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Daily News - 13 March 2002

Constitutional reform to be discussed again
The president of the Senate Andres Bautista Garcia said constitutional reform is tops on the legislators’ agenda. He said reform will focus on several issues, not only on removing the requirement of closed electoral stations as mentioned by the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Rafaela Alburquerque. 
Bautista had said on the opening day of the legislature on 27 February that constitutional reform was a priority of congress. Several highly reputed polls have shown it is way down on the list of priorities of Dominicans in general. 
As reported by El Caribe, Bautista defended reinstating presidential re-election in the constitution. This was banned in the 1994 constitution on grounds that the politicians use government resources to promote their re-election. 
Political analysts speculate that the Executive Branch sent a US$37.8 million loan to Congress for a hospital for legislators as bait for the passage of the re-election clause in the constitution. Hoy newspaper’s page 2 columnist calls the proposed hospital a “very expensive sweet.” Close aides of President Hipolito Mejia want to reform the constitution so he can run again for President in 2004.

Deputies’ privileges
Ultima Hora newspaper reported yesterday on the extensive benefits enjoyed by the 149 Dominican deputies -- many more than what the 30 senators get. The report comes after President Hipolito Mejia sent to Congress a loan for US$38.7 million for the construction of a special hospital for legislators. The bill has been defended by the deputies, with its main advocate Enrique Lopez (PRD-Monseñor Nouel). 
Ultima Hora explains that deputies are probably the best paid public servants. They get a monthly salary of RD$60,000 for their scant hours of work in Congress. They also have international insurance whereas senators only have insurance for medical costs in the DR. Deputies, like senators, receive two transferable unlimited tax exemptions on luxury cars per each four year term. The deputies also have a chauffeur, a bodyguard and a soldier at their service. Taxpayers’ money also built a large social and recreational club for them. Another benefit is a pension plan after they are 70 years old. The deputies also receive RD$1,500 in per diem fees for each day they go to work. Ultima Hora says the idea behind the per diems was to encourage the deputies to go to work, but those who are absent find a way to collect the money anyway. The congressmen also receive diplomatic passports for themselves and their families, with which they can import items tax free. 
Other benefits unique to the deputies are RD$11,000 for representation, and a monthly food allowance of RD$10,000. They also enjoy a modern restaurant at their service in Congress. 
The deputies also have been awarded taxpayer money to fund non-governmental organizations that they use for their own social and philanthropic activities in their provinces. 

Deputies pass consular invoice bill
The Deputies have passed a bill that would replace the present discretionary power of Dominican consuls to levy the consular invoice on trade transactions. The consular invoice would be replaced by a fixed US$100 charge. The bill now passes to the Senate. 
Legal advisor to the President, Guido Gomez Mazara has been one of the leading advocates of replacing the invoice. He has said in the past that the consular invoice has only served to enrich Dominican consuls, and not much else. 
A longtime headache to business, the invoice is required to move merchandise. The consuls levy the fluctuating charge to legalize trade transactions. 

Controversial loan project
The four legislators of the northwest provinces abandoned Congress yesterday in protest when a loan for the construction of the Northwest Aqueduct was sent to a commission for study and not passed immediately. The loan is secured with a European commercial bank and construction would be carried out by a Brazilian firm. 
The Arquitectos, Civiles y Sanitarios (Arcisa) firm, and its spokesman Nelson Sanchez Guerrero have denounced supposed irregularities in the allotting of the project to the Brazilians. They reject that the Brazilian contractors chosen by the government offer the better project. They dispute how the firm was chosen and say the Brazilian offer is more expensive than the one they presented during the tender. The firm demanded public sessions be held to discuss the project approved by the National Potable Water Aqueduct Institute (INAPA). The aqueduct is estimated to cost US$141 million. 

The legal status of teachers’ union
Minister of Labor Milton Ray Guevara told the press that the Asociacion Dominicana de Profesores, the local public school teachers union, has to define its legal status. He said the group has to decide if it is a union under Law 16-92 or under Law 1491 of the Civil Service Administration. Guevara said that so far, the organization is registered as a private union under Law 16-92. He explained that the union needs to decide whether it is a government organization or a private union. Supposedly, they can go on strike if it is a private union, not so if they are a governmental organization. The union is in a dispute with the government over wage increases and other benefits and has, over the years, used work stoppages to pressure the government. 

Trial vote
The Central Electoral Board is inviting all Dominicans to go to their electoral voting stations on Saturday, 23 March for a trial vote. The exercise will serve to verify that all their documents are in order and will enable voters to practice the new voting method. For the first time, in the 16 May 2002 congressional and municipal elections, Dominicans may choose deputies from a list of candidates for their electoral district. By choosing the deputy from one party, they are automatically voting for the party’s senator. A separate ballot is issued for the municipal candidates. Voters can vote for the mayor from one party and the congressional candidates of another party. 

New Emergency Operation Center
The government formally opened the Emergency Operation Center at the Plaza de la Salud medical complex yesterday. It is equipped with 30 computers, a 60-line telephone system, six faxes, 31 radio bases, three towers for antennas, five multimedia screens, seven closed circuit TVs, 12 clocks showing times around the world, a 175 kilo power plant and satellite dish. 
Rear Admiral Radhames Lora Salcedo, who heads emergency operations in the DR, explained the center will be the base for disaster prevention and assistance. 
The center was made possible with donations and assistance from the US Agency for International Development, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

More on Dominican politics poll
The Penn, Schoen & Berland poll contracted by El Caribe newspaper shows that if the presidential elections were held today, 37% of Dominicans would vote for the PRD, 27% for the PLD, and 24% for the PRSC candidate. 11% said they are undecided. To win the presidential elections a candidate needs 50%+1 of the vote. If this total is not achieved, a second round is held in which the candidate who receives the most votes wins. 
Other findings of the poll are:
74% of those who voted for the PRD in the past election said they would continue to vote for the PRD candidate in the next presidential election. 17% of those who voted for President Mejia said they would vote for the PLD or PRSC candidate. 
President Mejia continues to be a popular politician. 51% say they have a favorable opinion of him, and 48% said their opinion is unfavorable. Voters’ opinion on nonagenarian statesman Joaquin Balaguer is 65% favorable/33% unfavorable; and on former President Leonel Fernandez 60% favorable/40% unfavorable. 
The 24 - 27 February poll surveyed 1,034 people eligible to vote.

Comfort Inn to be built here
A Comfort Inn of 150 rooms is planned to go up near the Las Americas International Airport. Grupo Real-Grupo Poma, an El Salvador hotel group that has the franchise for the Sleep Inn, Comfort Inn, Quality Inn and Clarion Hotels in Central America, will be building the new facility. The group manages eight hotels in Central America and Miami. 

Real estate sales down
Diario Libre reports that housing sales in January and February were down 30% and 40% respectively. However, the newspaper says that demand has not declined for homes costing under RD$500,000.  

Making Santo Domingo more attractive
PRSC mayoral candidate and urban planner Ramon (Macoris) Perez Martinez proposes to convert the city of Santo Domingo into the tourism capital of the Caribbean. To do so, his plan is to use a feasibility study done earlier by the French consultancy group Sogreah that suggested building breakwaters on the Malecon to give Santo Domingo a beach and create 100,000 square meters of land for tourism development. “This project would complement the tourism development of the country. It is absurd that having such a strong cultural tradition as the first city of the New World, the capital city does not participate more in the tourism development of the nation,” he said. 
Perez Martinez said he wants to continue along the Malecon coastline the harbor improvement works engineer Felix Benitez Rexach started with the beach of Sans Souci in the 50s. He said the country needs to offer activities outside of the hotels that make the destination attractive. He proposes to turn the Eugenio Maria de Hostos Park into a center for the exhibition of plastic arts and build a convention center at the Agua Luz Theater. He said the contractors for these works would be chosen by tender.

National Theater doors to close at 8:30 pm
The director of the National Theater, Carmen Heredia announced the strict enforcement of show times at the National Theater. She said the measures would apply to all, including the President of the Republic. President Mejia has a reputation for being punctual. 
During a press conference, Heredia said after the doors are closed, no one would be allowed in unless there was a half-time intermission as in classical performances. She also said the theater would penalize productions that start late. The measures apply to all halls of the theater. 
The ticket offices would close 15 minutes prior to show time. The box office would only sell the tickets for that evening’s show. 
Heredia also said that entry to the theatre will only be at the south gate at Maximo Gomez and Cesar Nicolas Penson Avenues at all times in order to improve the flow of traffic. The exits will now be the north gates of Maximo Gomez and Pedro Henriquez Ureña Avenues. 

NBA City coming to Santo Domingo
Grupo Uno of the DR has won a National Basketball Association contract to manufacture sportswear for the NBA. Jesus Rodriguez Sandoval, spokesman for Grupo Uno, announced the group secured the license to produce all the NBA clothing for sale in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico. 
The sportswear will be subcontracted in the DR by Grupo Ballester, Grupo VJB, and Grupo M. The vice president of Group Uno Eliseo Alba said they expect sales of US$15 million over the next three years. 
The agreement with the NBA also calls for a new restaurant-shop, NBA City, at the Malecon Center, now under construction on the Malecon of Santo Domingo. 
NBA City was created when the NBA and Hard Rock Café joined forces to create the concept of an arena-sized venue that showcases the best in the game of hoops. The interior design looks like the classic courts of the 1940s and ’50s, but the amenities are 21st century. The City Walk Cage dining area serves up American cuisine, while TV screens project notable personalities and performances of the NBA and WNBA. The NBA City Playground features interactive games and attractions; and the upscale lounge, NBA City Club, invites guests to watch live and classic basketball games. The NBA City shop also sells licensed sportswear and novelty items. 

Major League Baseball games in Santo Domingo?
The Listin Diario reports that three Major League baseball games could be played in the DR in June. The games would match the Montreal Expos and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Exhibition games have been held here in the past but this would be the first time regular season games are held in Santo Domingo. Omar Minaya, general manager of the Montreal Expos, is behind the idea. A commission from the MLB will visit the DR to inspect the conditions at the Quisqueya Ball Park in Santo Domingo. The games could be held 3, 4, 5 June or 25, 26, 27 June. 
Both the Expos and the Pirates have several Dominican players: the Expos have Vladimir Guerrero, Fernando Tatis, and Guillermo Mota and the Pirates have Aramis Ramirez and Abraham Nuñez. 
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