There’s been so much confusion over what took place in the Portuguese Parliament on Friday July 1st, when the oil and gas exploration saga came up for voting, that we feel it’s important to clarify what really took place, writes Laurinda Seabra from ASMAA.
On Friday July 1st there were five key proposals from political parties - PAN, BE, PCP, PEV (Green party) and the PS, of those, the following points were approved:
All other proposals were rejected.
True to form, the parties that maintained staunch 'anti' positions were the PSD and CDS which voted against nearly every single proposal from the other parties.
But we should not be surprised, after all most of the oil and gas concession contracts were signed under their mandate, and lest we forget, the PSD was the only Portuguese party in the European Parliament that voted in favour of fracking in February this year. (Click here to refresh your memory by reading about it again).
But what does it mean? What’s the bottom line?
Environmental Impact Assessments and socio-economic studies will have to be done and made available to interested parties.
An investigation into the contract awarding process will be carried out and its findings published. Such findings may or may not lead to the rescinding of the contracts.
Exploration temporarily on hold.
Note: the voting that took place last Friday is of an advisory capacity only and its up to the government to implement the approved points. We believe that the government has taken note and will act in the correct way by approving them.
So, can we really label the above as a victory? We would say so, yes.
For starters, the pressure exerted by ASMAA, which since 2012 has been running public awareness raising programmes, which in turn motivated the creation of many anti-oil community pressure groups in the Algarve in the past 9-months, coupled with all the people that signed petitions, attended sessions and protests - means that it can’t be argued that this is not having the desired effect and is paying dividends at long last for all the effort, money and other resources thrown at this situation - the government is starting to listen.
Together, we have all ensured that the matter was dragged from under the carpet into broad daylight and now is being debated across the country, in political circles, and even in the Portuguese Parliament where it has been debated this year by all parties and voted on last Friday. This in itself is a major achievement and in our opinion is a solid victory for citizen power and civil activism.
Let's not forget that more and more people are being informed everyday across the country; that other community pressure groups are being formed all over Portugal; and that the government has realised that it can not simply ignore public opinion and carry on with its 'business as usual' tactics. This is a victory too. It has been a long road, we’ve made some major progress, but we are not at the ultimate destination yet.
So yes. We count what took place on July 1st as a small victory and as a step in the right direction, but much more still needs to happen.
I hear you asking: "but what about the contracts? Why were they not cancelled outright? Hasn’t the government lost a perfect opportunity to do so?"
As I’ve said before, (you can read about it here – Why can’t the Portuguese Government just cancel the contracts?), it would be extremely dangerous for the country long-term economic sustainability to just cancel the contracts outright. I know that many other people and organisations are advocating such an action. But in our opinion to just proceed indiscriminately it is extremely risky for Portugal, its taxpayers, and its population.
There are legal processes that need to be followed if the country is to avoid having to pay hefty compensation amounts to the oil and gas companies – we are talking about 15 contracts over a 50 year time-line, with claims that will be in the billions per company/contract.
The claims will be ridiculous and a legal battle will last decades and cost plenty. In addition, if the government followed this route it would be placed in a position of defending itself. We believe there is an alternative.
The alternative (if there is real political will and leaders with “guts”) is to launch a thorough investigation going back to the beginning, to carry our a proper forensic investigation of the adjudication and negotiating process, and to be scared to take the appropriate action and start legal action against a number of possibly well-connected individuals who negotiated, authorised or/and signed these detrimental contracts on behalf of Portugal.
We are of the opinion that if such an investigation was to take place, that the government could find that they are indeed grounds legally to have many of the contracts declared null and void, thus saving the country and future generations from a hefty economic burden and years of costly legal battles.
But let’s look again at cancelling the contracts. Let’s say the government would be willing to cancel them outright. What will happen afterwards?
You can expect new tenders, and new oil and gas exploration and production concession contracts being awarded with much tighter terms and with the correct process followed, which will make them harder to contest. Is that what you really want?
What ASMAA's vision?
That all current contracts be declared null and void and rescinded without any major financial implications for the country, and that the government afterwards passes a law declaring that Portugal will not issue any new oil and gas exploration concessions nor award new contracts, instead Portugal will issue new concessions and contracts in the same locations for wind, solar and wave technology processes or any other proven green energy technology.
Now, is that not really worth fighting for?
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