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Daily News - Thursday, 27 November 2008

445 excellent students
President Leonel Fernandez has led an awards ceremony for 445 outstanding students from poor families who received scholarships funded by corporate donors and supported by several national universities. The scholarship program is supported by business leaders Manuel Estrella, Jose Luis Corripio, Juan Vicini, Juan Ramon Gomez and Ramon Brea, among others. The universities supporting the program include the Pontifical Catholic University Madre y Maestra, the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, the Technological University of Santiago, the Northeast Catholic University and the Technological Institute of the Eastern Cibao.
The most emotional moment in the ceremony came when four students with disabilities were awarded scholarships for their excellent academic work. Many in the crowd wept as they listened to testimonies from Saldano Bautista and Nelkys Nina Lima from the town of Llano in Elias Pina, Jose Agramonte from Cotui and Cristopher Antigua Nunez from Bonao. Fernandez announced that they would each receive a house from the National Housing Institute, and moved by their example he said that he would launch a project to locate students with disabilities in order to get them the assistance they need.
The scholarship program benefited 273 girls and 172 boys. More than three quarters of the students came from Santiago, Puerto Plata, La Vega, Monte Plata and San Juan.

Ambassador Fannin at AmCham
During the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) luncheon yesterday, US Ambassador Robert Fannin addressed the increased perception of corruption in the DR by its citizens. He said nevertheless, that recent cases of prison terms for those involved in the Baninter, Bancredito and Plan Renove cases are incentives for campaigners for the rule of law regime in the DR, as reported in El Caribe.
He also focused on the critical problems affecting the electricity sector and how deficiencies will deter foreign investors. Fannin lobbied for the government to implement the law penalizing electricity theft. Meanwhile, AmCham president Christopher Paniagua said that economic reactivation in the country should go hand-in-hand with a strategic change in the administration of the electric sector. He argued that without an efficient electricity sector there is no possibility of developing as a nation within the framework of the DR-CAFTA trade agreement with the United States and Central America. In his judgment, the energy situation threatens the country's competitiveness and the cost of basic foodstuffs.
Paniagua praised Amcham's social awareness and its social responsibility committee, saying it would make important contributions to the community. Paniagua also says that he agrees with the IMF that fiscal reform is needed, but that this should focus on reductions in government spending.

Studying the electric contracts
In their session on Wednesday, the Congressional Joint Commission on Energy analyzed the legal mechanisms that will enable Congress to undertake a revision of the electricity contracts with the generators and energy distributors underwritten by the state. Senator Juan Orlando Mercedes Sena, the president of the Senate Energy Commission, said that the legislators would study everything related to energy sector regulation with the aim of finding a way out of the electricity contracts, especially in the context of the current spate of extended blackouts. He said that the commission planned to invite the vice-president of the Dominican Corporation of State-owned Electricity Enterprises (CDEEE) Radhames Segura to next Wednesday's session to explain and hand over copies of the contracts that the Dominican government has signed with the generators and distributors. According to El Nuevo Diario, the senator said that the commission would also invite Dominican and foreign businesspeople linked to the sector to hear their opinions on the contracts and then search for a solution to all these blackouts. Mercedes Sena pointed out that the National Energy Commission would also be invited to the hearings together with representatives of any other sector that feels that it can contribute to understanding the current situation.

Politics = millionaires
In an interview with Hoy newspaper former Foreign Minister Hugo Tolentino Dipp said that is easy to prove that most of the higher- ranking officials in the ruling PLD party are multi-millionaires. "One only has to research the financial worth of these people 10 years ago and what they have today," he commented. Tolentino Dipp is vice president of the opposition PRD. He resigned his post as Foreign Relations Minister after former President Hipolito Mejia went over his head and decided to send Dominican troops to Iraq, complying with a request from US President Bush. Tolentino commented on what he classed as the country's moral collapse, saying that President Leonel Fernandez and the other members of the PLD have distanced themselves from the teachings of party founder Juan Bosch. He said there is a loss of fulfilling the Constitution and the law. He said that the government's actions are leading the country to moral decline because everything is for sale.
Tolentino blasted the border policies, saying that the military personnel stationed at the border with Haiti serve the business of illegal people trafficking. He said that the specialized border military corps (Cesfront) is "not good for anything." Tolentino added that the government allows Dominican consuls, who should be issuing 1,700 visas, to grant 10,000-15,000 visas and become millionaires in the process.
The former minister also described the constitutional reform act sent by the Executive Branch to Congress as a political retrograde step and a trap, as reported in El Dia. He said that political parties in the DR have just turned into machineries geared only towards elections, which stimulates political patronage. "The sad part is that even now the parties are beginning to form groups and owe favors instead of defining and committing to a true and real government program."

Resistance to handgun resolution
Many are rejecting Resolution 01-09 issued by the Ministry of the Interior and Police that bans the carrying of firearms by the civilian population during December, and threatens to revoke gun licenses (and confiscate the weapons) in cases of violation. Diario Libre reports that rice farmers were among the first to complain. Oliverio Espaillat Bencosme, the president of the National Federation of Rice Producers (Fenarroz) said that even though the measure is not exclusively for the rice harvesters, it leaves them at the mercy of criminals during the month of greatest economic activity.
Additional support came from former presidential candidate Pedro de Jesus Candelier, who rejected the measure and called it "silly and an improvisation" by Interior & Police Minister Franklin Almeyda Rancier. The former National Police chief said "I call on all national organizations to ignore this illegal and willful resolution by the Minister of the Interior and of the Police, because I believe it to be unjust to disarm Dominicans who choose to act legally in order to carry a firearm to defend themselves from criminals who are well-organized, well-armed and with large economic resources."
TV personality Freddy Beras Goico was energetic and defiant in calling on the population to ignore the decree. Beras Goico criticized the authorities for wanting to disarm civilians who have licenses for firearms, when they have not been able to overcome the criminals, adding that the officials haven't been able to do anything right.
Meanwhile, the president of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), Ramon Alburquerque called for compliance with the law, because possession and carrying a firearm is protected under the law. However, Alburquerque said that, "I have not heard the minister say that he is going to disarm the criminal population."
Meanwhile, Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez said that the country is saturated with weapons, but criminals have most of them, and this threatens the population. El Caribe reports that Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado told a television interviewer that the authorities should disarm the criminals first, before disarming the civilian population.

Turtles born in Guibia
The beach is said to be severely polluted, but 144 turtles laid their eggs at Guibia Beach in Santo Domingo. The Ministry of Environment said that 144 "tortuga carey" or Eretmochelys imbricada turtles have now hatched on the beach, on Santo Domingo's Malecon beachfront avenue. Experts have been monitoring the eggs since they were laid in August. Biologist Antonia Marte Cabrera said that the Ministry has monitored 40 to 50 turtle nests so far this year.

In favor of more $ for education
The Dominican Association of Teachers (ADP), comprising public school teachers and the autonomous pro-education NGO, Action for Basic Education (Educa), have backed Education Minister Melanio Paredes's appeal for more resources for his department in 2009. The Executive Branch is considering allocating all government departments the same amount in 2009 as in 2008. The president of the National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE) Pablo Piantini expressed regret for the fact that every year the government has an excuse for not meeting the laws that establish a minimum 5% of GDP for education, as reported in Listin Diario.
The government has said the 2009 national budget would be RD$329 billion, which is RD$69 billion more than the original budget approved for 2008.

Patients wait months for surgery
A lot of pain, discomfort and a sad state of worry is what people on low incomes face after suffering an accident and ending up in the Dario Contreras Hospital. If they do not have the resources to buy the required materials and medicines that are generally scarce in the hospital, they have to remain bed-ridden and wait for as long as three months until their families are able to raise the money. Or, if they can't, they are sent home to free up beds for other patients. According to Diario Libre, this is the case of William Brito, a native of Peralta, in Azua province, who suffered a motorcycle accident two months ago and for lack of money has had to wait all this time to be operated on. Brito said, "I was here for 53 days, and after that they sent me home because I did not have the money to buy the apparatus that I have here (on one of his legs)." Brito needs a Femur Brace that costs between RD$25,000 and RD$27,000 from surgery supply houses, and the public hospitals do not have them, or the money to purchase them. The members of Brito's family managed to get the funds and last Tuesday he returned for the operation, accompanied by his wife. When they went back to the hospital, and on a friend's recommendation the pair contacted an unnamed person, to prevent prolonging the process, who offered them the apparatus for RD$23,000. His wife, who awaited other offers, said "Other persons told us that they sell the apparatus cheaper."
What the couple did not know was that for the last week the hospital has had the apparatus and sells it at RD$10,000 "in order to help the patients." After finding out that she could get the apparatus cheaper right there, the woman continued doubting the equipment's effectiveness, and did not hesitate to ask the person in charge of the Social Work Department, Mayra Sanchez, whether she would have to wait another 53 days if she were to decide to purchase the equipment that the hospital was selling. This is just one example of the cases that occur in the hospital's trauma center, where many people take advantage of the patients' ignorance and lack of knowledge, as well as the lack of supervision by the authorities.

Support for the Coral Highway
Haydee Rainieri says the National Association of Hotels & Restaurants that she presides backs the construction of the Coral Highway that would cut traveling time from San Pedro de Macoris to the east. She described the current roads leading to the Punta Cana area as "hellish". We all agree that not just the Coral Highway but all roads that connect airports with tourist areas and with the nearby population are important, Rainieri said when interviewed by Hoy reporters after a meeting at the Ministry of Labor. She accepted that there has been a slow down in international arrivals.
Rainieri downplayed the impact of the global crisis on the local tourism sector. "The tourism industry is solid, strong, it is well known, we have many years in business", she said, explaining that there is no crisis, and that the decline in tourist arrivals is manageable. She said hotels have begun to cut spending, to prepare to wait out the slump. Rainieri added that other measures would be to improve the competitiveness of the Dominican tourism product, roads, staff training, and to reinforce tourism promotion abroad and in new markets such as Russia, Brazil, Argentina and the Czech Republic that have posted good arrival numbers. She concluded by saying that she felt that this was a temporary situation that will be overcome.

Macarrulla says 40% is impossible
National Business Council (CONEP) president Lisandro Macarrulla said yesterday that the nation's economy could not stand a 40% wage increase for workers. Macarrulla confirmed the resumption of talks with labor representatives. According to Hoy newspaper, Macarrulla did not offer a figure that business feels would be a fair general wage increase. He did say that all would depend on each company's overall compensation package. Macarrulla also said that Conep is discussing other aspects of the workers' demands that would mean increased purchasing power for employees.
On Tuesday, workers and union leaders held a protest march, and called on CONEP to support wage increases.
Maribel Gasso, the president of the Management Confederation (Copardom) suggested some measures that, according to her, could help save jobs and could provide business with sufficient earnings to allow for salary increases. She said, "We have been saying over the past few months that the problem of increasing salaries is not just the increase but how much will it bring to the worker. She commented that companies have been paying 1% of each employee's salary into the Workers' Health Fund, and nevertheless these RD$6 billion pesos have only been used to pay for RD$200 million in health services. She also pointed out that increasing the income tax exemption level could help the middle class. She said that 60% of businesses have already increased salaries this year, and that talks with the labor unions are still ongoing.

Massive layoffs for 2009
Four business associations warned that without incentives for exports next year, there would be massive layoffs by private sector employers because exports have already fallen by 50%. Business leaders went to Congress yesterday to request support and approval for a joint resolution that declares exports a national priority and works on an agenda towards that end. The Dominican Free Zones Association (Adozona), the Industries Association (AIRD), the Exporters Association (ADOEXPO), and the Agribusiness Council (JAD) all said that, working together in the common interest, the nation can adequately face up to the challenges of the new world economic order, and they have taken on the task of promoting a development proposal declaring exports a national priority. The association's statement reads: "We understand that the crisis that affects the major world powers obliges us, as a country that depends on these economies, to adopt urgent measures in order to guarantee the volume of hard currency income that will allow us to respond to the effects of this situation, as the best way of ensuring the protection of the national productive apparatus." The document was handed to Julio Cesar Valentin, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, by Fernando Capellan of Adozona, Jose Ramon Peralta of the JAD, Ricardo Koenig of Adoexpo and Circe Almanzar of the AIRD. The businessmen expressed confidence that deputies would share their concerns and their criteria that the basis for the development of the national economy rests on the creation of a powerful productive apparatus that can satisfy the demands of internal consumption and guarantee the country's presence in the international markets.

FINJUS calls for respect for laws
The executive vice-president of the Institutionalism and Justice Foundation (Finjus), Servio Tulio Castanos Guzman, warned yesterday that the Congress cannot continue to pass a budget law that violates the country's own laws.
He called for Congress to create a body to monitor the implementation of the laws that set out the minimum percentages for different entities that are not being met in the budget disbursements.
At the same time he said that public officials' assets should be audited and that anyone who doesn't submit to the process would be penalized and their pay suspended.
On the issue of complaints by Supreme Court president Jorge Subero Isa who has asked for more funding for the judiciary, Castanos Guzman said that it is certain that the justice system needs funds for developing programs as well as for implementing projects. He said that what causes greatest concern is the fact that the law has not been followed in terms of the funds assigned to the Justice Ministry. He revealed that the complaint that was made by the courts is the same as the municipal governments or the Ministry of Education that do not receive the percentages approved by law.

Drug complicity in Peravia
Peravia Senator Wilton Guerrero is again making headlines with his latest warning that those in charge of fighting drug trafficking in his province are themselves involved in the business. He said it is evident that the machinery to sell drugs in the country is "intact," as reported in Hoy.
He reiterated his complaint that employees at the National Drug Control Department in Bani have links with drug trafficking in the area and called for their transfer. He also called for an investigation into the obstacles that assistant prosecutor Rosa Julia Batista has encountered when trying to do her work prosecuting traffickers in Peravia.
He said the DNCD commits irregularities when it does not present the evidence it has found or presents the cases when they are about to expire. He added that the chief prosecutor in the province, Robert Lugo has not supported Batista, and instead told her "do not confront those people."
Following the massacre of seven suspected drug-traffickers foreign drug traffickers on 4 August in Paya, Bani, Guerrero denounced complicity between drug traffickers and the provincial chief of police, drug control officers, the provincial governor and prosecutors. He also denounced General Prosecutor Radhames Jimenez's laissez-faire attitude. In that case, neither the 1,200 kilos of cocaine nor a considerable amount of money that was at the house where the massacre took place have been recovered by the authorities.

Pedro Castillo sentenced in Miami
The Eleventh Circuit Court in Dade County, Miami, Florida, has ordered former Dominican banker Pedro Castillo to pay nearly US$80 million to the Banco del Progreso for having appropriated the banking entity's resources for his own personal use.
The information was provided to Huchi Lora on CDN Radio by Francisco Alvarez, a lawyer for the Central Bank.
According to the sentence issued by Judge Marci Flores and read by Alvarez, Castillo appropriated "funds that belonged to the plaintiffs, the bank's owners, in an irregular manner for his own use and or for the use and benefit of his companies."
Alvarez explained that the judicial term used for the crime in the Florida court was "civil robbery."
He quoted the following: "He is ordered to pay compensation because his conduct is the same as stealing and generated a civil prejudice that must be paid." Alvarez explained that this was the only possible way to make the penal case against Castillo in the Dominican Republic.

Baseball update
Good pitching from Ruddy Lugo led the Toros del Este to a win over the Leones del Escogido 4-1 at the Francisco Micheli Stadium in La Romana.
In Santiago's Cibao Stadium the lowly Estrellas Orientales defeated the Aguilas Cibaenas for the second straight day, 8-7.
At the Quisqueya Stadium in Santo Domingo many records fell by the wayside as the Gigantes del Cibao bludgeoned the Tigres del Licey 21 -13. No, they were not playing football, this was baseball and the score was a new record for regular season games in the history of Dominican professional baseball. Gigantes right-fielder Nelson Cruz batted in 10 runs yesterday, hitting two homeruns and a pair of singles.
Team W-L Avg. Games Behind
GIGANTES 19 - 12 .613 --
LICEY 19 - 14 .576 1.0
TOROS 19 - 14 .576 1.0
AGUILAS 17 - 15 .531 2.5
ESCOGIDO 15 - 17 .469 4.5
ESTRELLAS 8 - 25 .242 12.0
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