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Daily News - Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Dario Contreras gets new ER
The President and the First Lady cut the ribbon and led the opening ceremony for the new Emergency Room at the famous Dario Contreras Hospital in Santo Domingo. Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez told reporters from Diario Libre that long waiting times for treatment and patients sitting on the floor were a thing of the past.
The new ER can treat 16 patients at a time and has another six beds available for patients under observation. It also has an area for applying casts and for procedures that do not require major surgery. Hospital director Hector Quezada called the new ER "more than an emergency room; it is an integrated trauma center" because it has modern tomography equipment, two units of the latest x-ray equipment, three surgeries, MRI equipment, dialysis equipment, a full clinical laboratory and other services. Each year the hospital sees more than 60,000 patients and performs 8,000 major surgical procedures. Over the past 12 years the hospital, certainly one of the busiest in the Caribbean, has treated over 12 million patients from all over the country. The hospital is located just off of the Las Americas Highway, near the approaches to the Duarte Bridge on the east bank of the Ozama River.

Fernandez to announce measures
President Leonel Fernandez will address the nation tomorrow evening. Fernandez will focus on forthcoming economic and social measures including energy and fuel saving initiatives and an increase in the minimum wage, according to Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa, the Minister of Hacienda. Yesterday, Fernandez held a two-hour meeting with Vice President Rafael Alburquerque, Industry and Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes, Presidency Administrative Minister Luis Manuel Bonetti and his social and economic advisors. Bengoa also said that the President would be sending to Congress a supplementary budget, totaling some RD$20 billion, either Friday or Monday. Bengoa revealed that propane gas would continue to be subsidized, and that the President would announce other measures since "there is a serious crisis." The Minister of Hacienda said that the supplementary budget would be partially financed by resources coming from the PetroCaribe Agreement.

Salary Committee wants to know
More voices are calling for an increase in the minimum wage in both the public and private sectors. Gloria Henriquez, director of the National Salaries Committee (CNS), admitted that the current conditions required discussions about an increase in the minimum wage, but first the CNS has to be notified by either the management sector or the trade union sector in order to put the issue on the agenda. Henriquez was speaking during an interview outside the Ministry of Labor.
The Labor Code only authorizes the CNS to debate the minimum salary for the private sector, and says that this item should be looked at every two years, but that under special conditions it can be reviewed within a shorter timeframe. Henriquez says that the "special conditions" exist right now. The president of the Management Confederation of the Dominican Republic, Maribel Gasso, has repeatedly said that this is not the time to talk about increasing salaries, and cites the two-year clause in the Labor Code. Nonetheless, Lisandro Macarrulla, the head of the National Business Council (CONEP) has said that salaries could be reviewed now. Macarrulla is joined by Julio Cesar Valentin, the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies and Monsignor Benito Angeles, the secretary of the Dominican Council of Bishops. Recently, the monsignor called for a general increase in the minimum wage for both public and private employees. Valentin said that he was confident that the President would deal with the wage issue in his speech tomorrow.

Propane without subsidy will be RD$100
When the government announces the end to the subsidy provided to propane gas consumers, the price is expected to hit at least RD$100 per gallon, Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa said during a Channel 5 television interview. Bengoa said that President Fernandez would shortly be announcing the focusing of the propane subsidy through the Solidarity Program, since this is the easiest way to identify the poorest people in need of the subsidized fuel. Bengoa pointed out that the resources given to the Solidarity Program cannot be used to purchase anything else.

Geologist says "No way!"
Following yesterday's announcement by Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa about the agreement between the Dominican Refinery and the Venezuelan Petroleum Company (PDVSA) to "explore and exploit" the Orinoco Basin oil deposits, geologist Osiris de Leon, former head of the Dominican Republic Petroleum and Mining Chamber, said that Bengoa's statements were no more than an expression of good intentions but far from becoming a reality. According to El Nuevo Diario, de Leon said that the Dominican Republic lacks the infrastructure and equipment for oil exploration or exploitation. The geological engineer said that the Dominican Republic has never had the technical or human resources, let alone the economic resources to explore for oil. He said that the best proof of this is that since 1877 the Higuerito I oil well found oil at 900 feet, and in the Maleno area, the Maleno I well found oil at 350 feet, and in spite of this, no government has ever been interested in using its own money and equipment to look for oil. De Leon cited the lack of an oil culture and pointed to the 2006 attempt to get Cuba to help with oil exploration. When Cuba sent an invoice for US$83 million, the deal was dropped as the Dominican government said it did not have the funds.
While the geologist pointed out the difficulties and the high cost of finding good wells, he did say that what would be feasible was for PDVSA and the Dominican Refinery (Refidomsa) to search for oil in the Dominican Republic using funds generated from the PetroCaribe agreement. De Leon described Bengoa's announcement as "absurd and contradictory" because the Dominican government has nothing to offer by way of oil exploration. He pointed to the relative obscurity of the Mining Department at the Ministry of Industry and Commerce in comparison with the gigantic superstructure of PDVSA and its equipment and personnel.

Congress should handle the sale
The leaders of the two main opposition parties, the PRD and the PRSC, believe that the sale of the Dominican Refinery (Refidomsa) to the Venezuelan Petroleum Company (PDVSA) should be placed in the hands of Congress. Victor Gomez Casanova and Orlando Jorge Mera both said that the negotiations should be transparent and the funds used to pay back the debt. According to Listin Diario, Jorge Mera said that "the government has to be transparent in all its dealings with PetroCaribe, as well as in the agreements it reaches regarding the nation's long term debt."

Speculation or government priorities
During a visit to New York City, former presidential candidate Guillermo Moreno said that President Leonel Fernandez is the "governor of the excuses." He said that Fernandez has spent this term blaming his problems in government on his predecessor Hipolito Mejia, and now, even before starting his third term he has a new culprit: "petroleum speculation." Moreno says that presidents are not elected to describe the problems that we know about, but to confront them and lead the nation in resolving them with concrete plans."
As reported in Hoy, Moreno said that the rising cost of oil is not responsible for the government choosing to spend immense resources on building the Santo Domingo Metro, instead of on our true priorities, or for the heads of ministries and autonomous government departments choosing to assign themselves luxury salaries, costly SUVs of high consumption, per diems and commissions."
Moreno also said, "Rising oil prices are not to be blamed, but Leonel Fernandez himself, and his unlimited use of government money to promote clientelism, and the purchase of IDs to impose his re-election."
As reported in El Nacional, Moreno said that the rising cost of oil is not responsible for the legislators choosing to assign themselves the so-called "barrilitos" or millions in complementary allotments for distribution at their discretion, or for choosing to increase their wages, or for the "government's violation of the austerity law that was passed by President Fernandez himself."

Plastic manhole covers
The Santo Domingo municipality has chosen to replace cast-iron manhole covers from city streets with 1,000 high-resistance plastic ones. The new covers are manufactured in Mexico. "With the installation of the new model of cover, we will put an end to the practice of stealing them for selling for scrap," said Santo Domingo Mayor Roberto Salcedo, when announcing the arrival of the first covers. Salcedo said that covering the holes was essential because some people throw garbage into the manholes, resulting in blockages. The first covers will be placed in the Colonial City.

JCE admits it cannot control fraud
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) admitted yesterday that it will not have the capacity to control, totally, the fraud and fake documents issued by personnel attached to the Civil Registry Office (CRO) until the process of complete digitalization is completed. The process will include biomechanical data such as photographs and fingerprints in one document. The president of the JCE Administrative Chamber, Roberto Rosario, told Diario Libre that the Civil Registry cannot continue without facial recognition procedures being an integral part of the identification documents such as birth certificates, the personal "cedula" and the voter registration card. Because of the legal battle between the JCE and the SOMO Consortium, the JCE has not been able to proceed with its plans for modernizing the system. The JCE contracted the auditing of the contract, and this should be available in three months. At that time, the JCE will determine the course of the US$60 million SOMO contract for automation. Judge Rosario, the only member of the JCE from the previous administration, was key in the contracting of the Somo Consortium.

Small business bill could pass
Representatives of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, the small-scale business sector represented by the Dominican Confederation of the Small and Medium-Sized Companies (Codopyme) and legislators reached an agreement yesterday to pass the small business bill. Industry & Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes and the board of Copdopyme visited the presidents of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies yesterday, and reached an agreement for the passing of the bill with modifications in the next legislature that opens 16 August. Isaachart Burgos, president of Codopyme says that the bill could help reduce unemployment from 14% to 10% because of simplifying the process of conducting business for smaller companies.

Beauty products export boom
The DR has made a name for itself in beauty salons in places with Dominican immigrant communities. Now the local products used in the salons are finding acceptance in export markets, too. The DR Center for Export and Investment (CEI-RD) reported that in 2007, US$8.7 million worth of beauty products was exported. From Jan-May of this year, exports totaled more than US$3 million and record exports are expected this year. The US purchased US$1.3 million, Puerto Rico US$661,000 and Haiti US$160000. Other source markets that show potential are Panama, Spain, Aruba, Cuba, Switzerland, St. Martin, Bahamas, US Virgin Islands and Venezuela, all countries with large Dominican emigre populations. Local producers are also seeking new markets in European and Latin American countries.

Deficit with US doubles
The trade deficit with the US has doubled. According to Department of Commerce statistics, during the first five months of the year Dominican exports to the US fell by US$94 million, while purchases were up US$500 million. Hoy reports that this means the trade deficit with the US doubled from January to May 2008. Exports to the US were US$1.6 billion, while imports totaled US$2.8 billion.

Prices slow home sales
Ester Jimenez has been living in Villa Mella for eight years. She purchased her apartment for RD$700,000 in 2000, and now her cousin Minerva wants to live near her, but Minerva will need three times that amount. Like many others, Minerva is finding that it is practically impossible to purchase a home. Price increases from 20% up to 186% have been recorded, and the new prices have dramatically slowed the purchase of new homes. Other factors besides prices have led to the slump. For instance, El Caribe reports that just a few months ago a mortgage would cover as much as 85% of the cost of a home, and today, with difficulty, a prospective buyer might find a lender willing to cover 70% of the value of a new house. Another factor is the interest rate lenders are charging homebuyers: from 11% just a year ago, the rate in many places is now up to 20% or 22% APR. Former UASD rector Porfirio Garcia Fernandez warned that the mortgage crisis currently affecting the United States could also occur in the Dominican Republic if the banks were not cautious. El Caribe consulted several builders and Savings and Loan Associations and the general consensus was that a family needed to put 25% of their income towards payments on the purchase of a new house.

Car sales down
The sale of vehicles that consume a lot of fuel has fallen dramatically in the Dominican Republic. Dealers are reporting a decline of between 80 and 85% in the sale of the large SUVs that were so popular just a year or so ago. Spokespersons for auto dealers said that in June SUV sales fell by 3.37% and smaller automobiles rose by 3.21%. He added that most new car buyers are converting their vehicles to run on Liquid Propane Gas (LPG) as soon as they leave the showroom. He pointed out that this immediately voids any warranty on the vehicle. One dealer, Cesar de los Santos said that sales from his lot fell from an average of 80-85 units per month to 20 or 22 units. He said that he is offering better terms and more time in order to sell cars, up to 72 months with a 20% down-payment. The spokesperson for the Association of Manufacturers Representatives, Enrique Fernandez, said that there was a need for hybrid vehicles that should receive some sort of tax incentive.

Priest sentenced for rape
A court in La Vega has sentenced a Catholic priest to 15 years in jail for raping five college students in Moca. The priest, Ramon Sanchez Ramos was arrested after an O&M student accused him of rape. She had accepted a lift home from the priest on his motorcycle at night, and reported that instead of taking her home, he took her to an empty lot where he held a knife to her throat and raped her. After she reported the attack, several other students came forward to substantiate her accusation, which led to an investigation and the eventual sentence by Judge Cristian Paulino. The priest was from the Iglesia Santa Rosa in Espaillat.

Duarte Anniversary
The president of the Duarte Institute said that today, 170 years after the founding of the secret society called "La Trinitaria" the values and ideals of the society are still viable in today's society, and offer an alternative to the principal social problems that affect the Dominican Republic. Professor Jose Joaquin Perez Savinon called on the government to imitate the founding fathers' example and work for the common good. Perez Savinon was speaking during a floral offering at the Altar of the Fatherland in Independence Park in downtown Santo Domingo. The event was part of the commemorations of the 170th anniversary of the founding of the secret society that worked to bring independence to the eastern portion of the island. The society's founder, Juan Pablo Duarte, is considered the Founding Father of the Dominican Republic. "La Trinitaria" refers to the ideal espoused by Duarte: God, Country and Freedom.

Wednesday sales
SuperPola is offering 35% off fruits and vegetables.
La Cadena supermarket chain is advertising salad tomatoes for RD$18.95lb, squash for RD$6.95lb, sweet potatoes for RD$5.95lb, and avocadoes for RD$5.95ea.
El Nacional supermarkets are advertising 40% off pineapples and watermelons and 20% off other fruits and vegetables.
Carrefour is advertising watermelon for RD$3.90lb, banilejo mangos for RD$2.95ea, avocadoes for RD$8.95ea, plantains for RD$7.50ea, cassava (yuca) for RD$16.95lb, potatoes for RD$13.95lb, squash for RD$6.50lb, apples for RD$35.95lb, and cauliflower for RD$10.95lb.
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