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Tourism or Oil?

The Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage reached out to the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA), urging its members to seriously consider becoming directly involved in efforts to halt offshore oil development in Belize. The BTIA outlines the serious damage to Belize’s tourism industry, environment and how it can adversely affect all BTIA members and inland operators:

Tourism or Oil?
“The debate about offshore oil development and the related referendum comes down to a choice: tourism or oil.  Picture oil derricks as the seascape view from San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Belize City, Hopkins, Placencia, Punta Gorda, Turneffe and the Blue Hole!  If the aesthetics don’t convince tourists not to come, consider that the average oil platform discharges 90,000 tons of toxic waste during its lifetime – and that’s without spills. Belize’s tourism industry and off-shore oil development are simply incompatible. GOB seems to think that we can have our cake and eat it too – but we cannot.
BTIA and its members have largely been silent and it is time to take a closer look. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), travel and tourism supports 39,000 jobs in Belize – that is 31% of Belize total employment. Offshore oil development would add minimal employment opportunities for Belizeans as the average oil rig employs around 200 individuals, and many of these jobs would go to highly skilled foreign oil workers. It would be wonderful if employment from the two sectors were additive, but this simply is not the case. These few oil jobs would come at the expense of many tourism jobs resulting in severe exacerbation of Belize ongoing unemployment crisis.
GOB touts the potential oil tax revenue as a windfall to reduce debt and provide other needs, but they neglect to consider the effect on tourism-related tax revenue. The fact is that tourism is a very highly taxed industry and tax revenues from oil are, at best, nebulous. Again, if oil taxes were additive to tourism taxes, it would be worth considering, but increases in oil taxes will be more than offset by a drop in tourism tax taxes if tourists no longer view Belize as a viable eco-tourism destination.
Over the next 10 years, WTTC predicts that the total contribution from travel and tourism in Belize will grow to 39.5% of GDP and the number of jobs contributed will increase to 61,000. Assuming that tourism growth is managed responsibly, this will result in a sustainable economy and sustainable employment. Oil reserves, on the other hand, are, by definition, finite and if the heart of Belize’s economy is substituted for this short-term economy, we will be left with no economy.
These are some of the reasons that offshore oil development will not benefit the economy of Belize or the citizens of Belize. It goes without saying that it is contrary to the interests of BTIA and its members. BTB estimates that 70% of Belize’s tourists visit Belize’s offshore, even though many of these travelers also visit inland resorts. Simply put, without a healthy offshore environment and healthy reef, Belize’s entire tourism industry is in jeopardy.
The Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage continues to gather signatures for the referendum, together with an education and public awareness campaign. Although there has been a good deal of media coverage regarding this issue, BTIA and the tourism sector have largely been silent. This matter affects our industry more than any other and it is time to speak up for our investments and the environment upon which they depend.”
Craig Hayes, BTIA Representative
The Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage


Oceana Deplores Prime Minister’s Message And Actions
In a recent related press release, Oceana also calls on Belize’s Government to reconsider its decisions on oil drilling concessions and expressed strong disapproval of PM Barrow’s message and actions.
– Start of Press Release – In a recently televised Prime Minister’s Report published by the Government of Belize, Prime Minister Dean Barrow has called on the Belizean public to vote in favor of drilling offshore with the proper environmental and regulatory framework. But the actions taken by the government of Belize are clearly contrary to this position.  

Oceana takes this stance because of the following:
* No steps have yet been taken by Government to commence the review of the Petroleum Act and its subsidiary regulations, to offer any assurances that the government will address the weak legal framework always flagged by Oceana;

* The Petroleum and Geology Department has on numerous occasions refused to furnish Oceana with information requested on various offshore oil companies under the Freedom of Information Act;

* Oceana has requested to present directly to Cabinet on this critical issue so that feedback can be obtained to compile a comprehensive presentation to Government. This request has been repeatedly denied, including the most recent request to have Dr. Daniel Pauly do a private presentation to Cabinet at their convenience;

* Our written request asking that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minster set meetings with Government and Marine Environmental groups has gone unanswered.

The Government of Belize cannot genuinely intend to revise and strengthen the Petroleum Act and the subsidiary legislation without first doing a comprehensive review, and conduct consultations with key partners and stakeholders, including the communities being affected by oil exploration and development.

It is unfair to ask Belizeans to vote to have offshore oil exploration with a proper environmental and regulatory framework, before these proposed changes are worked out and made public. Once voters have taken such a position, no one can tell, if and when any meaningful legislative and regulatory changes will be made.

On the issue of offshore exploration and drilling the Prime Minister has placed himself in a position of moral conflict of interest (if not a legal/ethical conflict) because while he is head of the Government of Belize he continues as a partner (even if a silent one) in the law firm of Barrow & Williams as that name suggests.  This firm represents Princess Petroleum.  The firm’s most recent job for Princess Petroleum was to host Treaty’s statutory meeting at their firm and brokering the Option Agreements between both, clearly indicating every intent to facilitate offshore oil exploration and drilling in Belize before any environmental and regulatory changes.

Even if there should be changes to the Petroleum Act later down, this would not affect those contracts since they are being done and sealed long in advance of any legislative change which could not have a retroactive effect.   

Oceana therefore publicly calls on the Prime Minister and his government to initiate any legislative, environmental and regulatory framework of the oil industry now before contracts are negotiated and signed.  

“People must call on the government to bring proposals of tangible changes to the oil industry for their sanction, before asked to support any government position on oil, and must be mindful while an oil industry can be developed in Belize, we must demand that our offshore be deemed as sacred and off limits to oil companies,” said Audrey Matura-Shepherd, VP Oceana in Belize. – End of Press Release –

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