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Daily News - 5 December 2002

Mejia objects to share buy-back
President Hipolito Mejia does not agree with the proposal to use an additional US$150-million of sovereign bond placement money to buy back the 50% stake of the power distribution companies belonging to Union Fenosa. Reporters persisted with many questions regarding this matter last night, expecting to hear from the President whether or not he would veto the bill. Mejia answered by saying: “…very rarely would I veto anything, if it is properly discussed in the Senate…” He ended the question period in reference to the subject, adding, “They can do whatever they want because it’s their job, but I assure you I do not agree with buying back the shares.” 
Cesar Sanchez, general manager of the Dominican Electricity Corporation (CDE), supports the re-purchase of the shares in order to pass them on to an as of yet unnamed Dominican investor group. In the past Sanchez had been a strong supporter of the renegotiations that resulted in increased privileges and benefits granted to the power distributors, by way of such agreements as the Madrid Accord. Although the Madrid Accord met with the favor of the power distributors, it came at a high cost to Dominican consumers. 

Cogentrix willing to negotiate
The Minister of Finance, Jose Lois Malkum, met yesterday with Clay Coleman, a representative of Cogentrix, regarding the renegotiations of the 20-year contract with the company. Earlier, Malkum had complained that the company would not sit down to talks. Cogentrix had threatened to take the Dominican government to international arbitration court. The government also discussed its US$39-million debt with Cogentrix and the possibility of converting the plant to natural gas. 
Malkum also spoke about the possibility of increasing the government’s line of credit with local banks for the purpose of making payment to Cogentrix.

Senators meet the power distributors
Last night, for six uninterrupted hours, the Senate became a battleground for discussions between representatives of two power distribution companies - Union Fenosa and AES. Each senator was given the opportunity to question the distributors regarding the high and rising cost of power and the continued blackouts. 
In general, all senators agreed that the country’s social peace is at risk because of the “abuses” of the distribution companies. They blamed the distribution companies for the exorbitant energy bills and several deaths of citizens in rural areas and poor neighborhoods during protests against the companies, arguing that something must be done about the situation. Various senators repeatedly asked the commission of the Distribution Companies if they would agree to sell their shares. Union Fenosa said their shares were not for sale and stressed they were prepared for a long-term relationship for the benefit of all parties. But the president of AES, Guillermo Ibañez, agreed to sell its stake - if their investment were returned. Ibañez also says that the government owes AES RD$40-million for invoices of government offices past due.
The power executives, including the vice president of Union Fenosa, Antonio Pantoja reiterated their opinions on the reasons behind the current crisis. Included in their rationale, they suggest that there are 3.5 million Dominicans who receive power but do not pay for it, thereby constituting fraud and a monthly deficit to the power generators of RD$100-million.
They also lay blame on the fact that only in September 2002 did the government eliminate the subsidy on the cost of power. Finally, they cited the devaluation of the peso and the rising price of oil as another responsible factor.
Antonio Pantoja, executive vice president for the Union Fenosa power distributors, said that they have invested US$800-million into the system, which elicited a cry from behind Senator Cesar Diaz Filpo (PRD-Azua) and president of the Commission of Finances, of “Not even he himself believes that!” This interjection opened the floor to a series of sarcastic remarks from both parties as to which was telling the truth. Pantoja commented that they were only 50% shareholders, but that some employees of the CDE, the state power corporation, were 12% owners.

Legislators want more money
Legislators from both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate protested their departments allotments in the 2003 National Budget and the budget-cuts of RD$4-million from the deputies’ salaries. The president of the Senate says that the paltry increase granted for the Senate will not even allow it to raise its staff’s wages by the 7% minimum.

Two very honest cops
Hoy newspaper reports on two municipal police agents who returned about a quarter of a million pesos to the relatives of a check-changing man who suffered a traffic accident in front of the municipal police headquarters on Monday. Sargeant Victor Agramonte and corporal Cristian Sanchez were on duty when they observed a group of people swarming around Carlos Raymundo Baez, who lay on the street after being seriously injured in a car accident close to 7 pm. The man was surrounded by the money that he was carrying to cash the checks of the municipal police officers. They assisted the injured man and then delivered the cash to their superiors, which was later returned to the wife of the injured man. Municipal police agents make RD$2,500 a month and both officers were promoted in return for their honesty.

Businesses oppose extra US$150-million
An emergency press meeting was summoned by the National Council of Private Companies (CONEP), the National Association of Young Businessmen (ANJE) and the Association of Industries of the Dominican Republic (AIRD) to express their opposition to the issuance of an additional US$150-million in sovereign bonds, as proposed by the Senate. The Senate intends to use the money to buy back the 50% stake of power distribution companies. The spokespeople for the leading business organizations claim that this would send the wrong signals to foreign investors and explained that the World Bank has already approved a new loan to the DR to improve the power situation. “The only difference is that the project with the World Bank’s money will be supervised by a specialized international institution, but if the government buys back the 50% no one will supervise,” said Marino Ginebra, the president of CONEP.
Elena Viyella, president of the AIRD said that these types of erratic actions taken by the senators is what is creating the lack of confidence in the government that has pushed the peso to a record low against the US dollar. The government party (PRD) has 30 of the 32 votes in the Senate.

Bad news for Christmas dinner
The cost of pork meat, which is a part of the traditional Christmas Eve dinner, will rise between 4 and 6 pesos per pound. The price per pound of pork meat was supposed to remain between RD$17 to RD$18 for this Christmas season, however it is currently being sold at RD$22 and RD$23 per pound.
The president of the Association of National Pork Farmers, Jose Alba Rosario, blamed the devaluation of the peso for the increase. The peso has lost about 30% to the dollar in the past four months and, he explained, approximately 90% of all materials used to produce pork are imported. Alba Rosario said that if the peso continues to devaluate, the price would have to be readjusted again. 
A generalized wave of price increases is affecting the Dominican Republic, as the economy also adjusts to major increases in the cost of power put into effect by a government ruling as of October.

Dollar continues steep rise
The US dollar was traded yesterday at a rate of up to RD$23.50, representing a year-to-date increase of over 30% and the steepest decline of the Dominican currency over the last 12 years. The fast-paced devaluation is owed to the fact that demand has exceeded supply and exchange banks and large corporations are not selling. 
The business community has repeatedly expressed its grave concern for the exchange rate and anticipates heavy losses due to what is being called a crisis situation. Many companies in the Dominican Republic rely heavily on imported goods that are paid for in US currency. Many importers have experienced a sharp deflation in the value of their accounts receivable within the last 60 days, in turn reducing their purchasing power and ability to restock inventory. The matter is worsened for many of these companies by the fact that they were not prepared for such abrupt changes in the value of the Dominican Peso.
Listin Diario reports that some are suggesting a conspiracy in which certain groups that stand to gain the most from a quick rise in the value of the dollar are fueling the devaluation by using monopolistic tactics and influencing policy makers. Two currency exchange houses control 65% of the US Dollar remittances into the DR and could greatly benefit from a volatile decline in the value of the peso. 
The National Council for Private Enterprise (CONEP) attributes the rise of the value of the dollar to general uneasiness and pessimism, but they expect the peso to stabilize before December 15th at a rate between RD$20 and RD$21. CONEP’s president, Marino Ginebra, indicates that no private entity can retain large amounts of US dollars for more than 24 to 48 hours.

DR is 4th place in Games
The Dominican delegation in El Salvador won 8 medals in wrestling and tae kwon do at the Central American and Caribbean Games yesterday. The DR medal count now totals 91 - 24 gold, 25 silver and 42 bronze. The shining star for the Dominican delegation in yesterday’s activities was Angelo Brea, who conquered gold in the 66kg category of Olympic wrestling by defeating Endrix Arteaga of Venezuela.

Aguilas gain there 25th victory
Alex Gomez had three hits, including two home runs, and knocked in five runs to lead the Aguilas to an 11-7 win over the Estrellas Orientales last night in Santiago. Arnaldo Muñoz gained his third victory and added to his impressive strikeout total of 63 in 32 innings and the victory sealed their ticket to the round robin. The game was a combination of great middle relief pitching and a strong five-run seventh inning.

Gigantes gain second place
At Quisqueya stadium last night the Gigantes squeaked by Licey 4-3 to draw a tie for second place with the Estrellas Orientales. Raymond Nuñez committed a costly error that led to the winning run, with Duaner Sanchez getting the win and Jose Parra closing out the final two innings to earn the save. Licey, the 2001-2002 season champions, has now dropped 8 of its last 12 games as their hopes to reach the playoffs fade. With this game the Giants are now tied for second place with the Estrellas and have increased their chances of appearing in the playoffs for the first time in Dominican baseball history.

15 innings later the Toros are victorious
Chris Mouton singled in the winning run in the bottom of the 15th inning to break up a 5-5 tie and lead the Toros over the Escogido. The teams took turns holding the lead until the ninth, when the scoring was halted for 6 innings until Fernando Rodney gave up a walk to Brad Cresse to start the inning. Cresse scored on Mouton’s single to centerfield, giving Daniel Speck his first win for two solid innings of work.

Baseball standings
Teams           W   L   Diff.
Aguilas          25  11  ---
Gigantes        19  17   6
Estrellas        19  17   6
Escogido        17  19   8
Licey             14  22  11 
Azucareros    14  22  11
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