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Daily News - Monday, 11 August 2008

LPG supply gets a little better
The arrival of two tankers filled with Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG or propane) has lessened the weekend crisis of propane supplies for housewives and drivers alike. An estimated 300,000 vehicles utilize the cheaper propane gas. And most stoves in the DR use propane.
Reporters from Hoy newspaper traveled to different points around Santo Domingo and listened to complaints from drivers and housewives alike.
Even thought the government authorities promised that the crisis would be over by Sunday, such was not the case in most of the plants that sell LPG in Santo Domingo.
Meanwhile, as reported in the Listin Diario, the Ministry of Hacienda says that more than RD$2 billion that is owned to propane importing companies has been included in the supplementary budget bill that Congress is reviewing for approval this week. He said as soon as the bill is approved, the government will be able to make the disbursement.
The Ministry of Industry & Commerce announced that shipments with propane that had been delayed, were on their way.

Anadegas has 90 ready to go
The National Association of Gasoline Retailers (Anadegas) says its members will meet today to decide on next steps in their crusade to get the Ministry of Industry & Commerce to allow them to sell propane at their gasoline stations. Anadegas argues that their sales are declining as more and more vehicles are fitted for the cheaper propane. Last week they had agreed on not restocking fuel supplies to pressure the government.
Juan Ignacio Espaillat told Diario Libre that 90 of the 129 stations are ready to sell LPG (Propane). He said this means that at 492 stations nationwide there would not be fuel to sell.
Espaillat also complained that the Ministry of Industry & Commerce has not fulfilled a 2005 agreement that set their profit margins at 10%. According to Espaillat, the sector has lost RD$3.5 billion due to the government's not meeting its agreement when setting fuel prices.
Propane gas distributors, gathered under Asonadigas, oppose Anadegas members selling propane.

Rice sector denies raising prices
The president of the Dominican Association of Rice Mills (Adofa), Miguel de Moya says that the RD$5 per pound increase in rice prices can only be attributed to speculation. He said that the rice mills have not increased the prices set by the National Rice Commission (CAN). De Moya said that the mills are supplying select grade rice at prices that vary from RD$14.00 to RD$17.00 per pound. De Moya said that the highest price a consumer should pay for a pound of select grade rice is RD$20.00, since it arrives at retailers with sufficient profit margins. De Moya said that he was surprised by the headlines in the Listin Diario yesterday that said that rice prices had increased RD$5.00 a pound. On the other hand, he said the report could be referring to the price increase for rice imported from the US, which has gone up RD$4 over the past few days.

Blackouts =RD$250 million in losses
Storeowners associations again are complaining about the losses blackouts mean for their businesses. The National Federation of Merchants and Businessmen (Fenacerd) that has 30,000 members, says that the sector is losing RD$250 million per day, due to the blackouts. The federation met in Barahona, and demanded that the government renegotiate the contracts with the generators and establish a clear line of communication with the distributors to guarantee the electricity service and reduce the losses of commerce and businesses. Antonio Cruz Rojas, the president of the federation made his point during the Third National Congress of Merchants and Businessmen that focused on proposals for food security.
At the Congress it was proposed that the relatively inoperant Price Stabilization Institute (Inespre) be converted into the National Commercial Outlet for Agricultural Products (Conagro) and that it operate with mixed state and private capital.

In favor of renegotiated contracts
The former president of the National Council of Business, (CONEP) Elena Viyela de Paliza joined the National Federation of Merchants and Businessmen (Fenacerd) is saying that the government should renegotiate the contracts with the electricity generators. Both parties also understand that talks should be carried out within the framework of the General Electricity Law 125-01. She said this is just one of steps and measures that should be underway to make reliable and competitive the power service in the country, and where all the users pay for the electric service, from the largest to the smallest consumers.
"It is undeniable that the contracts of the Madrid Accord, extended to 2015 without any type of bidding, should be renegotiated," she said.
Antonio Cruz Rojas, the Fenacerd president, had told reporters from El Caribe that his federation, with its 30,000 member, urges the government to renegotiate the contracts to reduce the cost of power. He complained that the high cost of power ends up in "financial blackouts" that are causing an estimated RD$250 million in losses every day to stores.

Protesting old Smith-Enron
The Association of Proprietors of Costambar has again taken public its plight over the San Felipe power plant, former Smith-Enron not having installed the adequate filters to avoid air contamination, according to a report in the Listin Diario. As a result, those in the environs suffer from soot that triggers asthma attacks, and other health problems, plus living in constant suffering from filth sent up by the infamous plant. The operation of the plant initially caused the closing of the luxury boutique hotel built by architect Oscar Imbert, and the loss of value to the prime vacation community of Costambar.
The Costambar homeowners are encouraging the Ministry of Environment to take a strong stance against the polluting by the power plant and taking their plight public.
Under Jose Arismendy Polanco, the Association has sent a letter on 16 July to President Leonel Fernandez with copies to the ministers of Tourism, Environment, the mayor and bishop of Puerto Plata.
Listin Diario reports that a committee from the Ministry of Environment visited Puerto Plata on 7 August to determine the air pollution caused by the plant.
The community says that the plant was installed in violation to Law 153-72 that establishes the area as a tourism community.

Isabela Cement = Smith Enron?
The community of Luperon, west of Puerto Plata, is concerned that the announced installation of the proposed La Isabela cement plant adjacent to La Isabela, a pristine environmental area, will bring the communities to suffer the same fate as Costambar and adjacent areas. The plant is promoted by the director of Mining Octavio Lopez but opposed by the Luperon Tourism Cluster. Pablo Rodriguez, of the Tourism Cluster argues that tourism development will produce thousands of jobs while the cement factory at most is down for producing less than 100 jobs. The community fear air pollution, as has occurred in the case of the Smith-Enron/San Felipe power plant, will cause major damage and impede the successful tourism development of the area. Rodriguez is feels that if the Isabela Cement factory is installed, a repeat of the Smith-Enron plant will affect the Luperon-Isabela area, killing tourism development that is only starting now. There is a decree that establishes the area as a tourism zone, but the cement factory has a decree from President Leonel Fernandez authorizing its establishment once environmental conditions are fulfilled. The environmental requirements have not been made available to the public, says Rodriguez.

Oil leak cause fear and complaints
The leak in the pipeline that supplies the Falcondo ferronickel mine in La Peguera, Monsignor Nouel, as of 11:30am on Friday caused 12 persons to seek medical assistance and 31 persons to be evacuated from the area. Heavy equipment from the company worked over the weekend to clean up the estimated 1,000 gallon spill that occurred near Kilometer 61 of the Duarte Highway. The persons affected were taken to nearby hospitals and medical facilities in Piedra Blanca. Most of those affected complained of nausea, dizziness and vision problems due to the contamination from the spill. Civil Defense workers, Army units, the La Vega Fire Department and Environmental Police from Piedra Blanca and Bonao acted in the case.
Falcondo (former Falconbridge) has announced that it will begin changing the pipeline that ruptured near Piedra Blanca on Friday this week. The company said work would begin on Monday (today) at the site in the community of the Quinto Centenario in Piedra Blanca. The last of the contaminated earth was removed from the site yesterday, and will be deposited at a biodegradation site operated by the nickel mine. The Falcondo spokesperson, Luis Rosado, told Hoy's Aleida Plasencia, that a brigade of workers would begin replacing about 150 meters of pipeline. The company would also be sending samples of the spill to international agencies for its analysis.
Pedro Feder, the engineer who is directing the clean up, said that those affected would receive help. The engineer said that the company had been carrying out maintenance in the area but that the work had been suspended due to concerns on the ground where the pipeline sections were buried. He said that things were not worse because the company was not pumping oil at the time of the break. The 72-kilometer pipeline from the Port of Haina supplies the refinery at the mine in Bonao.

PC: hold Constitution reform
Participacion Ciudadana (PC), the civic society group, has requested President Leonel Fernandez postpone changes to the Constitution until after 2010 to concentrate on pressing economic and social problems. "A complete constitutional reform, such as the nation requires, at this time could distract the nation's attention from the economic and social problems that are threatening us and generate a climate that is more of disagreement than of consensus, beginning with the way of proceeding towards this goal."
PC favors that a Constitutional Assembly be entrusted with revising the Constitution, and that it not be the result of proposals sent by the President. The ruling party is majority in Congress. PC reminded the President that a reform process conducted by a Constitutional Assembly was ratified by a government survey in 2006 when 68% of the participants approved that method. The document goes on to say that "the Constitutional Assembly was also agreed upon in the Constitutional project worked out in 2001 by the Special Commission that was created by President Hipolito Mejia, with the participation of all of the parties then recognized and by twenty social organizations that represented the most diverse social sectors and a dozen specialists."

Solidarity cards cost RD$21.00
Each Solidarity welfare card costs taxpayers RD$21 per month, or RD$16.8 million to back the 800,000 beneficiaries. The card is used to distribute propane gas subsidies, and public school subsidies to encourage keeping children in school.
The Diario Libre reports that Van Elder Espinal, the director general of the Administration of Social Subsidies (ADSS) says that even though it is a "little costly", it is the most economic way that is available on the market.
"The cost of setting up the Solidarity Card is high. That is why from the beginning we had a public tender, looking for the best price and we got some good offers."
The Reserve Bank, the Popular Savings and Loan Association, La Nacional Savings & Loan Association, and the Cibao Savings & Loan Association won the bid to manage the card system nationwide, according to Espinal. Espinal pointed out that the offer from the banking institutions has the advantage that any type of subsidy can be implemented without any additional costs.
In addition, the government has to pay for the technological platform that supports the card, such as the placement and programming of the verification-phones (Veriphones) in more than 1,700 commercial establishments that make up the Network of Social Supply (RAD) where cardbearers can use the plastic. At the present time, there are 1,577 markets, 87 pharmacies and 84 establishments around universities, such as bookstores and photocopy places that accept the card.
Next month, 500 LPG stations will accept the card for purchasing the subsidized propane gas for those who hold the "Bonogas" card. The first 400,000 cards will begin to be distributed from 18 August until 5 September, so that by the 25th of next month the beneficiaries can use them in the affiliated establishments.

First three held in Bani killings
A Bani court has ordered three to the jail at Km. 15 in Azua for 18 months as investigations into the murder of seven persons in Ojo de Agua, Bani take place. There is speculation the seven were killed over a missing 1,200 kilograms of pure cocaine shipment. The three are Augusto Alberto Daneris Andujar, Luis Lara and Wilson Antonio Gonzalez. Charges include illegal possession of firearms and money laundering. According to Hoy newspaper, the police have search warrants for nearly 20 properties related to the case.
While the case would have been handled as a narcotics case, after Bani senator Wilton Guerrero denounced that there is complicity of several authorities in the drug business, the murders have become a political case. The senator has said he can present proof of what he says and would do so. Today he was meeting with the chief of the Police in Santo Domingo.
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