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Daily News - Monday, 21 July 2008

CDEEE promises to get better
The executive vice-president of the Dominican Corporation of State-owned Electrical Enterprises (CDEEE) has announced that as of today the blackouts that have been plaguing many parts of the country will be reduced. He said that 400 megawatts of power will return to the national system.
Radhames Segura attributed the blackouts to technical issues and financial problems.
Segura provided details of several issues during a quickly assembled press conference, saying that he had instructed the generators to keep generation levels at 85%, so that the sectors that receive least electricity will get at least 18 hours a day. The Dominican Republic has an electricity demand nearing 2000 megawatts and generates just 1700 megawatts.
Addressing the financial problems, Segura said that the CDEEE will pay Cogentrix US$4 million of the US$16 million owed, and Cogentrix will put its 300 megawatts back on-line. Beginning yesterday, some 170 megawatts provided by the San Felipe (formerly Smith and Enron) generation facility started to come back on-line. This generator, which supplies part of the north coast, had been experiencing mechanical difficulties. Also coming back on-line are the Itabo II's 125 megawatts and the 100 megawatts from the San Pedro facility that had overdue fuel invoices.
Segura also said that one factor that is complicating the electricity situation is the fact that the country's hydroelectric dams are reporting very low water levels in their reservoirs, including the Moncion, Tavera, Juguey, Aguacate and Valdesia dams that are supposed to supply 200 megawatts to the system. Segura emphasized the effects of increasing prices for coal, natural gas and oil on the nation's electricity bill and gave the example of the June 2008 invoices, which were over US$50 million higher than the invoices for June 2007.

Fuel tankers dispute judgment
Clemente Morillo, secretary general of the Petroleum Tanker Transporters Union (SACTPA), says they will not comply with the San Cristobal court judgment to lift the boycott against Chevron or pay the RD$100,000 penalty the court established for each subsequent day that SACTPA member tankers prevent Chevron tankers from loading fuel. The SACTPA spokesman, said the tankers' union would appeal the judgment later this week.
As reported in Listin Diario, Morillo said that if the government tries to impose the judgment using the police or the army, they will paralyze transport of all kinds of fuel in the country, including propane.
"In case the tankers, with the help of the police and army are able to enter the port area, they will not be able to drive the trucks, as only specialized drivers can handle those trucks," said Morillo.
While the impasse is maintained, Chevron tankers have had difficulties supplying their Texaco gas stations. Nevertheless, it was reported that several stations are being sourced by suppliers of other fuel companies.
Morillo wants the government to rule in their favor as has happened over the past 30 years when the Ministry of Industry and Commerce has looked the other way to prevent a conflict with the union. This time Industry & Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes has not been fully compliant.
The problems got worse after 9 June, when Chevron decided to rescind the service contracts with five contractors of 25 trucks (driven by 50 authorized drivers), replacing them with tankers of their choice. The SACTPA drivers responded by parking their tankers at the entrance of the Dominican Petroleum Refinery to prevent Chevron-authorized tankers from entering to load supplies.
This is a landmark case. For the first time a company, Chevron Caribbean, has decided to resist the demands of a transport cartel, despite heavy losses. Chevron Caribbean is upholding rights granted under the DR-CAFTA agreement. What is decided could have an effect on the Fenatrado truckers' cartel, which has also forced its services on companies, with the complacency of the government.

Propane back in stations
The LPG (propane gas) shortage eased up over the weekend. The distributors received new shipments of the fuel after The National Association of Propane Distributors (Asonadigas) lifted its one-day (Friday) stoppage of propane sales that was called in protest at the decision of the National Association of Gasoline Retailers (Anadegas) to sell propane at their stations. The National Association of Propane Gas Distributors (Asonadigas) has called on the government to prohibit regular gasoline stations from distributing LPG from their sites. Asonadigas want to keep their monopoly of GLP sale for vehicular use.
The general population did not waste any time in filling up their cars and household tanks, just in case the Asonadigas distributors decide to resume their boycott of the terminal if the government does not heed their demands. The conflict affected consumers, who had to wait in long lines for gas.
The main LPG providers, Mundo Gas, Propagas and Coastal, all began to take their LPG deliveries from the Dominican Refinery (Refidomsa) and other wholesalers and deliver it to their stations around the country. These distributors gave the government a timeframe through Wednesday for resolving the issue that they say threatens the survival of 720 retail outlets around the country.
Consumer rights group Fundecom is calling on the government to enforce laws 112-00 and 125-01 that cover the sales and distribution of LPG and gasoline.
Industry & Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes warned the propane gas suppliers that the government would not permit "union terrorism or blackmail by business cartels." He said that in the same way that the government grants permission for the import and distribution of propane gas, they could suspend the permits. "We are ready to authorize several companies that have been requesting permission for a long while to import GLP if it were convenient. We hope the blood does not get to the river and these sectors think over what they are doing, and the service gets back to normal," said Paredes.

Another conflict of interests
PLD Deputy Minou Tavarez Mirabal has taken on the cause of city residents who have seen developers violate city regulations to build towers and businesses in areas where they were previously outlawed. Tavarez began by highlighting the case of Los Cacicazgos, one of the most exclusive and expensive sectors in Santo Domingo, where residents are campaigning against the construction of a high-rise complex that she says has taken over Cibao Sur, and parts of Cibao Este and Cibao Oeste streets near the Dominican Fiesta Hotel. Tavarez estimated every meter of street taken over by the developer as worth US$10,000, meaning that US$30 million has been usurped by the developers, aided by the complacency of the Municipality of Santo Domingo (ADN).
She says the construction projects have been authorized by National District (Santo Domingo) City Hall councilors, who she says do not have the authority to do so. Tavarez added that authorization should have come from the Urban Planning Department at the Municipality of Santo Domingo (ADN), which did not authorize the construction. The Mayor of Santo Domingo, Roberto Salcedo, has kept out of the conflict.
Furthermore, Tavarez says the high-rise did not have authorization from the Ministry of Public Works or Environment, either. The conflict is especially interesting because it could set a precedent for future developments.

Subsidized diners under scrutiny
The General Administration of the low-cost diners (Comedores Economicos) is under the spotlight of the National Department for the Prevention of Corruption (DPCA-formerly Depreco) that looks into irregularities in the contracts for suppliers.
According to Diario Libre, a team of investigators from DPCA, headed by an assistant prosecutor from the Santo Domingo Court assigned to the Attorney General's office, visited the government institution looking for documents.
At the same time, an auditor visited the low-cost diners to verify the handling of the accounts of the program headed by Cesar Lopez. According to reports, the DPCA has asked for a list of suppliers and a list of personnel. The DPCA also wants to find out how the money is spent and the procedures for procuring food supplies.
The investigation was initiated by DPCA chief Octavio Lister after complaints about irregularities.

2009 will be Year of Juan Bosch
President Leonel Fernandez has signed a series of decrees that will officially proclaim 2009 as the "Centennial Year of the Birth of Juan Bosch." The decrees also elevated "La Casona" in Sabana de la Mar, Hato Mayor Province, and the Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration in Santiago to the status of a National Monument. The President signed Decree 247-08 and created a national commission to commemorate the centennial of the late former president Bosch's birth. Decree 248 dealt with La Casona, a majestic Victorian structure in Sabana de la Mar that needs repairs and preservation. Decree 249 elevated the status of the Monument in Santiago and instructed the Ministry of Culture to look after its care and preservation.

Public Works to hire 10,000
The Ministry of Public Works has announced the hiring of 10,000 part-time workers to complete a series of street, highway and rural road construction projects under the re-launching of the National Asphalt Plan. The Minister, Victor Diaz Rua, told Listin Diario reporters that he has been planning the re-launch of the program for some time. The minister added that his office was beginning a process of evaluating more than 400 public works projects that are currently under way in order to determine which of them fulfill the President's requirement of being 75% completed in order to be finished. These include bridges, avenues and buildings such as hospitals and the District Attorney's Offices. Diaz Rua talked about the RD$50 billion involved in all these projects currently under way, saying that some of them will have to be put on hold until the 2009 budget is worked out. According to the minister, many of the 10,000 temporary workers are regularly employed by the ministry, so this will not bring about an additional expense to the budget.

No pre-payments in health care
The Superintendent of Health Care for Workers (Sisalril) has ordered all Health Care Managers (ARS or HMOs) to guarantee Health Care Providers that are under contract to their plans to prohibit any pre-payment for services under the Family Health Program (SFS). The new disposition is part of Resolution 156-08 which also requires the HMOs to make sure that clients are not denied service because they refuse to make a deposit or pre-payment. The superintendent, Fernando Caamano, told Listin Diario that the measure was adopted after his office received several complaints that service was being denied due to lack of pre-payments. Caamano called the practice "abusive and unacceptable." He pointed out that everyone who is affiliated with the SFS program is protected by Law 87-01, and that an affiliate only has to make a co-payment upon release from the hospital.

Free Zones ask for continued support
The head of the Dominican Association of Free Zones (Adozona), Fernando Capellan, has asked the government to continue its compensation program that gives the free zones incentives for hiring new workers. Capellan called for the government to continue the program until December, as originally called for. He said that it was possible to recover 30 or 40,000 of the 50,000 jobs that were lost, providing conditions remain unchanged. Capellan warned that an elimination of the RD$2,000 peso incentive for each new employee could have a catastrophic effect, resulting in loss of 50 or 60,000 jobs. Pedro Manuel Garcia, an executive from the Esperanza Free Zone, told reporters from El Caribe that the number of employees in Esperanza had fallen from 2,450 to 612, but under the compensation package provided by the government, employment had risen to 940.
Capellan also advocates for a revision of the Labor Code, and that companies be free to chose who can transport their cargo.
The spokesman for the free zones also has advocated the government put in place a export strategy, and a competitive exchange rate.

Timid economic measures
The new president of the Herrera Association of Industries, Manuel Cabrera, described President Leonel Fernandez's announcements made last week in reaction to the rising prices of fuel and food on international markets as "timid" and called for more austerity. Cabrera welcomed the focusing of subsidies on GLP through the use of the Solidarity Card and to pre-selected public transport providers. He went on to say, however, that the government could reduce the spending on credit card expenses, per diems, fuel allowances, trips and the extra checks paid to government officers for sitting on government department boards. In his opinion, the reduction of 5-10% on wages over RD$150,000 in government will have little impact on public finances. He said the 3% of government officials who make salaries at that level also receive benefits outside their regular paycheck.
Cabrera, as reported in El Dia, said that it is unconceivable that at a time where austerity should be the priority, so many unnecessary government employees should be receiving payment from several departments and dozens of deputy ministers and consular and diplomatic employees on the payroll.

JCE halts fake weddings
The Central Electoral Board (JCE), which is responsible for issuing all personal documents in the Dominican Republic, has called a halt to what it describes as "simulated weddings" in the major tourist resorts in the Punta Cana and Bavaro area on the east coast. The JCE decision was taken to prevent confusion for couples that participated in this kind of activity and then demanded marriage certificates from the local Civil Registry office. Last February, the magistrate in charge of the Administrative Chamber of the JCE, Roberto Rosario, described the operation as a "mafia" that acted in complicity with the hotels in Punta Cana. Apparently, they held massive marriage ceremonies for foreigners, which were really simulations, without official approval and offered within the tour packages. JCE officials talked to Diario Libre reporter Leoncio Compres and said that they had reached an agreement with hoteliers in the Bavaro and Punta Cana area to discontinue the celebration of these "simulated" weddings between foreigners, and that only ceremonies held before civil officials in Higuey or the newly-opened office in Veron would have any validity. According to the report, investigations showed that some people were under the impression that the simulated marriage was their legal wedding and these are the ones who sought their certificates from the Civil Registry Office. Investigators from the National Intelligence Division (DNI) allegedly turned up three ringleaders of the "mafia" that arranged the "weddings" and who issued the fake marriage certificates.

Bani jail becomes a center
The Women's Jail in Bani will become a Correctional and Rehabilitation Center, along the new lines currently in use in ten other centers around the country. These facilities are used by inmates who are nearing the end of their terms of incarceration and have displayed good behavior. According to Attorney General Radhames Jimenez Pena, these new model facilities prepare the inmates for their return to society by teaching them skills that enable them to earn a living. The inmates at Bani were transferred to the Women's Correctional Facility at Najayo while Bani jail undergoes a one million-peso refurbishment process.

A spin of drug dealing
Investigative reporters Minerva Isa and Eladio Pichardo have taken a long hard look at drug dealing in the poorest areas of Santo Domingo and their report makes grim reading. As reported in Hoy newspaper, Isa and Pichardo describe how a drug sales point could be a fried meat stand, a tiny vegetable stand, under a tree or in an abandoned construction site, and it could also be just some person who comes and goes. According to the reporters, media-speak has given this sort of drug dealing a new name, 'micro-traffic'. They say that in reality these small sales points are out of control and are spreading like mushrooms. They operate all over the country, but their strong points are in the National District, Santo Domingo Province, Santiago, San Francisco de Macoris, Puerto Plata and La Romana.
While the National Drug Control Department (DNCD) has reportedly closed down 29,000 drug sales points, they also accept that when one is eliminated, three or four or even five new sales points spring up a few days later. The reporters say that the 'micro-traffic' acts like a network that is woven and unwoven within ever increasing poverty. As they report, the network grows little by little, the links in the chain between wholesalers and small-scale consumers grow in the little barrios surrounding the big city, winning consumers among the disenfranchised and marginalized, and becoming a source of income and detonator for juvenile delinquency and insecurity.
Complicity by police officers and narcotics agents, relatives and neighbors who operate the illegal business overshadows the entire spectrum. With the poor replacing the rich as major consumers, the article looks at just how it works, calling a lot of the micro-trafficking "well paid errands."
The in-depth article can be found here: www.hoy.com.do/investigacion/2008/7/20/240582/...
 
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