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Oceana-1-0003The referendum on offshore drilling its been a big deal in the past few months as different organizations worked tirelessly to obtain 17,000 signatures. But now that milestone has been achieved and the militant stance on offshore drilling seems to have mellowed a bit. On one side, Prime Minister Dean Barrow has made it crystal clear that 17,000 signatures or 17 million signatures - he does not support the referendum and the UDP has taken it upon itself to tell their supporters to do the same. But what is Oceanas position now? We found out, but first we asked the public relations officer about the support the referendum received.

Niall Gillett PR Officer, Oceana

“As of this point, Oceana and its partners in the coalition to save our natural heritage have reached the official numbers of signatures to trigger a referendum, we have not yet however, come out to make a public statement because we are so completing the process, and we have our own independent vetting organization going through all those signatures to make sure all of those signatures all valid. We have actually surpass the amount because signatures continue to come in on daily basis, Belizeans still want to have an opportunity to sign the petition, once we have completed our vetting process, we will actually make a submission to the government that at that point the referendum will officially be triggered. We would like to thank the Belizeans who have participated in the signature drive, it was an incredible effort to gather so many signatures in only a few weeks and I think it speaks a lot of the Belizean public want to become engage in this critical issue of oil and that they want to go and have their say, this is all the referendum is about having the Belizean public have its say on the offshore and onshore oil.”

But while the excitement about getting the signatures was clear, when we asked the natural question whats next? The same passion wasnt evident.

Niall Gillett PR Officer, Oceana

“We have already asked the Belizean public to sign to trigger this referendum, so yes more than likely we will be having that referendum, the timing of that referendum however is critical specifically since the Prime Minister has encouraged his supporters no to come out and vote for the elections, so we now we have a issue to really have to get out there and we continue this education process and we continue this campaign because that is pretty much what it is, to make the Belizean people feel confident enough that yes it is my right as a Belizean to go out and to vote on what I want to do with my offshore or my onshore oil it is every Belizean’s right to vote.”

And when we asked about Oceanas response to the Prime Ministers national statement that he does not support the referendum, Gillett took the path of diplomacy.

Niall Gillett PR Officer, Oceana

“The government has been a supporter of the referendum process, as a matter of fact, the government has encouraged Oceana and the coalition to go ahead and gather those signatures. That is what we are focused on, we understand the nature of the politics so we try not to get into the trenches with that, we try to stay focused, we have gathered the signatures, we are giving an opportunity to the Belizean public to have their say and that is pretty much how we leaves it, we understand the government will make certain statements especially if it suits them politically but we cannot be distracted, we have to remain focused in the issue of oil and it is critical importance to the Belizean public.”

The contentious stance of the Prime Minister and the UDP towards Oceana is no secret. In fact, the propaganda organs of the UDP have resorted to insults and slurs aimed at the organization and its’ Vice President. But when we pointed that out, Gillett dodged the question and stayed on the high road.

Niall Gillett PR Officer, Oceana

“We will have to remember that the government works for the people, the government is there to represent the people and the wishes of the people provided that they are in the best interest of the people. So we believe that we are all pushing at the right buttons and the people of Belize will have their say, which is specifically what we believe.”

So theres still no clear timeframe for the referendum which was requested by more than 17,000 voting Belizeans. After the outpouring of support for the referendum from Belizeans, were hoping it doesnt get derailed at this stage of the game.

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