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Daily News - Friday, 19 September 2008

Constitutional reform presented
President Leonel Fernandez presented his long-awaited comprehensive proposal for constitutional reform to the Senate yesterday, with 122 articles revised. The President is suggesting a reform that would allow him to return to the Presidency. He proposes that a President could opt for a third term in office after serving two consecutive terms, but only with at least a four-year break in between. Another proposed change establishes that legislators and city government officials elected in 2010 would only serve a two-year term, so that the following congressional and municipal elections could be held in the same year as the presidential election.
Institutionalism and Justice Foundation (FINJUS) president Servio Tulio Castanos Guzman recommended that the re-election issue should be left for last in the debates on the proposal.

Nationality issues
Another controversial measure in the proposed constitutional reform that is certain to generate heated debate in Congress focuses on Dominican nationality issues. The reform proposed by President Leonel Fernandez would grant Dominican nationality to people born here, but with new exceptions. Offspring of foreign services personnel, or foreigners in transit or illegally residing here would continue to be excluded. But Dominican nationality would be granted to children whose parents are unknown, usually the poorest. Another exception is in cases where the country of origin does not grant nationality to children of citizens born outside its territory. The reform would grant Dominican nationality to anyone born abroad to a Dominican mother or father, even when they have taken a first nationality. It reaffirms that any children born to Dominicans abroad are Dominican.
It also amends the current discriminatory rule, allowing a man, and not only a woman, as at present, to opt for Dominican nationality upon marrying a Dominican national.

Juan Bautista Vicini honored
The Executive Branch has awarded businessman Juan Bautista Vicini, president of the board of directors of the Vicini Group with the Duarte, Sanchez and Mella medal, in the Great Silver Cross. President Leonel Fernandez and Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso presented the award on behalf of the government. During the same event, the Dominican Agribusiness Board awarded him the Agri-businessman of the Year 2007 award at the Hotel Jaragua yesterday.
The Vicini group is a leading Dominican investor that has taken on a prominent role in backing companies with solid markets that have been experiencing financial difficulties.
"We are from here, we believe in the Dominican Republic and we are convinced that only by believing in our country will we continue to forge ahead," said company president, Felipe Vicini at the event, as reported in El Caribe.
The company has made major investments in farming, industry, energy, tourism, real estate, finances, food, beverages, construction, commerce and services in recent years.

Santiago park area reinstated
Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez visited Santiago yesterday to personally pull down the fencing around a green area next to the Military Club at the entrance of Santiago that had been handed over shortly before the 2008 election by Elias Wessin Chavez, director of the Bienes Nacionales, the department in charge of government assets. Wessin Chavez has just been confirmed in his post by President Leonel Fernandez.
The Ministry of Environment has an office adjacent to the area that was distributed by the Bienes Nacionales office. "I would like to express my profound disagreement and my willingness to come with you, as a society, to recover this green area", he said. Wessin had authorized the cutting down of several trees in the park area.

Haiti and DR sign agreement
Dominican Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez and Haitian Environmental Minister Jean Marie Claude Germaine have signed an environmental cooperation agreement with a focus on border areas. The agreement seeks to strengthen relations between the neighboring nations, as well as promoting collective environmental awareness of the sustainability of natural resources. The agreement will support reforestation through Plan Quisqueya as well as implementing policies aimed at reducing the effects of climate change.

San Cristobal-Bani expansion
The government hopes that the allocation of the 28-km San Cristobal-Bani highway expansion project to Malespin Constructora and Constructora JM, with technical supervision by Compania Tecnoamerica (Pedro Delgado Malagon) will be the answer to the completion of this road that had been entrusted to Grupo Modesto, then taken over by the Supervisory Office of Public Works of the Presidency, and has been more than four years under construction. Public Works Minister Victor Diaz said the government had paid RD$3 billion for the construction, but it is still far from completed. He said that they are initially funding construction with RD$300 million, but that RD$1.8 billion is necessary to complete it. He expects the new companies to complete the highway in a year's time. The highway is the country's main link to the southwestern provinces.

Lack of electricity counters
The Superintendent of Electricity Francisco Mendez confirmed that an estimated 500,000 homes or businesses do not have electricity meters, and in cases where these are billed, an estimate of consumption is made, as reported in El Caribe. Francisco Mendez, interviewed on El Bulevar TV show by Pablo McKinney said that nevertheless, the Electricity Law establishes that each consumer should have a meter. He said the problem arises because the power distributors operate on a deficit and do not have the funds to purchase and install the meters.

Rates are transitory
Central Bank president Hector Valdez Albizu met with commercial banks yesterday to discuss the effect of rising interest rates on banks' portfolio. He said that borrower delinquency between January and August of this year was at 4.1%, which is similar to averages between December 2006 and August 2008.

Easing fears on EPA
Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) Director General Henry Gill is in the DR today speaking on the much-debated Economic Partnership Agreement between the European Union and Cariforum (the Dominican Republic and Caricom). Gill, a key figure in the negotiation process, highlighted the innovative nature of the agreement and detailed how criticisms of the agreement have been unfounded. Gill spoke on the challenges of negotiating such an agreement, which included negotiating with EU, having to negotiate on a regional level before presenting a united position and trusting local negotiators to jump from a local stance to a regional stance.
Another challenge was trusting outside negotiators and consultants to present local issues and concerns on the regional negotiation stage. According to Gill, the region got the best deal possible with this agreement. He explained that EU markets were opened in an unprecedented fashion, while limiting access to the Caribbean markets and protecting the smallest economies of the region. The EPA, through osmosis, increased the level of regional cooperation and strengthened governmental institutionally (through the agreement). The DG answered rebuttals from critics by citing that the liberalization process between both sides, which some had said will happen to quickly, has in fact already begun. Gill explained that now there is a consolidated liberation schedule. Gill specifies that 53% of imports from the EU were already entering the region with low tariffs of between 0% and 3%. The remaining products will be liberalized on a gradual scale during the next 25 years, giving smaller countries a gradual period to strengthen their economies.
There is also an exclusions list for a majority of products that are considered "fragile" or of importance to the national economies of Cariforum nations. There is the possibility of renegotiating the tariff schedule for certain goods if it is noticed that they are being hurt as a result of the EPA. Furthermore there is a three-year grace period for the liberalization of EU products, which means that products imported to the Caribbean from the EU will not be liberalized until 2011. This is a major plus for the Caribbean considering that the EU liberalized entry of Caribbean products effective 1 January 2008. According to Milagros Puello from the Dominican Chamber of Commerce, one of the DR's challenges in making the EPA work is increasing the quality of education in the DR and educating more bi-lingual students. She added that citizens of Caricom nations already speak English, giving them an advantage, and the DR needs meet this challenge. The next step with the EPA, barring any more delays, will be the 15 October signing of the agreement in Barbados.
For full article go here: http://dr1.com/trade/news/

DR does well re EPA
According to Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) Director General Henry Gill and regional observers alike, the DR was extremely efficient in the EPA negotiating process. The country was a willing participant in the process and made many more concessions at key points during the negotiation process. Gill commented that the DR had liberalized 5% of its national products, a figure matched only by Trinidad. Milagros Puello commented though the negotiation process was not "rosy" by any means, the DR had the advantage of having a level of synergy between the public and private sector, which allowed the process to continue as smoothly as possible. Many consider this cooperation on the local level as a strength of the DR. Puello, as well as Fernando Gonzalez, commented that the DR's experience in negotiation previous trade agreements, including DR-CAFTA, provided the groundwork for the nation to move through the process.

Uproar in Piera & Lora case
Journalists Nuria Piera and Huchi Lora have received widespread national support from fellow media and citizen groups, after a court granted permission for the authorities to search their offices for archived tapes and other information of interest to Ladom dairy company, which has sued them. The journalists say that this material would be used in their defense in court.
Ladom, which received 40% of all public school breakfast drink contracts from the Ministry of Education under former minister Alejandrina German, sued the journalists after they refused to retract proof that their supplies were well below the Ministry of Education's 3.3% minimum protein standard.
Huchi Lora expressed his concern that the court order, if implemented, would set a damaging precedent for the Dominican press. He said that it seems to be a warning for journalists to steer clear of reporting on irregularities affecting anyone or any company that has a big contract from the government, encouraging an increase in self-censorship.
Lora called the court order the most serious threat to Dominican journalism since the days of the murder of Goyito Castro and Orlando Martinez during the Balaguer regime.
"This shows how rotten things have become, that those who should be prosecuted [Ladom for breach of contract] are the prosecutors," he pointed out. Speaking on the Huchi Lora CDN talk show, journalist Altagracia Salazar concurred that the Attorney General's office should have taken a different position. "A company has a contract with the government, receives money and does not fulfill the contractual obligations, but nothing happens," she points out. "But when the company requests the support of the prosecutors to proceed against someone who points this out, the prosecutors are very diligent and even authorize action against us, while they are negligent to their own responsibilities with the general public," complained Lora.
Lora also challenged the fact that the state prosecutors changed the initial category of the lawsuit from public to private without consulting them as the sued party. Lora said they do not agree with the change, and that it should be a public penal case. "It would be convenient for our case that the state prosecutors stand in trial accusing us of defending Dominican school children," he said.
The irregularities in the case are being discussed on nationwide radio and TV talk shows. Popular TV host Freddy Beras Goico said that all the Dominican press should be in mourning for the measure. "How can they order a search of the offices of Nuria and Huchi, two professionals, supposedly seeking the proof that they themselves want to present, that is suspicious," he commented, as reported in Diario Libre.
El Caribe director Manuel Quiroz said that he had reported the case to the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), warning of the dangers of what he described as "judicial terrorism."
Gonzalo Marroquin of the Inter-American Press Association, upon receiving the report responded: "We fear that judicial acts of this kind may create a bad precedent because investigative journalists would engage in self-censorship, given the possibility that their sources would not have the necessary protection for them to carry out their work." He expressed confidence that the Dominican judiciary would review the decision, in order to continue to guarantee freedom of press in the country.

How to do all wrong in PR
Public relations expert Manuel Quiterio Cedeno comments today in El Caribe on how the Ladom dairy company, which was denounced for supplying below standard products to public schools, has committed a long series of communication strategy errors.
"First, when they thought that no one would dare report on the production of "milk" with whey without protein. Next, when the case hit the media, instead of being humble, that they could be arrogant and not pay any cost for the case. Third, when the case had reached scandal levels they could use attack as their strategy. And fourth, that they could resolve the serious image problem that had been created by humiliating the journalists in a court before a judge," he writes.
Cedeno writes that we are before "a spectacular monument to the absurd." With all these stupidities, they prolong their agony and the public perception of fraud increases.
"They sue because they feel defamed by what was said and published, and now they want to search the offices of the journalists to secure information that was not published," he writes, asking, "then what was the crime?"

Important press judgement
Judge Eduardo Sanchez Ortiz discharged Hoy newspaper journalists Odalis Mejia and Jose Alfredo Espinal, who had been accused of defaming a man who the National Police had erroneously included in a case for the kidnapping of a child, from all responsibility. The journalists were declared innocent of articles 367, 371 and 372 of the Penal Code and item 29 of Law 6132 on Communication, for lack of evidence. Furthermore, and more importantly, the editors of Hoy and El Nacional, Mario Alvarez Dugan and Radhames Gomez Pepin were also absolved. Communications Law 6132 establishes that the editors of the publications where the news appeared would also be held responsible for the charge, but the judge ruled that Article 102 of the Constitution says that no one can be criminally responsible for another person's error, and that this is also established in Art. 17 of the Criminal Procedures Code. The ruling is issued on the understanding that what is established in the Constitution overrules any law.

Not enough
Peravia Senator Wilton Guerrero has criticized the National Police's report on the 4 August massacre of seven men in Bani, saying it is an insult to the public's intelligence. Guerrero added the report didn't name any of the masterminds behind the massacre, only those who are suspect of having done the dirty work. Guerrero says the report didn't explain the whereabouts of the 1,200kg cocaine shipment or the cash that was on site, said to be the motive for the massacre. Dr. Marino Vinicio Castillo, special advisor to the Presidency, added that the report is useless because it doesn't say anything. He recommended that the National Drug Control Department should play a larger role in the investigations.
The senator and Castillo have pointed to complicity in higher-up levels of government.
In related news, the National Police, together with the state prosecutors, has announced that they will seize possessions, real estate and bank accounts belonging to those responsible for the Bani massacre. "There is no big fish here, the big fish are missing," said Castillo. He said it would be unforgivable if the Police did not disclose the suspected masterminds of the crime.
National Police Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin was not present at the disclosure of the suspected 13 responsible for the killing. The Police have said that the investigations are ongoing.
Senator Guerrero, who has exposed what he has described as complicity of higher-up officers in government with drug dealers, said he trusts Guzman Fermin, as reported in Hoy.
Barahona senator Noe Sterling Vasquez also said that his son, who is among the accused, would prove his innocence in court.

Higuey prosecutor's close call
Higuey district prosecutor Dario Morla survived an attempt on his life by suspected drug dealers who shot at him last night. He is recovering in the Clinica Dr. Perozo after receiving a bullet in an arm. He declared that three individuals in a white Mitsubishi Montero intercepted him near Iberia supermarket on the Mella highway, and began shooting at him. He escaped out of sheer luck. He attributed the shooting to a drug dealer gang known as "Los Talibanes" that he took to justice months ago resulting in several jail sentences. Morla is responsible for prosecuting drug dealing operations and kidnapping in La Altagracia province. As reported in Diario Libre, the vehicle was later found burned out on the highway to El Seibo.
The case is under police investigation, and reportedly there are good leads.

Villanueva receives award
Dominican basketball player Charlie Villanueva has been named the recipient of the NBA Community Assist Award for August, in recognition of his community service efforts. This is the second time Villanueva has received this award. The young star is being honored for his participation in the Tenis Para Ninos initiative, which has worked with the Charlie Villanueva Foundation, SolesUnitedSm and Crocs, Inc to give poor children in the DR 10,000 pairs of recycled shoes. "While I've enjoyed participating in many community initiatives over the years, I feel that this project is particularly special," said Villanueva. As part of the award the NBA will give the CVF a US$5,000 donation.
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