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Daily News - Monday, 29 December 2008

They returned the money!
After a week of harsh criticisms of their decision to collect Christmas bonuses and incentives without having served the minimum three months on the job, the members of the Chamber of Accounts, the body in charge of auditing government, decided to return the money. In a press release issued on Friday afternoon, the nine members of the Chamber of Accounts said that their decision "had been deeply considered in the face of the different opinions expressed in the mass media."
They said that they were aware of the "responsibilities and hopes" that have been pinned on their new positions, and they confirmed "the promise to provide the hoped for strengthening of the institution."
"Finally," they said, "we believe it proper and prudent to say that we humbly regret the disappointment that all Dominicans, to whom we are indebted as public servants, have felt as a result of this situation."
Prior to this announcement, the Chamber of Accounts issued a paid advertisement published in several newspapers defending the "legality" of their decision, on the grounds that both they and the Central Electoral Board were exempt from the three-month rule. The president of the Chamber of Accounts, Licelott Marte de Barrios had been vocal in her defense of the decision, saying that the criticism was politically motivated.
The criticism came about after the press reported that the full board of the Chamber of Accounts, under the leadership of Licelott Marte de Barrios, had approved a complete Christmas bonus equal to RD$281, 973, plus an "incentive" of an equal amount as their Christmas bonus, and their RD$281,973 wage for the month, plus other perks, such as a RD$58,000 stipend for gasoline.
In total, the Chamber of Account members announced they would return around RD$5 million to the Treasury.
The new CC members were appointed just last 9 October after their predecessors were submitted to a sort of impeachment process in the Senate primarily for seeking personal benefits and their low productivity while serving on the board.
Senate president Reinaldo Pared Perez (PLD-National District) excused the judges of the auditing department, on the grounds that as humans they could make errors, and that they had rectified their mistake by returning the money. He said the matter was now closed.
Senator Wilton Guerrero (PLD-Peravia) says, "In my opinion, the members of the Chamber of Accounts have disqualified themselves before the country, in the same way as their predecessors did and so should be treated with the same penalty." The predecessors resigned or were fired.
PRSC deputy Rafael Molina Lluberes said in Congress that the Chamber of Deputies should open an investigation into the affairs of the Chamber of Accounts. "If they made that blunder, we would expect that other things will be found," he said.
The new members of the Chamber of accounts are Licelot Marte de Barrios, Pablo del Rosario, Ivan Rondon Sanchez, Juan Jose Heredia Corporan, Jose Nicolas Almanzar, Jorge Suncar Morales, Pedro Ortiz Hernandez, Jose Attias and Juan Luis Seliman. Several of them had worked in other posts in government and private institutions had been issued their corresponding Christmas bonuses.

Twelve weeks and counting!
Fuel prices in the Dominican Republic have gone down for the twelfth week in a row. The exception was propane gas, LPG, which remained at RD$50.00 a gallon, unchanged from last week.
New prices for both types of gasoline and diesel and for Avtur and kerosene all reflect the changes in international oil prices. The Ministry of Industry and Commerce (SEIC) set the new prices as follows: Premium, RD$115, Regular gasoline, RD$105 a gallon, Regular Diesel was set at RD$100 a gallon and Premium Diesel was put at RD$107.
Aircraft fuel or Avtur was set at RD$75.04 a gallon, down RD$1.36. Kerosene, still popular in many regions, was priced at RD$94 a gallon, a RD$2.10 reduction.
The SEIC press release indicated that international fuel prices had been subject to significant reductions according to reports from Platts and Opis Lpg that are used, according to El Nuevo Diario, as references for setting the price of fuel in the Dominican Republic.
The note adds that there is nervousness about a greater decline in the demand for oil with a worldwide recession looming on the horizon, which will reduce the demand for oil even further, and for this reason, prices continue to fall.
Sharp declines in the stock markets and more economic news that enhanced pessimism kept prices near the four-and-a-half year lows ahead of the Christmas and New Years holidays.
The Euro gained strength against the dollar because expectations regarding a lowering of interest rates in the "Euro-zone" were reduced. .
Forecasts on figures from the United States showed that there was an increase in crude oil reserves for the third week in a row, and this also served to depress the price of oil.

Changes suggested for the SCJ
Diario Libre has consulted a series of legal experts on the situation created by the Supreme Court's latest decisions.
A reduction in citizens' right to find justice and the lack of leadership in the Supreme Court are cause enough for 2009 to be a year of profound changes within the high court because, according to these lawyers, "(the court) has reached its limits and fulfilled its historic mission."
Legal Experts Eduardo Jorge Prats, Pedro Dominguez Brito, Pedro Justo Castellanos and Jesus Colon Arache joined in expressing their conviction that a new structure was needed for the court.
Jorge Prats pointed out the challenges for the coming year. He said that the consolidation of judicial independence and the strengthening of the program to modernize the justice system in the constitutional reform is a great opportunity to achieve these objectives so that the justice system can truly become the controller of the other state powers. He predicted that a de-centralization and a de-concentration would occur in the court, all for the benefit of an independent judiciary.
Castellanos, the rector of Apec University and a former director of the Department for the Prevention of Administrative Corruption (Depreco), accepts that the judiciary is better now than before, but he feels that the National Council of Magistrates should be convened to make the changes in the Supreme Court. He defends the idea of a needed renovation in the internal structure in order to strengthen the court.
"I think that other judges should be given a chance, there are very good judges in the Appeal Courts in all the country's Judicial Departments, thanks to the work of the Supreme Court," said Dominguez Brito. He does not worry so much about the problem of the Sun Land Case, but about the fact that there was a lack of leadership evident in the court. In the judgment of the lawyer from Santiago, this situation is not limited to the differences that might exist in terms of interpretation of the law, but rather something deeper.
Colon Arache set out the idea of an urgent renovation, because judicial independence implies a new deal for Dominican society. He said that the rights of citizens should be at the forefront of the justice system.

Christmas toll reaches 18
The final tally of deaths during the Christmas holiday was placed at 18 by the Emergency Operations Center (COE), with 197 reported injuries.
Of the deaths, 16 were due to traffic accidents and two were from alcoholic intoxication.
As he gave details of the first phase of "Operations Christmas Dawn 2008", COE director Juan Manuel Mendez said that in comparison to last year, deaths were down by 10%, and overall accidents and injuries were down by 45%.
In 2007 there were 20 deaths, most of them from accidents, and there were 372 injuries. Only one person died from intoxication last year.
Speaking to reporters, Mendez highlighted the fact that during this year's festivities, seven minors between the ages of 11 and 17 were reported to have suffered from alcoholic intoxication.
He said that since the COE "is not an enforcement agency, there are other institutions that will have to deal with this issue."
He said that, "the parents should be summoned, since it is their responsibility to look after their children."
The COE watches out for three principal causes: Alcohol poisoning, food poisoning and traffic accidents.
The organization has the support of the National Police and the Armed Forces as well as Public Heath, the AMET, the Politur (Tourism Police), Public Works and the Presidential Administrative Ministry.
Last year, 23 traffic-related accidental deaths were reported. A spokesman for the COE said that most of the deaths are alcohol related. This year the Ministry of Interior and Police restricted the use of guns even by those authorized to carry these.

More than 1M motorcycles!
A study carried out by Fundacion Red de la Dignidad (Dignity Network Foundation) reveals that the motorcycle is the ideal vehicle to use for crime and that the Dominican Republic has more than a million of these machines.
Nonetheless, the study also reveals that the motorcycle is also good for use in commercial, political and work-related activities, as well as the means of raising a family.
The report points out the challenge facing the nation with the ballooning number of motorcycles all over the country.
"The motor taxi is used in political campaigns in several ways, from carrying party flags during marches and caravans in exchange for cash payments and fuel, and sometimes for promises of work in the future", reported foundation president Mario Holguin, who released the study. Holguin pointed out that the "motoconchista" (motorbike taxi driver) is acquiring such importance in the country that "they are now organized in unions and confederations."
The researcher said that of the total vehicles in the DR, the number of motorcycles has gone from 38.39% in 1999 to 44.42% in 2007. Two-wheeled vehicles continue to increase.
"The fact is that they constitute an important population segment in relation to the total voting public in the Dominican Republic, and motorcycle users could total as much as 25% of voters," is indicated in the study.
The number of motorcycles in the DR rose from 375,023 in 1999 to 942,180 in 2007.
The study also reveals that there are more than one million two hundred thousand motorcycles on Dominican roads, "since it is known that there are a great many machines that were brought in or assembled illegally and are operated without licenses or registrations and whose drivers also lack the required licenses."
Finally, Holguin argued for the introduction of driver safety classes for the operators of these motorcycles.

Few bright lights for 2008
The Dominican energy sector ended 2008 with few bright spots and a lot of shady areas. In the area of electricity generation, the market has not extended its generation capacity and recovery has been very slow, as reported in El Caribe.
The end of the year saw declines in generation because of breakdowns, and over the past two months many generators were obliged to shut down because of financial considerations.
The debt with the generators has increased recently, and despite several meetings and promises of payment made by the government, there are still millions of dollars pending payment.
In the marketplace, no plans have been presented aimed at attracting new investments in the area of generation. In reality, people linked to the sector raised their voices in 2008 so that the government might give greater priority to this market, since 2009 is seen to come with problems in supplying the demand that is currently being fulfilled at about 80% when 100% is the requirement.
During the crisis in the sector, that led to meetings at the highest levels, including President Leonel Fernandez, the debt of more than US$400 million since the end of June has caused numerous blackouts as the generators take their plants off line due to a lack of fuel.
Pressure only led to a few small payments on account.
Beginning in November, the government paid out US$10 million within a framework of a payment program worked out with the generators. But the accumulated debt with the generators is not the lack of payment by the government, because since August of this year, the electricity sector plan of action established a government payment of US$495 million.
However, the disbursements were even greater, some US$573.7 million. As a solution to the debt problem, researcher Jose Luis Moreno San Juan, a UASD faculty member, proposed that the CDEEE make the origin of the debts more transparent, because he considered that "evidently, many of the debts are precisely on the indexation of the contracts for the purchase and sale of electricity."

Violence is a major issue
As well as scandals and serious questions, 2008 will end dominated by an increase in crime and with an uneasiness among many Dominicans that shows a marked feeling of insecurity.
According to El Caribe, although the authorities insist on supporting their statements with statistics to try and show that crime has diminished, attributing the increase to erroneous perceptions by the people, the impressions that reach the media and the public opinion contradict the official take on things, and others do not even make the news, sometimes because there is no report or because the incident happened to a person with no public profile.
Nobody feels secure, not even in their homes or businesses at any hour of the day, because criminals walk around armed and shoot to kill with a startling coldness just to take a wallet, a cell phone, or a vehicle at the entranceway to a house or along a public street.
The impression of different sectors and social classes is that criminal violence is so prevalent that the authorities do not have the means to control it effectively.
Institutions and private citizens are constantly calling for greater and drastic action against crime, but they also complain when the answer to these calls leads to deaths in confusing circumstances and in the so-called "exchanges of gunfire", strongly criticized by human rights organizations.
According to data from the National Security Council, so far this year the number of violent deaths and crime has fallen by 17.31% and 20.62% each in relation to the same period last year.
Minister of the Interior Franklin Almeyda says the results of the Democratic Security Plan have been "highly reassuring" but the residents of several sectors and barrios do not share this opinion, often recounting their own experiences.
The chief of police has personally taken on crime fighting, along with his team of investigators, but criminal acts have increased so much lately as to render their efforts useless and allow crime to get out of control. Among the victims are officers, policemen, military personnel and ordinary citizens.
Armed Forces Minister Pedro Antonio Pena has stated his firm support for the work done by the police to stem the crime wave, such as the incident that cost the life of Colonel Nestor Guaroa Santana, but the public sees little progress, says the newspaper.

The career of Adriano Jimenez
Hoy newpaper's Que Se Dice columnist Claudio Acosta comments on the career of missing pilot Adriano Jimenez. Acosta writes that his career covered drug trafficking, assaults, robbery, fraud, forgery and attempted murder, and regardless, he was in and out of the armed forces, joining the Air Force, the Navy, the Army and the National Investigations Department and was authorized to fly without documents 68 times since 22 May of this year, "obviously thanks to the complicity of employees or officers of the departments linked to aero-navigation in the country".
Jimenez's piloting license was suspended in 2006 on grounds of people smuggling. Utilizing a student piloting license from the United States, he filed a flight plan to Bahamas from Santiago before disappearing after having been known to make a stopover in Turks & Caicos.
The president of the National Association of Pilots, Pedro Dominguez de Leon says he does not trust the Dominican Civil Aviation Institute (IDAC) commission that was appointed to investigate the case because the commission is made up by departments linked to aero-navigation. He comments on Senator Wilton Guerrero, who denounced the existence of a powerful network, of which Jimenez was a member, that smuggled people, weapons and arms to the United States. The network came to the open with the disappearance of Jimenez and the 11 passengers on board his last known flight out of Santiago International Airport. Acosta comments that very powerful and well-connected people could be involved in the case, beyond the reach of those who investigate the reasons for the tragedy.
Today's El Dia publishes the news that the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is investigating Jimenez's career, and had been watching his travels on board Piper Aztec N216D in which he allegedly transported seafood to Caribbean islands, but was suspected of illegal operations.
As reported in El Dia, he carried out his operations without interference until the late Angel Christopher Martinez, in charge of the Department of Aero-navigablity at the IDAC, suspended his flights after detecting several irregularities, including a forged airplane inspection. According to reports, following his suspension, Jimenez is thought to have visited Christopher at his IDAC office and threatened him, accompanied by two Air Force colonels. Two weeks later, Christopher was murdered on 12 July 2006.
El Dia also ties Jimenez to Quirino Ernesto Paulino Castillo, who is on trial in the US for the largest cocaine shipment confiscated in the DR. Adriano Jose Jimenez reportedly gave helicopter flying lessons to a son of Paulino Castillo, utilizing helicopter N4044X that news reports say he purchased with US$35,000 lent to him by a Colonel Diaz Espejo. The helicopter was later confiscated as part of assets tied to Paulino Castillo's drug trafficking operations.

Air Force doctor shot by criminals
Dr Nestor Guaroa Santana Aquino of the Air Force was shot and killed by two unknown assailants when he resisted an attempted robbery in Villa Consuelo, near his home. News reports indicate that Dr Santana, who owned a pharmacy in his neighborhood and was known for his frequent free consultations and occasional medicine donations, was well loved in the community. Police chief Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin said he had appointed his best men to solve this crime.

Rains and nice, cool weather
The light showers that have been falling over much of the Dominican Republic should continue on into Tuesday, according to the National Meteorological Office (Onamet). Onamet said that an east-northeast flow is influencing conditions.
Onamet says that the rains and the winds will mostly affect the provinces of Puerto Plata, Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Samana, La Altagracia, Monte Plata, La Romana, San Pedro de Macoris, Hato Mayor, Santo Domingo and the National District.
Likewise, forecasters are saying that the rains might grow stronger in the east, northeast, north and southeast of the country and "dangerous" waves will be common along the Atlantic coast and the coastline of the Mona Passage, and therefore small craft warnings are in effect.
The exceptions are the Caribbean coast and Samana Bay where small craft can leave port, but not go too far out to sea.
The Onamet web page says that strong gusts of wind will continue to be felt along the north coast due to a high-pressure system and that temperatures will continue to be "pleasant."

Lottery winner identified
As of yesterday, two of the three winners of the RD$64 million Loto draw have not been identified, but in Santiago a motoconcho driver is one of the new millionaires.
Luis Manuel Franco, 43, says that his dream is to finish the construction of his mother, Celeste Nunez's house in El Caimito Abajo, and this will become a reality sooner that was hoped for, since part of his winnings will go towards finishing that project.
In the wooden house with a tin roof where he lives with his wife and his four children, neighbors and relatives all joined in the celebration.
Luis Manuel, better known as "Choco", bought the winning number at the Mi Campo supermarket in Punal and together with two other winners will split the RD$64 million peso prize.
In Santo Domingo, meanwhile, along the main streets of the neighborhoods where the pharmacies that sold the other two tickets are located the only thing people talked about was the Loto.
This is the first time that three people share the big prize that went to the holders with the numbers 06,07,09, 21,24,and 29. Each will receive 2RD$21,333,333 (minus taxes, of course.)
In Santo Domingo, the tickets were sold in Consuelo Grisel II pharmacy in San Luis, and in Super Farmacia Jearel in Los Rios.
Interviewed by El Caribe, Franco, who, besides playing the Loto, drives a motoconcho, told reporters that he played about RD$3,000 in Loto tickets, some of which he played for other people.
Last June Franco lost the job he had in a company where he had worked for six-and-a-half years, but he bought the motorcycle with the money from his compensation, in order to support his family of four children, three of whom still live at home.
When he was asked what he was going to do with the money, he told reporters that he was going to "think very hard and calmly together with my family in order to decide where I will invest."

Sextuplets are three years old
The sextuplets who were born in Plaza de la Salud hospital in Santo Domingo three years ago have already started pre-school and this year they took a Christmas break and visited their grandmother in Cotui.
Emeli Mariel, Paola Esther, Nerey Kiara, Hugo Nicolas, Manuel Emilio and Emilio Jose are causing merry chaos at Teofila Aquino's house in Cotui.
The six were born on 26 December 2005. Their parents, Maxima Perez and Emilio Figueroa, work in the informal sector.
The pair have another child, Fiordy, now eight.
With the exception of Emeli Mariel, the other five children are all healthy and eat well. One of their caregivers says "they eat everything, they ask for rice and do not accept lunch if it doesn't include meat."
The little ones are playful and fight over toys, while Emeli watches them and smiles with her mouth open. Five of the six attend a parochial day care center in El Almendro, where they stay from 8 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon.
They talk, run, and ask for food all the time, and even wake the neighbors at 6:30 in the morning.
The sextuplets were born after their mother took fertility drugs and were delivered by C-Section under the guidance of a team of highly trained physicians at the Plaza de la Salud where they received all their medical care.
Currently the sextuplets just have the RD$15,000 that the Ministry of Public Health sends them because the RD$20,000 payment that was being sent by the Ministry of Education under former minister Alejandrina German has been stopped.
According to El Caribe, the sextuplets no longer receive gifts from private individuals, and their RD$100,000 monthly bill has all but de-capitalized the small family business of beauty care products. Their parents have asked for a small business loan to recapitalize the business.

Baseball round robin
On Friday, the semi-final phase of the Dominican Winter League got off to an interesting start.
In San Francisco de Macoris, the Tigres del Licey clobbered the home team Gigantes del Cibao, the winners of the regular season, 14-4. The game was played before a packed house in the Julian Javier Stadium. Jose Bautista led the Tigres with a homerun and three runs-batted-in.
In La Romana, the Toros del Este defeated the Aguilas Cibaenas 10-7 at the Francisco Micheli Stadium.
Cuban Michel Abreu went 3-3 with two doubles a hit and five runs-batted-in to lead the Toros to their first victory in the Round Robin part of the tournament.
On Saturday, the Toros never gave up and came back from a five-run deficit to defeat the Tigres del Licey on their home turf in Santo Domingo, 8-7. The victory put the Toros at 2-0 in the tourney and the Tigres at 1-1.
In Santiago, a dramatic ninth inning bases loaded homerun by Nelson Cruz gave the Gigantes del Cibao a victory over the Aguilas Cibaenas 7-6 before an astonished home crowd in the Estadio Cibao.
On Sunday, the Gigantes were once more in their Julian Javier Stadium home field in San Francisco de Macoris. They did not play nice with the visiting and undefeated Toros del Este, beating them in a come-from-behind homerun over the huge centerfield fence by Brayan Pena, good for two runs and the 9-7 victory.
The win puts the Gigantes in a first place tie with the Toros.
In Santiago, hundreds of fans were surprised at the suspension of the game between the Tigres del Licey and the Aguilas Cibaenas because the field was in unplayable condition due to the overnight rains. Some fans had traveled long distances to see this game between the fierce rivals.
The Standings
Team W-L Avg. Games Behind
GIGANTES 2 - 1 .667 --
TOROS 2 - 1 .667 --
LICEY 1 - 1 .500 .01
AGUILAS 0 - 2 .000 1.5
Today's games
Estadio Quisqueya, Santo Domingo: Aguilas Cibaenas (Nelson Figueroa) vs. Tigres del Licey (R. Ortiz)
Francisco Micheli Stadium, La Romana: Gigantes del Cibao (A. Simon) vs Toros del Este (R. Tejada)
Both games start at 7:30pm
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