Features — 03 January 2014 — by Audrey Matura-Shepherd

This is my first writing to be published in 2014 and so I want to start by thanking all those people who have fervently read what I write and encouraged me to continue doing so. You may never know how many days I am pressed for time and I am totally exhausted, but the thought that I cannot disappoint you and that you are looking forward to hear from me on the issues of our loved country, makes me become re-energized to fulfill my implied and understood commitment to you.

Also special thanks to those thousands who keep praying for me. Many ask how I find time to write and what helps to embolden me to speak so openly and frankly about issues. Let me tell you, it is all possible because of the grace of God and all those prayers from the heart keep adding to my account and multiplying my grace. Thank you so much and whoever you are, I too pray back those same blessings on you, that our Almighty Father may hold you up in 2014 and give you all you need to manifest and achieve His purpose for you in life.

To those who become offended or hurt because of what I write, I say sorry if you feel that way, I have no control over your feelings; only you can control the way you feel and respond to what I say. Be assured that I will continue to write and exercise my freedom of expression and conscience; it was never and is not intended to offend or hurt … but sometimes the truth does do that (hurt, and make one feel offended). I pray you will be able to rise above the hurt and offence and rather turn this negative into a positive and become a better, more ethical and conscientious human being contributing to the development of others. I try to measure the stand of my writing by a simple test: is it the truth as I know it? If I ever inadvertently misrepresented the facts, be assured it was not intentional and I apologize.

When it comes to issues of my opinions on any and every matter, be assured that I am entitled to have those, and they are simply my take on the facts based on my value system, experience, and expectation of what a reasonable person, living in a fair and equitable Belize, would be expected to do. My sense of equity is based on what our laws require, what natural justice requires, and what I in those shows would want to be done for or to me. Now, I know everyone may have their internal meter calibrating their sense of right and wrong and reasonableness, that is why their view is called “their opinion,” and my view or take on a situation is called “my opinion.” I do not ask that all or anyone agree with it, but just that they respect it, because my God-given right and Constitutional right both say I am endowed with such right … and I intend to exercise it!

Looking back…

As I sit and reflect on my life in 2013, I cannot help but feel that it was a year of great breakthrough and maturity for me. It was a year of great spiritual growth and I experienced God working in my life and placing me where He wanted me. He tested me and molded me and whipped me into shape. It was a year of such great revelation for me personally, but also for our nation as it showed us the true hearts of so many leaders in our midst. I believe a man is not only measured by what he says but what he does, and as if given a truth serum, we saw the hearts of our political leaders, union leaders, civil society leaders, church leaders and community leaders. I saw who was willing to stand on principle and act on principle; I saw who was willing to compromise and strike a proverbial deal with the devil at the expense of their own soul, and yes, the decision impacts on so many of us, but our hands and hearts were clean, so it is only their own soul they truly damage at the end of the day.

Just to give a few examples. I saw the true heart of our Prime Minister, Dean O. Barrow, when I heard him speak on the oil contracts; the Maya lands rights case; various court rulings; the Vega family connection in the rosewood sale; his position on criminal charges against Elvin Penner for the passport illegalities; the actions of Edmund Castro and so many others too numerous to list.

Oil contract “unlawful, null and void”

But, one that still sticks out is the whole issue of Treaty and Princess Petroleum companies and the clear invalidity of their oil contracts which contravene the Petroleum Act. Who could forget the April 16, 2013 ruling of Justice Oswald Legall on the issue of the illegality of the offshore oil contracts, when the PM refused to have the government demand compliance by the oil companies with the court’s decision?

At an April 29, 2013 press brief this is what he said: “There is one and our legal advice is that the Judge’s ruling, which seeks to injunct the Government certainly cannot injunct the concession holder under that PSA … But that’s for the, especially since the PSAs were as I say not quashed, that’s for the concession holder to determine whether it will proceed with whatever activity it was doing under the PSA”.

Building on that assertion by the PM, Treaty issued a press release stating: “Due to the Supreme Court ruling, Treaty Belize Energy temporarily suspended its drilling efforts on the San Juan #3. Treaty wanted to consult with its Legal Council [sic] in Belize and wait for the Government of Belize to issue a statement. On May 5, 2013, Prime Minister Barrow made statements to local media regarding the Supreme Court ruling. Based on the legal opinion Treaty Energy received from Princess Petroleum’s legal counsel [Barrow & Williams law firm] and the statement made by Prime Minister Barrow, Treaty has made the decision to recommence drilling of the San Juan #3 well.”

Even as important, the PM had always said his hands were tied when it comes to the request to disregard the contracts, because those were legally binding contracts. Thus when the court ruling held the contracts to be “unlawful, null and void,” instead of him seizing the opportunity to bring to an end those contracts that provide for little benefit to the country, rather he defended the oil companies. That says it all!

Treaty duped the villagers

Forward little over half year after, and the oil companies, Treaty and Princess in this case, that had given so much false hope to the local communities. So by early May, Treaty began drilling at San Juan#3 well site and to win over the people, “residents of San Juan and Cow Pen, through their village council, signed onto an agreement with representatives of Treaty Belize Energy concerning a number of initiatives to develop the community,” reported Channel 5 News. The residents were excited that Treaty told them they would get electricity, water pumps so they could access potable water, and even promises of improved classrooms and so on were on the table, and these were to go to the communities whether or not oil was found. Well, no oil was found and Treaty has since packed up and left, not even with a “goodbye.” The village is no better off than before and rather more hurt and insulted.

Zabdiel Martinez, Village Chairman, Cow Pen/San Juan in an interview with Isani Caetano said: “Our people felt that the company has failed us and we tried to continue negotiations with them as to at least get some of the projects. But at the end the company didn’t comply with none, with none. They diverted some, which as I said the last time they did provide a little bit for the school, a little bit of funds for the school which was minimal funds for the flooring of one of the classrooms. But compared to the amount of projects that we signed up and agreed for it was nothing … They were behind us to sign the agreement if we were going to give them permission to drill and all that. All they needed was the signature and they just forget about all the agreement that we had at the initial moment that we signed.”

Thanks to our government, the contents of the contracts and the big money deals behind the oil industry, this will continue to be the cry of many more of our communities.

I predict even the big cruise-line will similarly dupe our people…. WARNING – don’t fall for it!

Looking forward to 2014

There are so many more like stories in 2013, but they will be with us in 2014. Already the last big governance news for 2013 is the fact that the recall mechanism for signatures needed to remove Elvin Penner has met the very much predicted death. Surely that will continue to be the news for 2014, how could it not?

The expelled Minister of State is comfortable and knows he is protected because the charade going on is to make it look publicly that something is being done. But truth be told it’s one big chess board and while I do believe the PM was disappointed by Penner being caught and wanted to give him a public flogging, his desire to stay in power has held him at ransom to act. Rather, with the advent of the visa bribery allegation against Edmund Castro his position of power as PM is under severe threat and so, if only not to go down in history as a defeated sitting PM, he must now help save the necks of these two men because his margin is too narrow. And let’s face it, I predict Landy Habet has a 90% chance of defeating Penner at the polls in this present climate.

I do not know what all went into the vetting of those signatures, but I truly was just sitting back and looking and waiting for the outcome … the result of the Opposition not meeting the threshold to trigger a recall and subsequent by-election is not surprising. To me this is déjà vu: my experience trying to trigger a referendum on the issue of offshore oil using the PM’s promise of April 25, 2008 that the amended Referendum Act gives a voice to us, the people.

I pray our people see, dissect, and understand the magnitude of what is happening in this country and are prepared to stand up for the changes to make a better Belize. Sadly, I do not believe the present electoral system and our habit to just vote for either of the two major parties is bringing us the solutions we need. There is a need for a people’s led, people-inclusive and people-powered movement to remove the blinders from the eyes of our people, the fear from their hearts and the apathy from their actions, or lack thereof.

Until our people understand that we must collectively demand the change and be the change, there is little change for the better in our Belize. As election year get closer, look out: the high-handedness will change and get worse and so we must be ready to break this cycle!

I believe 2014 is the year of reckoning and I hope all right-minded Belizeans heed the call! God bless my people in 2014 and remove the fear and timidity from their hearts, and replace it with boldness, righteousness and good judgment and self-discipline!

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