The Government of Belize has said that despite Oceana’s accusation that it is disregarding a court ruling on oil contracts, it is actually trying to keep Belize from getting sued by the oil companies.
In a press releases issued late Thursday evening, the Ministry of Energy Science and Technology and Public Utilities explained that adhering to Oceana’s wishes to order the oil companies to cease operations could “expose the country to claims by the oil companies for hundreds of millions of US dollars in damages.”
The ministry cites the case of RSM Productions versus St. Lucia, an arbitration case before the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). The release stated that RSM is claiming US$560 million in damages, and that GOB will take every care to avoid exposing Belize to such a claim.
The ministry also said that Oceana is ‘putting a spin’ on the judgment of Justice Oswell Legal. It underscored that, acting on legal advice from government’s attorneys, the oil companies must maintain their contracts because no judgment, declaration or order was made against the companies.
The ministry reiterated it’s points presented before Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin this week; that while Justice Legal made a declaratory judgment that the contracts were “unlawful, null and void”, he did not quash the contracts, which in effect still gives them legal life. The ministry emphasized that it will not pursue Oceana’s path, which it describes to be “reckless.”
In response to the ministry’s comments, Oceana Vice-president Audrey Matura Shepherd told Reporter that the government should save “their legal arguments for the court, and, in the mean time, they should obey the court’s judgement.”
According to the St. Lucian media, RSM filed for arbitration proceedings in April 2012, on the grounds that the corporation could not complete its exploration because of Saint Lucia’s failure to solve territorial disputes between neighbouring states. St. Lucian media also referred to the case as the ‘Grynberg Affair’.
It is important to note that arbitration is not a court proceeding but rather a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), where parties attempt to settle disputes outside of court proceedings.
During the educational campaign on whether or not Belize should take the unfounded Guatemalan claim to the International Court of Justice, the Government of Belize made the distinction by saying that it had tried arbitration with Guatemala prior to suggesting the ICJ.
The official ICSID website shows the last update to the case being April 30, 2013, where the claimant’s arbitrator was accepted. According to the updates, no declaratory court ruling or other wise has been made with regard to the validity of RSM’s oil concessions.