up momentum because we’ve increase up to 29,235 signatures so it seems that the more the government push back and refuse to hear the voice of the people the more the people feel compel to stand up and come and speak on the issue.”

Hipolito Novelo-Reporter

“At the end of the day would you say that you reached your goal?’

Audrey Matura Shepherd Vice President Oceana

“Definitely because what we were aiming for is to get back this initial 20,000 that they rejected it and so we exceeded that so we realize that from the 8,000 it has multiplied to the 29,235 voters who came out to vote, definitely we exceeded our goal especially when you consider the fact that we are not an election machinery, we had to create our own election system, create our own polling station, entice voters to come and help us, finance everything our self, come up with the questions, absolutely do everything for ourselves we win and we did all within a week and with all of that we were able to bring out the people.”

In Orange Walk alone, 3, 356 ballots were counted out of which 97% or 3,259 voted against offshore drilling. In Corozal, out of 3,501 voters, 3,438 voted against offshore drilling.

And while there are those who believe that the results of the Peoples Referendum were rigged, Shepherd says the referendum was carried out in a transparent manner.

Audrey Matura Shepherd Vice President Oceana

“Let me tell you any opposition or allegation of cheating would only come from people who know they can cheat an election themselves, we are not that kind of people we did a very open and transparent process, it may have been open with some error but it was not anything that was intentional, we put in place the best process we could and we invited all political parties we never excluded anyone it was a very open and transparent process that we start to embrace everybody possible, the only group that came up and said that they would help was the JP’s Association and remember JP’s are creatures made by statutes given certain powers and they are officers of the law at the end of the day so to have had them there involved in the process assisting in the process, overseeing the process that means a lot of legitimacy, I don’t see during elections them seeing overlooking they don’t even have people at that level so I think we’ve actually improved the standards of how things can be done.”

For the Coalition, the victory is not only seen as one for the people. It is also the first towards banning offshore oil exploration and drilling.

Audrey Matura Shepherd Vice President Oceana

“The other step is to continue working on the issue of offshore oil but even more important we need to lobby any future government to change the referendum act, the referendum has to become a binding mandate of the people, it has to be place into the constitution of Belize and we have to make sure that every step of the way any government hence worth has got to listen to the people of this nation and that is any government that is serious that is forming the next administration has got to be able and willing to put that now as part of their backbone, we don’t want any empty promises we saw what happened in 2008 remember the outgoing Prime Minister went to the National assembly and told the people that when he amended that referendum act he was giving them more powers, when we tested the power of it we saw the results, that is what you call an exercise in futility it has serve us no purpose it has no binding effect so we are saying apart from the issue of oil that we need a band give us a referendum act that is our Constitution and give us the people the power remember democracy is power for the people, by the people and one way we can ensure that is through referendums that are binding.”

The total figure for the north stands at 6,857 with 98 percent of voters saying no to offshore drilling.

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