It is no secret that there is a push for a referendum to be held through the Referendum Act on offshore drilling by NGOs such as Oceana and COLA. Recently, however, the movement by these NGOs hit a major obstacle when 8,000 of over 20,000 registered voters’ signatures were rejected by the Elections and Boundaries Department on the grounds that they were not legitimate, and so, Government was not bound to hold a referendum on the matter.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd, the vice-president of Oceana, has been at the forefront of the fight and push to trigger a referendum, and there have been many heated debates over the issue between the Government and these NGOs.
The NGOs made it public, however, that they will be holding a “People’s Referendum” on the issue of offshore drilling on Friday, February 24, 2012, despite the rejection by the Elections and Boundaries on the legitimacy of the signatures.
The independent referendum by these NGOs will not be viewed by the Government as a legitimate referendum, since it is proceeding without meeting the official criteria due to the rejection of the 8,000 voter signatures.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow told KREM news editor, Marisol Amaya, during an interview, that he will not be bound by the outcome of the “People’s Referendum” on February 24, 2012.
Barrow also told KREM News that he will not be entertaining discussions with these NGOs through their front-person, Shepherd, going as far as to say that Shepherd’s action has been “distasteful.”
Barrow was quoted by KREM News as saying, “The Coalition, those that are interested in having government cooperate with them and sponsor a referendum, would be far better off having somebody lead that process in terms of dialoging with me and with the Government; they will be better off having somebody other than Audrey Matura do that, and I stand by that position.”
“I won’t get into the reasons why I feel that putting Ms. Matura out front will not be helpful,” said Barrow
The Prime Minister nevertheless ended up saying in his interview that it had something to do with a post, allegedly made by Shepherd on Facebook regarding his wife, which Shepherd has since told Amandala is not true.
Barrow said, “I won’t get into stuff she said in respect to my wife, which I found extremely distasteful.”
Barrow also told KREM News that once he is elected, “I would raise with the Cabinet the suggestion that in fact, the Government of Belize would agree to sponsor a referendum on this issue.”
We asked Shepherd if she would continue to be the front person for the referendum on offshore oil drilling, and she told us that, “Whatever needs to be done under the Coalition to save our natural heritage, will be done. This is not one person’s decision; there are key people at the forefront and it just so happens that Geovanni [Brackett, the president of COLA] and myself have been very visible.
“…obviously, our advocacy is very effective; we stand united and they will not divide and conquer us,” Shepherd told us, in response to Barrow’s call for a negotiation by the NGOs through someone either than her.
“That’s not being mature, that’s not being true leadership quality; this is not a fight between Dean Barrow and Audrey Matura,” she said.
We then asked Shepherd to comment on the allegation that she made a comment regarding Mrs. Kim Simplis-Barrow on Facebook, to which she replied, “Let me say that if I ever said anything that people interpreted in a negative way, I am big enough to say that I really regret that and I apologize.
“Mrs. Simplis-Barrow has never done me anything, she is not running for political office, if you read my last column in the Amandala last week, I actually praised her for positions that she took on women.
“So whatever is being said, and I have heard all kind of versions of what is being said, it is outrightly malicious. This is election time and this is how things will happen.”