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Daily News - Monday, 12 May 2008

JCE tests scanners
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) tested hundreds of scanners yesterday and posted data from 11,135 polling stations in one hour. Over 6,000 of the documents came from polling stations and nearly 5,000 came from municipal election headquarters. The operation was held in the presence of the full board, representatives from all the political parties and observers from the OAS and Citizen Participation, as well as the media. At the same time, the results were also transmitted to all the party headquarters. JCE chief magistrate Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman emphasized the importance of the trial run and reiterated the security of the new technology. He told reporters that, "it is easier to steal election results that are carried in a car or a pickup truck than results that are going over the Internet." Some bandwidth problems meant that the results sent to the political parties differed in appearance to those sent to the JCE main offices.
The 742 scanners will be used for the presidential election on 16 May at 742 voting precincts where five or more voting stations are located. This will make up 19% of the 4,005 voting precincts set up for the election. The plan would provide coverage for 54% of the total voting universe, or 3,051,141 voters of the 5,609,590 who are registered to vote. The overseas vote is not included in the total. As reported in Listin Diario, the scanners will cover 6,599 voting stations, or 51 of the total 12,995 that have been set up for the 16 May 2008 election. The scanner technology, which cost RD$200 million, will be located in 103 municipalities nationwide.

Enthusiasm for voting abroad
For the Friday, 16 May presidential election, 154,797 Dominicans in 11 countries have registered to vote, according to a report in Diario Libre. Of these, the largest concentration is in New York, with 37,907 registered to vote. Next are the Dominican communities in Spain, Puerto Rico, St. Martin, Venezuela, Italy, Panama, Switzerland, Curacao, Canada and Holland. For the 2004 presidential election, 52,440 Dominicans were eligible to vote, but this figure has tripled for the 2008 election.

Freeze on gasoline prices
For the first time in recent memory, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce has ignored the rising price of a barrel of oil on the international market and kept the price of a gallon of gasoline at the same level it was last week. Hydrocarbon Law 112-00 pegs the price of fuel to international prices. Only on rare occasions, has the government not let the price of gasoline float.

Government halts audits
The government's Chamber of Accounts has announced the suspension of all ongoing audits of government agencies until after the elections. This information was provided to the media by one of the magistrates, Henry Mejia. Mejia said that one of the main reasons for the decision was that many of the public buildings that were being audited were also going to be used as polling stations during the elections. He said that the entire body of the Chamber of Accounts was in agreement about the suspensions. The audits will continue next Monday.

Central Bank audit
The external auditor's report on the Dominican Republic Central Bank prepared by Price Waterhouse Cooper tends to awaken some doubts about the macroeconomic successes claimed by the government, as well as the apparent success in the handling of monetary policy. Listin Diario takes a glance at the Central Bank's deficit and the government's income as well as the interest paid by the Central Bank versus the amount of money in circulation. The article, by former Central Bank governor Guillermo Caram, of the PRSC party, sharply criticizes the government's economic policies, especially the marked increase in the number of people on the bank's payroll where a 90% increase was noted. The full-page article can be accessed online at: www.listindiario.com.do/app/article.aspx?id=58234

Need for constitutional procedures
The executive vice president of the Foundation for Institutionalism and Justice (FINJUS) has commented that the Sun Land case reflects the deficiency of constitutional justice in the DR. Servio Tulio Castanos Guzman said there are no requirements for deadlines or consequences for delays in the Supreme Court of Justice ruling on requests for their opinion on constitutional issues. He says that there cannot be a state of law without constitutional justice, because this is the political component of justice. "We have seen how because of the lack of constitutional procedure law, the constitutional jurisdiction is completely deficient. Castanos Guzman said that as well as the Sun Land case, a further 200 cases are awaiting an opinion from the Supreme Court of Justice.
Participacion Ciudadana said that because of its characteristics, the Supreme Court of Justice should have given this case priority. The general coordinator of the civic group, Francisco Checo said that Sun Land is one of the cases that have best demonstrated the lack of transparency and institutionalism of the country.
Finjus and Participacion Ciudadana executives were responding to comments by the chief justice of the Dominican Supreme Court, who told reporters that none of the judges has asked for the very controversial Sun Land case to be placed on the docket. The case involves US$130 million in government-sponsored IOUs for several projects, including new facilities for the state UASD university, without Congressional approval. The use of the funding has not been clarified either. Chief Justice Subero Isa told reporters that "if justice Ibarra Rios can obtain a majority in the court, therein lies the answer to the conflict." However, Subero Isa also added that none of the magistrates had proposed putting the case on the court's agenda and that was why it has not been heard. The PRD party and the Alternative Social Forum have asked the court to rule on the constitutionality of the Sun Land deal.
Justice Julio Ibarra Rios blamed Supreme Court of Justice president Jorge Subero Isa for not putting the case on the agenda. He said that the president of Supreme Court decides what the justices will debate and he told Listin Diario that so far, Subero Isa has understood there are more important cases pending than that unconstitutionality recourse.

Codetel in the countryside
The Dominican Telephone Company (CODETEL) has expanded its "Rural Broadband Connections" program by linking three more communities to the Internet. The program is designed to bring the Internet to the country's remotest communities and serve a million and a half people who do not have access to this type of communication. A total of 20 communities have been connected so far, and the goal is to reach a total of 503 communities. The three latest communities were Las Matas de Santa Cruz in Montecristi province, San Victor in Espaillat province and Monte Plata, the capital of the province with the same name.

IIBI suggests substitutes for flour
The Institute for Biological and Industrial Innovations (IIBI) proposed substituting 20% of the wheat flour used in making bread with flour from other sources, such as the prickly pear or other succulents. According to Bernarda Castillo, the director of IIBI, this is a tried and tested process, and would help reduce the cost of producing bread for the national market. Wheat prices have risen by RD$400 a bag over the last few weeks.

Chicken prices climb again
The price of chicken has once again risen, although reporters found price swings of as much as ten pesos while researching the story. Doris Pantaleon and Nestor Medrano reported that some retail outlets were selling chicken for between RD$38 and RD$45 a pound in several barrios and supermarkets. They also report that cooking oil has nearly doubled in price, and that government-subsidized rice was running out in some sectors. On the other hand, eggs were maintaining their price, as agreed between producers and the government. During are series of visits over the weekend, Listin Diario reporters found chicken at RD$32 per pound and RD$45 per pound in the same part of town. Retailers told them that there was a trend towards increasing the price of chicken. They also told reporters that the subsidized rice was getting scarce because many people have been stockpiling it in fear that the government will remove the subsidy after the elections. Cooking oil, which used to sell for RD$325 a pound is being sold for RD$600 or RD$650 a pound in some sectors.

Trade deficit with the US
DR-CAFTA seems to be working only one way, with a significant increase in imports from the United States. The trade deficit for the first three months of the year increased to US$688 million, up from US$426 million for the same period in 2007. Imports were US$1.6 billion, up from US$1.4 billion. At the same time, exports declined from US$991.8 to US$927.3 million. In 2004, Dominicans exported more to the US than was imported. In that year, the trade balance was US$168.8 million in favor of the DR. In an interview with Hoy, economist Luis Vargas commented that the decline in exports is due to the accelerated dismantling of industry and farming in the DR.

Housing sales are way down
The Dominican Association of Housing Promoters and Builders (Acoprovi) says that housing sales are down 50%. This sort of news would be catastrophic in the United States, but apparently it is going unnoticed in the Dominican Republic. According to Acoprovi spokesperson Jaime Gonzalez, the downturn in housing sales is due to the large increases in the price of re-bar and cement as well as the cost of plumbing and electrical installations. According to the spokesperson, "This has led most new investors or new projects to come to a halt because nobody wants to invest in a sector where there is so much insecurity". According to Gonzalez, housing costs have risen by 20% in recent months. Gonzalez told Diario Libre reporters that sector representatives had met with the Minister of Industry and Commerce in an attempt to try and halt the increasing prices of basic construction supplies. He added that the first step would be to ease import duties on these same materials. According to the Central Bank, 264,000 people currently work in the housing sector, the third largest sector in the Dominican economy.

CNN's Palacios looks at the DR
CNN's Claudia Palacios, a prominent commentator from the all-news network, is currently covering the Dominican elections. According to an interview in Hoy, the Colombian television personality sees only slow change in the political scene in the Dominican Republic. Palacios told Hoy reporter Adalberto de la Rosa that there are several parallels between the Dominican political situation and other Latin American nations. One of the things noted by Palacios was the slow change in political leadership and how the people adapt to having the same faces in power. Palacios also noted what she called the "timid" participation of women in the political process, unlike the case of other nations such as Chile or Argentina.
On a less serious note, as reported in El Caribe, Claudia Palacios participated in the El Mismo golpe with Jochy Santos talk show last Friday. She commented that it was her first visit to the DR. Palacios said the "warmth of the people and the beauty of the country" impressed her. She praised the color of the sea and the country's highway network.

Deaths on campaign trail
At least five people were killed and many more were injured when a truck and a small van full of political activists collided near the El Soco River bridge between La Romana and San Pedro de Macoris. Newspaper reports vary, but it appears that the van driver was driving carelessly. At least twenty other passengers were reported injured. The passengers were on their way to a political rally in San Pedro de Macoris in support of President Fernandez's re-election. Meanwhile, a tragic shooting incident took place during political activity in the town of Vicente Noble. A 15-year old girl was killed by a stray bullet as PLD and PRD supporters clashed in the streets. At least four other people were injured in the melee, including two children. The chief of police has launched an in-depth investigation into the incident.

Traffic toll is 40 deaths in two months
Forty people have been killed in road accidents in less than two months. Of this total, at least five died during political activities. In the last two weeks of April, 22 people perished in just three accidents and more than 25 were injured, according to Police reports. During the first part of May, ten accidental deaths were recorded, five of which occurred in the accident at the Soco River bridge over the weekend. For the same period last year, 28 deaths were reported. The Emergency Room at the Dario Contreras Hospital reported 28 injuries in traffic accidents last Friday alone.

Workers demand pay in Santiago
Approximately 200 workers and artisans who helped in the remodeling of the Monument to the Restoration in Santiago de los Caballeros were demonstrating on Friday in hopes of getting overdue pay for their efforts. The remodeled Monument was officially re-opened over nine months ago. The protesters threatened to occupy the facade of the Monument and the Regional Theater if the Ministry of Culture did not come up with their pay. The workers said that were trying to get President Fernandez to ensure that Minister of Culture Rafael Lantigua paid them for their efforts. There has been some criticism of the remodeling job carried out by the government because it began to show signs of deterioration shortly after it was completed, somewhat similar to the stone pavement at the old San Luis Fort. The paved wall began to crumble just hours after President Fernandez cut the ribbon. According to El Nuevo Diario, the workers said that they were just workers with families to support, and all they have received for their efforts was a denial to pay them their just wages.

Rescued baby doing well
The baby taken from his dead mother's womb after a domestic dispute has been removed from an incubator and is being breast fed by his aunt. The baby was saved after doctors performed a C-section on the mother who was killed by her husband, who then committed suicide. The mother's sister-in-law is now breastfeeding the baby, and nurses at the Elio Fiallo Hospital in Pedernales are also providing formula for the newborn. Pediatrician Ana Maria Acosta reported that the baby is in good health and is the center of attention at the hospital.
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