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Daily News - Wednesday, 02 July 2008

Chamber of accounts trial starts today
The Chamber of Accounts members who have not resigned go on trial at the Senate today. The legislative body will become a General Commission for the trial of the government's auditors, who are accused of misconduct, as required by the special report presented by the Chamber of Deputies. The senators rejected a request submitted by three of the accountants for the process to be postponed. After a reading of the document from the Chamber of Deputies, the senators will interrogate each of the auditors on an individual basis, but all the remaining Chamber of Accounts members will be present throughout the hearings. Senate president Reinaldo Pared Perez told reporters from El Nuevo Diario that although each of the accused was allowed to have one or two assistants or consultants, they would not be allowed to speak to the senators. Just hours before the full board of accountants assigned to the Chamber of Accounts was to face the members of the Senate, one of the remaining accountants in the Chamber, Henry Mejia, submitted his resignation. In a half-page announcement in Listin Diario, Mejia claimed innocence, leaving the other six members to face the music.
The worst that could happen during the Senate hearings is that they are fired from their posts, which pay more than US$10,000 a month.

CDEEE announces end to subsidy
The Dominican Corporation of State-owned Electricity Enterprises (CDEEE) announced yesterday that it was going to focus the electricity subsidy on the poorest consumers. For consumers not in this category, this means that their electricity bills, already among the highest in the region, will be going up shortly, to reflect the added expense of rising fuel prices.
Radhames Segura, the head of the CDEEE told reporters from El Nuevo Diario that the subsidy would end for the wealthy and the middle class and even some of the poor, in order to focus on families that have received the Solidarity Card, a type of government welfare plan, that in addition to education, health and food subsidies will soon be able to be used for energy and transport expenses.
Segura added that as part of these changes, the Program to Reduce Blackouts (PRA) would also be revamped. The PRA is in place in low income neighborhoods where homes and businesses are set fixed rates of RD$200 per month or RD$700 per business. Several companies have moved into these areas to take advantage of the lower cost of power, nevertheless, which has led the government re-evaluate the program's effectiveness. According to the official, this is all part of the government's effort to alleviate the impact of higher oil prices.

FENATRADO work stoppage today
The National Federation of Dominican Transportation (Fenatrado) will hold a six-hour work stoppage today in protest against the removal of the subsidy given to the transport unions as a way of holding down the cost of freight and passenger services. Ricardo de los Santos, the union vice-president, told reporters that the work stoppage would start this morning and end at noon. A total of 106 groups and approximately 42,000 truckers were due to stop work this morning, stopping at the access points to highways and thoroughfares and on the Malecon seafront boulevard in Santo Domingo, as well as near the mega-port in Boca Chica. According to de los Santos, their clients were duly warned about the work stoppage.
For years now, the National Council for Private Business (CONEP) and other business organizations have been challenging the government for accepting FENATRADO's unilateral requirement that its truckers be assigned at least 50% of all cargo out of ports. The business groups call for freedom for companies to choose who can transport their cargo, and for being able to use their own trucks. The work stoppage is the latest chapter in FENATRADO's efforts to impose its union muscle, which up till now has only been met with government complacency.

Government talks to doctors
After a series of strikes by the Dominican Medical Association (CMD) over the last six months, with hospitals all but shut down across the country, the government has set up a special commission to negotiate with the doctors and sort things out. The dialogue begins today with the government's economic team, headed by Presidential Minister Luis Manuel Bonetti as the chairman, and Minister of Hacienda Vicente Bengoa, sitting down for the first time with the doctors, who will be represented by Waldo Ariel Suero, Senen Caba and special representative Oscar Lopez Camacho. The doctors are arguing for increased salaries and the elimination of the quotas that are required from patients at public hospitals. Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez has been left out of the talks. The minister supports a system that would impede the physicians from holding multiple jobs in the same work schedule, and would pay doctors according to productivity. Thus wage increases would not be over the board, as sought by the union, but to those putting in the hours.

Eleven filling stations closed
Eleven filling stations, the old term for gas stations, were closed at the orders of the Specialized Corps for the Control of Fuels (Cecom). The eleven stations also sold LPG (propane) for vehicular use, and the agency, part of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, said that this posed a danger to the public. Any gasoline station that also sells propane must have a special permit, or the station will be closed. Cecom spokesperson Daniel Rodriguez argued that Cecom is not opposed to the sale of propane at gasoline stations, but that the very strict conditions for such sales must be met and written permission must be obtained from the ministry.

Tax break for 92 companies
The manufacturing sector began to receive the benefits of the Law on Competitiveness and Industrial Innovation as ninety-two companies were released from their obligation to pay the Value Added Tax (ITBIS) levied on 'anticipated' sales. This move allows freer use of working capital. So far, 201 requests for this tax relief have been received, and these 92 are just the start. The announcement was made by Ruben Bichara Jimenez, the director of Proindustria, a new entity that replaces the Industrial Promotion Corporation, whose offices were at the northwest corner of the intersection of 27 de Febrero and Luperon Avenue. Bichara Jimenez told El Caribe reporter Martin Polanco that these companies no longer have to pay VAT on raw materials, and that this is just one of the benefits of the new program. Much of the equipment is duty free and there is a 50% tax break on exports.

Unions ask for special prices
The transport unions, which exert almost total control over the movement of passengers and freight throughout the country, have met with officials from the Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET), including the chief executive, Diandino Pena. The unions recommended that the government should price diesel fuel at between RD$110 and RD$120 a gallon and LPG (propane gas) at RD$60 a gallon. According to the spokesperson for the CNTU union, Ramon Perez Figuereo, Diandino Pena promised that the President would look at these requests. Today, all the unions will meet with government officials to hear the answers to their demands. Tomorrow they will meet with the OTTT, the Technical Office for Land Transport. Since the government announced the elimination of the sale of subsidized diesel fuel to the unions, all the groups have been meeting to sketch out a plan to present to the government.

Dairy farmers can supply breakfasts
Dominican dairy farmers are saying that they can supply the milk needed for the School Breakfast Program. The Dominican Milk Producers Association (Aproleche) and the Cattle Farmers' Federation are calling on the administration to comply with Law 27-01 and 180 -01. These laws say that the government social programs should be implemented using locally produced goods and services, and should not use government resources or take out loans to import products that exist on the local market. The two entities affirm that they have sufficient output to fulfill the demands of the School Breakfast, and moreover, they say that the deal that was struck between the Ministry of Education and the National Council for the Regulation and Promotion of the Milk Industry in 2005 stipulated that 50% of the milk in the program would come from local producers, and this has not been the case. The dairy farmers say that only 20% of the milk being used comes from local cows. The dairy farmers say that the Ministry has paid RD$42 for a low quality drink, while the milk drinks they offered would have cost RD$18.
Education Minister Alejandrina German says that as far as she is concerned, the school breakfast case is closed and she will not refer to it again. She has consistently defended the quality of the supplies sourced by the Ministry.
For a discussion on the topic, see www.dr1.com/forums/government/...

NGO calls JCE memo illegal
Civic group Citizen Participation (PC) has labeled the Central Electoral Board (JCE) decision to issue a memorandum (No. 017) that attempts to limit access to birth certificates in a retroactive manner as illegal. According to the group, nobody can deny citizenship to people who were accepted as Dominicans before the publication of the new Migration Law 285-04 or before the Supreme Court decision of 14 December 2005 that countermands a sentence from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, also in 2005. That sentence rejected the category of "transients" for people who resided permanently in the Dominican Republic. The sentence also said that the children of these individuals could not be blamed for their parents' illegal status. Citizen Participation told reporters from Hoy newspaper that "Memo 017 attempts to retroactively apply Migration Law 285-04, and this goes against the constitution." The memorandum says that the JCE has been called into question on the issue of birth certificates that were granted to people whose parents have not proved their legal status in the country, and it instruct the local officials not to sign or emit copies of these certificates. The JCE's position contradicts the Dominican government's stance, based on Supreme Court of Justice rulings that determined that Dominican citizenship would only be awarded to people born to foreign parents with permanent residence status in the Dominican Republic. Furthermore, the JCE has recently revealed the existence of numerous mafias that sold Dominican cedulas and birth certificates at a low cost.

Baninter appeal nearly complete, says Subero
The chief justice of the Dominican Supreme Court, Jorge Subero Isa, has told reporters that the appeal process that was filed against the sentences in the BanInter case is nearly complete. The sentences handed down by the Third Penal Chamber of the Court of Appeals were appealed by all the defendants who received prison sentences. Only the prosecutor's office did not file an appeal. Subero told Hoy reporter Solange Batista that "...the Penal Chamber (of the Supreme Court) should rule within the next 10 or 15 days." According to the Penal Process Code, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to hear the appeals. If the court decides to hear the appeals, then a date will be set for hearings.
Three Dominican banking executives (Ramon Baez Figueroa, Luis Alvarez Renta and Marcos Baez Cocco) were convicted for mismanagement and money laundering last year for their roles in the 2003 collapse of Banco Intercontinental (Baninter), known as the largest financial collapse in the Caribbean. Reportedly, Baninter collapsed after losing about US$2.2 billion, and the resulting government bailout resulted in 30% inflation and a dramatic increase in poverty as the government paid back all depositors and determined that taxpayers pick up the cost. In the initial judgment, Bank president Ramon Baez Figueroa was acquitted of the more serious charge of money laundering, but this charge was incorporated into the subsequent Court of Appeals review.
Ramon Baez Figueroa was originally sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined RD$2.5 million for violating the General Banking Law (708-65) and sections of the Monetary and Financial Law (183-02). The Court of Appeals had requested a 20-year jail sentence for money-laundering.

Nowhere to hide?
The Attorney General's office has announced the extradition and transfer to the Dominican authorities of an accused murderer by the Spanish courts. Attorney General Radhames Jimenez Pena told El Nuevo Diario reporters that the person concerned is Alexander Perez Morillo, who is accused of killing Jonny Mateo Valdez in 2006. Perez Morillo fled from the DR in 2007 and his extradition was requested of the Spanish authorities in November that year. Interpol officials have now handed the fugitive over to the Dominican authorities. Since 1981 the Spanish and Dominican governments have carried out extraditions under the terms of a bilateral agreement. Its successful implementation was described as a new benchmark in the process of extradition between the two countries. A previous case was also resolved successfully with the extradition of Gabino Molina Flores, accused of two deaths in 2005.

More rains
The National Meteorological Office (Onamet) is forecasting thunderstorms over most of the country for the next 24 hours. A frontal system will cover the area for the next 24-48 hours. The forecast says that a tropical wave to the southeast of the Dominican Republic will bring humidity and a strong tropical wave near Cape Verde is also being observed. Green alerts are in place for residents of low-lying areas and areas that are prone to landslides.
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