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Daily News - 2 August 2002

More foreign loans passed
Diario Libre reports that Congress passed two foreign commercial bank loans totaling US$36.5 million yesterday. One of the two loans - for US$30.1 million - was sent to Congress the day before and was never even read by the deputies prior to their voting in its favor. President Hipolito Mejia returned the contract with Caterpillar Financial Services and Eximbank of the United States after a US$500,000 revision was made on the difference between the amount the government would receive and the amount that would be paid out. The loan would be used to purchase equipment and machinery for use on the border with Haiti. El Caribe newspaper indicates that the contract is very odd in that neither the representative of the Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation or Eximbank signed off on the document. The only signature is that of Rafael Calderon, Presidency Technical Secretary. The contract now needs to be passed again by the PRD-majority Senate. 
Another loan - contracted with the ABN Amro Bank branch in Spain - is for US$6.4 million, also passed by the Senate yesterday. The money will finance electrical work at the Moncion hydroelectric project. 
The two loans increase the total passed by the Mejia administration in its first two years in government to US$3.37 billion. The same PRD-majority Congress passed less than US$800 million during the previous PLD-Fernandez government. The loans are now being passed at a time the government wants to increase taxes. Businessmen and economists have urgently recommended that the government reduce its spending and borrowing. 

Pension for Balaguer’s cook
Diario Libre reveals that the Chamber of Deputies agreed to grant a RD$10,000 a month pension to Clara Cruz Rosario, the woman who was responsible for the late President Joaquin Balaguer’s meals. Cruz was one of the persons closest to the late statesman since she was employed as his cook 40 years ago. Her name even appeared in the death notice of the seven-time President. Rafaela (Lila) Alburqueque lobbied for the approval of the pension.

Payment problems affect power distributors
Julio Cross, Superintendent of Power, attributed the increase in power outages in the east of Santo Domingo to the financial difficulties that confront AES Ede Este, the power distributor in the area. AES alleges that bill collections are down. Scores of consumers in AES’ territory do not pay for the service. The plan to bill consumers a fixed sum is not working out. With the increase in the hours of power outages, consumers have little incentive to pay the fixed bills. 
Meanwhile, former general manager of the CDE, Radhames Segura says that the problem is that the government is not paying its own bills. To assuage the power distributors, it is looking the other way and allowing companies to save by increasing the power outages in lower income areas on fixed payment plans.

RD$16.6 billion in BOT projects
El Caribe newspaper reports that the government has passed RD$16.6 billion in five highway, and a railroad concession projects (under the model of build, operate and transfer - BOT) without first passing the bill that would establish the regulatory framework for these projects. A similar government decision to privatize power utilities without first passing a regulatory framework has created major problems. Nonetheless, congressmen have not learned from that experience, and have still gone ahead and approved the billionaire contracts.
With the exception of the Samana contractors, the companies have been chosen without tenders.
The projects getting a head start with little regulation are: 
Santo Domingo-Samana highway (105 kms., RD$2.1billion)
San Pedro de Macoris-La Romana (35 kms., RD$4.5 billion)
Santo Domingo-La Romana (110 kms., RD$950 million)
Santo Domingo-San Cristobal (30 kms., RD$1.5 billion)
San Cristobal-Bani (27 kms., RD$3.9 billion)
Maximo Gomez-Villa Mella (9 kms., RD$2.2 billion)
Haina-Santiago train (170 kms., RD$5.4 billion)

Traffic cops violate traffic law
Fabio Puello, deputy director of the Tax Department (DGII), told El Caribe that the 250 new Metropolitan Transport Authority vehicles are circulating irregularly because they have not gone through normal procedures to obtain their registration permits. Puello said that the only institution that can grant these permits - or license plates - is the DGII. AMET vehicles are being used with plastic plates they made themselves.

Unions dispute increased tolls
The transport work stoppage called by the Fenatrano, Conatra bus and Fenatrado trucking unions, forced users of public transport to pay more to get to work yesterday, and others to just stay at home. 
But, for the most part, traffic flowed as usual. Those heading in and out of the city though suffered the worst inconveniences. Commuters faced long lines as hundreds had to get change to pay the increased tolls. 
The union transporters were protesting the tripling of toll rates by the government. Meanwhile, President Hipolito Mejia says that these should have been raised even more. He said he had favored the proposal to raise it to RD$50. The four tollbooths are now charging cars RD$15 to exit or enter the city of Santo Domingo. 
The government is considering being flexible in the cases of those who commute to Villa Altagracia, San Cristobal or Boca Chica several times a day.

The hen doesn’t make it to court
Diario Libre reports that the “supernatural hen” that was to be questioned in criminal court for complicity with Lorenzo Rodriguez, (who is accused of sexual violation of minors) was released from its quarters at the Ciudad Nueva court. Reportedly, the hen was entrusted to the care of Roberto Rodriguez (Chalupa), a messenger who works at the District Attorney office. Supposedly, the hen befriended Rodriguez – the messenger - and told him the winning numbers to a lottery. The hen had been held at a court as evidence in the child abuse case against Lorenzo Rodriguez. The story goes that Lorenzo Rodriguez used the chicken to entrance the young girls he’s accused of violating.
The judge hearing the case, Eduardo Cespedes Reyes left open the possibility that the chicken be summoned again to the court for questioning. The girls however say Rodriguez is innocent.

UK pedophile rings seek DR children
El Caribe newspaper reports on a story by The Independent (a British newspaper) that children from Sri Lanka and the Dominican Republic are being smuggled into the UK. According to Scotland Yard, $61 million pounds have been made out of 15 people-smuggling operations. The Organismo Rector del Sistema de Proteccion de Menores, the local government children’s protection department told El Caribe they would request more information from Scotland Yard. The department feels confident that controls are in place to reduce the trafficking of minors from the Dominican Republic. For more on the matter, see http://news.independent.co.uk/

US takes big step to boost its exports
President George Bush celebrated the passage of the Trade Promotion Authority by the US Congress as a major achievement that will help increase US exports. The bill had been discussed in Congress since 1994. The US indicated the measure would enable the completing of the US Free Trade agreement negotiations with Chile and Singapore. US Trade Rep. Robert Zoellick said the passing of TPA opens America's markets right away to developing countries in Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean. He announced the country would start negotiations with Central America, a major competitor for Dominican Republic apparel contracts. See http://www.tpa.gov/

Pan Am Games get new mascot
Apparently Tito the manatee was not commercial enough? Jose Joaquin Puello, president of the Organizing Committee for the Pan Am Games, announced the unveiling of a new mascot for the 2003 Games. Instead of Tito, the figure of an athlete will be used in promotions. The new figure has yet to be unveiled in Santo Domingo, but Puello said that this mascot would make marketing of the Games much easier.

City basketball tournament
Mauricio Baez began its defense of the Capital city basketball title yesterday. Looking to stake a claim at the title is San Carlos, Los Prados, San Lazaro, Club Naco, Calero, Villa Francisca and Los Minas. The series continues through September 15th. Semi-finals begin on Sept. 17th with the finals beginning on the 26th. Games times are 7, 8 and 9 pm on the weekdays, and 4, 6 and 7 pm on weekends. Most games are at the Palacio de los Deportes in the Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic Center.
 
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