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Daily News - Thursday, 05 February 2009

Tourist Boulevard for north coast
Work began yesterday on the second phase of the Samana Highway network, with a US$160 million budget financed via a 30-year concession. The Dominican state is providing the funds for the asphalt.
Public Works Minister Victor Diaz Rua announced the start of construction of the roadway called the "Atlantic Tourist Boulevard", a 123.64km stretch that will go from Nagua to Sanchez, to Samana, and then around the Peninsula to El Limon and Abra Grande. The road will also connect Balata and Abra Grande and El Catey with Balata.
Diaz Rua said the highway would take two years to complete. Construction has been divided into five sections, and the work involves improving drainage, both longitudinal and transversal, as well as improved signage to meet international standards.
Northeast Highways president Engineer Armin Garcia focused on the fact that the Atlantic Tourist Boulevard will make access easier to the Samana Peninsula via the International Airport at El Catey and the recently opened highway from Santo Domingo.
According to the plans, 99 kilometers of roadway will be widened and rebuilt to Duarte Highway standards and another 24 kilometers will be paved. And, of course, there will be a new toll station in order to gain access to the peninsula.

Toll road lacks lighting
Diario Libre journalist Niza Campos reports today that the new Samana-Santo Domingo toll road that generates over RD$749.5 million a year in tolls is unsafe. She points to the lack of illumination as one of the problems. She complains of the high cost of using the road that cuts the distance to travel to Samana from the capital city by half. Tolls depend on the type of vehicle, and range from RD$694 to RD$2,602 for round trips. An average of 21,000 vehicles use the highway every month. The highway, which was named the Juan Pablo II Highway, was a first concession project and was built by Colombian company Northeast Highways at a cost of more than US$150 million. The concession owners say the toll money is being used to pay back loans taken on to build the highway.

Santiago's parking meters annoy
While many are saying that the parking meters are unconstitutional and demand that the city end the contract to regulate their use, others defend them as a solution to the city-center parking problem.
Journalists, lawyers and people from other towns who visit the city on a daily basis complain of the fines that are imposed when the meter runs out if they do not top it up in time.
On the other hand, traders and business-owners in the center city praise the meters. And so, two years since their start-up, 85% of people who were questioned about their use approve of the parking meters installed by Blue Parking Caribbean, according to a report in Hoy.
Francisco Rodriguez, operations director of Blue Parking Caribbean, says that many fines are erased when it has been determined that they may have been unfairly imposed.
On the issue of safety for citizens of Santiago, the company says that they have installed security cameras throughout the city center area, and these are constantly monitored, and this in turn has reduced crime in the area. Irritation with the meters has been mostly felt by residents who are unhappy with having meters in front of their houses, making social calls uncomfortable in this laid back city. Others complain of the RD$300 peso fines for overstaying a time limit, and the preference granted to taxi parking spaces. Another major complaint is the lack of support in the areas around medical clinics such as Corominas or Bonilla.
PLD councilmember Hipolito Martinez, president of the Committee to Fight Against Parking Meters, says that they will not give up their fight until the mayor suspends the contract and regulates the complaints that are received on a daily basis.
While some people want to know where the money is going, others, such as lawyer Jose Dario Suarez, say that the city council is acting completely legally in contracting for such a service.
The company itself says that it spent RD$40 million and has only collected RD$13 million from the meters so far.

Colonial City clean up
The Ministry of Culture, National Housing Bank (BNV), the city council have launched a clean up operation in Santo Domingo's Colonial City. The facelift has a budget of RD$400,000. As reported in Diario Libre, sites that will benefit range from the San Francisco monastery ruins to Parque Duarte and the Mercedes Church. Deputy Minister of Culture Lourdes Camilo and Edda Grullon, director of Monumental Heritage concur that the works will make the city's number one attraction even more competitive.

Loans for youth
The general manager of the Banco Agricola, Paino Abreu Collado is discouraged by the fact that young professionals are not making the most of the low-cost financing available as part of the National Program for Incubating Companies (Proincube). He said that over the last year they have only approved RD$2.5 million in projects. The interest rate is a below market 8%, and loans can be for up to six years and a maximum of RD$1 million.

Environment Ministry doubles salaries
Wages at the Ministry of Environment (SEMARENA) have been adjusted to income levels comparable to other ministries, according to a report in Hoy. Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez will now receive RD$200,000 a month, up from RD$85,000, and his deputy ministers will each go from RD$60,000 to RD$175,000. The wage increases went into effect in January.
The main Ministry of Environment officials also enjoy perks such as vehicles, drivers, fuel allowances and cell phone use. Late last year, civic group Participacion Ciudadana published a report on the excessive number of ministers, deputy ministers and other bureaucrats who fill the state's payrolls. The report mentioned SEMARENA as having 21 deputy ministers. Nevertheless, even after this report surfaced the ministry has increased the number of officials. A ministry spokesperson said that one of the reasons for the pay increase was to prevent the "brain drain" caused by low pay.

Summit report due today
Vice President Rafael Alburquerque is meeting with National Summit organizing commission members and all the participating work group coordinators to draw up the first draft of a report to be handed to the President today.
The meeting was held in the Presidential Palace, with Antonio Isa Conde, one of the summit organizing commission members. Isa Conde told reporters from El Caribe that the work group and sub-group coordinators were trying to agree on prioritizing the issues.
He added that the most important aspect of the talks is that everything that has been suggested is viable, although during Wednesday's meeting they only dealt with the technical issues. He concluded by saying that the filtering process is under way, because there were proposals that will be accepted right away, others will need to be discussed, but these are ready for groundwork.
This afternoon President Fernandez will receive the preliminary report from the seven work groups. According to reports, it includes proposals that could be implemented right away because of the consensus.

Major rejection of tax savings proposal
The proposal to tax interest earned on deposits to pay for a salary increase for doctors and health care personnel received a broad-based rejection yesterday from economists, government officials as well as from Congress.
Spokesperson for the PRSC deputies Ramon Rogelio Genao categorically rejected any measure that would increase expenses for citizens, according to reports in Diario Libre.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the PRD senators, Roberto Rodriguez described the idea as inappropriate, even though he said he was in favor of increasing doctors' salaries.
PLD senator Dionis Sanchez, the president of the special commission that will study the proposal, said that they would meet this Thursday with representatives of betting parlors to hear their opinions and recommendations on the bill that proposes imposing new taxes on this sector.
Meanwhile, Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa and Central Bank governor Hector Valdez Albizu labeled the proposed measure as "absurd", saying that it neutralizes the present monetary policy that is trying to lower the interest rates.
In contrast, economists Henri Hebrard and Melvin Perez Sarraf, director of the economics school at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD), said that the measure was "economically feasible and socially fair".
Perez Sarraf believes that the tax on interest earned on savings will not have very severe repercussions on the economy, due to the small percentage being suggested. "This tax, if not set at a very high rate will not be prejudicial, because there would only be a flight of capitals if it were a very excessive rate," he said. Hebrard, who defined the proposal as proper, said he thought that it has an aspect of fairness.

Propane scarce, ships are on the way
Liquid petroleum gas was still scarce at most propane filling stations yesterday, despite some three million gallons being dispatched at the Dominican National Refinery (Refidomsa) on Tuesday night.
Refidomsa spokesman Alfredo Freites told Diario Libre that fuel started to be dispatched as of 7pm Tuesday evening, and he said he thought that the shortage would begin to recede slowly from the weekend onwards with the arrival of a shipment of 2.6 million gallons this Friday and nearly three million gallons more in another ship on Saturday.
Refidomsa attributed the LPG shortage that began to be felt last weekend to delays in the import of the fuel by Coastal, which has a quota of the fuel imported into the country.
When Diario Libre reporters toured round Santo Domingo, they found that most stations were closed because they were out of fuel. Only a few were offering service.
The Credigas station located at the intersection of 17 and Yolanda Guzman had received some fuel in the early morning but ran out by 5pm. Another Credigas, located in Los Tres Brazos offered service until noon after receiving a LPG truck.
Nevertheless, other stations remained closed, such as Tropigas in the Evaristo Morales area, Ray Gas in Villa Juana and Propagas in Ensanchee La Fe.

Banks announce lower interest rates
In separate announcements, both Banco Popular and the Popular Savings and Loan Association (APAP) say they have decided to reduce interest rates on new loans, bringing the total to five banks taking the same decision over the last few days.
In its press release, the BPD said that personal loans would go down from 36% to 32%, loans for small and medium businesses from 27% to 24% and vehicle loans from 25% to 23%.
According to Diario Libre, the mortgage interest rate will go down from 24% to 22%. They say that for current loans the decreases would go into effect as the terms are renewed.
Meanwhile, the Popular S&L Association announced reductions from 23% to 20% on new mortgage loans; loans with mortgage guarantees will go down from 26% to 20%, and personal loans will go from 34% to 28%.
Through their press release the S&L reports that it will continue offering home mortgage loans at 18% for homes costing less than RD$3 million.
At the same time, they said that they would evaluate the relation of due dates on all loans and deposits to adjust the interest rate margins as the market permits more reductions in the passive rate in the system.
Both APAP and Banco Popular said that the measure was taken in accordance with the monetary authorities' policy.
The Central Bank was the first to reduce interest rates as part of a policy that sought to make the economy more flexible. Later on, Scotiabank, Banco Leon, the BHD and the Banco de Reservas followed suit.
Of the largest banking institutions, only the Banco del Progreso has not yet said if they have taken a similar decision. Yesterday, Diario Libre contacted the bank's Public Relations department, but the manager said that he still didn't have that information.
Yesterday, Central Bank governor Hector Valdez Albizu welcomed the banks' decision in the wake of the Monetary Board's measure.

US revoked Lubrano's visa?
The United States authorities may well have revoked the travel visa issued to former banker Vivian Lubrano de Castillo, according to journalist Huchi Lora.
President Fernandez recently pardoned Lubrano de Castillo, who had received a five-year jail sentence for her role in the fraud that caused the collapse of Baninter. She did not serve any time in prison after claiming health problems. The decision to revoke her visa was revealed to Lora by a source at the United States Consulate in Santo Domingo, according to El Caribe.
The pardon was so controversial that President Leonel Fernandez held an extraordinary press conference to justify his decision, saying that he had made it on humanitarian grounds, based on Lubrano's medical reports.
The source told Lora that the US authorities had based their decision on the Visa Law which requires the revocation of the document for people who have been convicted of fraud or other crimes without taking into consideration whether or not the person has been pardoned.
Central Bank lawyer Francisco Alvarez praised the US authorities' decision but expressed regret that another nation had applied justice in this case.
He said, "This is a healthy decision, but it is sad that it had to be another country and many people think "How sad that it was the United States that applied justice!"

Illegals' return date unknown
The US Coast Guard in Puerto Rico said yesterday that the local authorities do not know when the 54 illegal travelers who were rescued on the high seas will be returned to the Dominican Republic. US Coastguard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad said that the illegal aliens were being investigated in preparation for their deportation to their country of origin. The official was interviewed by telephone by investigative journalist Huchi Lora for CDN Radio. Castrodad said that they are carrying out biometric tests to collect a set of data aimed at halting illegal travel to the neighboring island.
A maritime security vessel intercepted the illegal immigrants when they tried to get into Puerto Rico after the home made craft got into serious trouble, nearly foundering, due to bad weather.

Burgos accused of attempted murder
Baseball player Ambiorix Burgos will have to go to court again after being accused of attempted murder by fellow ballplayer Felix Martinez.
According to San Francisco Giants public relations spokesperson Juan Mercado, the alleged attempt took place after an argument erupted between the two men during a game of dominos and Burgos took out a handgun.
"They were playing dominos and he (Burgos) got all heated up, and drew the pistol," said Mercado.
He said that Martinez, known as "el gatico", has not said anything about the incident, as he considers it to be a personal matter. "In this case he has not communicated anything to us because he doesn't have to, "said the Giants' spokesperson.
Burgos was left off the New York Mets roster because of the controversies he has been involved in, and is currently out on bail after being accused of causing the death of two women in Nagua when driving in his Hummer vehicle.
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