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Daily News - Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Government discusses electricity
The government, with the support of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank is working on a new plan to free the electricity sector from the problems that have plagued it for the last 50 years "once and for all". Minister of Hacienda Vicente Bengoa and Radhames Segura, the vice president of the Dominican Corporation of State-owned Electricity Enterprises (CDEEE), made the announcement at the Presidential Palace yesterday, following a meeting with President Leonel Fernandez and a high-level commission from both banks that lasted for more than four hours. Bengoa reported that next week a commission made up of himself, the CDEEE vice president and the president of the National Business Council (CONEP) would travel to Washington, D.C. for interviews with World Bank officials and to iron out the details of the program. According to Gina Montalvo, IDB general manager for Belize, Central America, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Panama, the plan will include a program to improve the efficiency and the recovery of losses from distribution. "It was agreed that we would increase investment in these networks, and in another area, we are beginning to study the elements of the plan," the official told the press conference. By government invitation, the WB and the IDB representatives spent over a week assessing the situation of the electric sector in the Dominican Republic. As well as technical support, the banks will also provide monetary support. This year's budget consists of US$350 million from the World Bank and US$700 million from the IDB, including US$360 million to be injected into the local banks to improve their liquidity. Over the last few days, the electricity system has suffered a setback with a marked increase in blackouts, attributed to the hundreds of millions of dollars in debts with the generators accumulated by the energy distributors. Yesterday, the CDEEE vice president said that he did not have an exact figure for the amount of the debt, and therefore he was not going to say. Data obtained by Diario Libre indicates that the debt of the electricity distributors with the generators is around US$200 million. A commission will provide permanent follow-up on the plan, while the President will do it periodically, said Bengoa. The members of this commission have yet to be announced.

No consensus on abortion
The PLD bloc of assembly members managed to arrive at a consensus on most of the 24 articles that were discussed yesterday, except for Article 30 that establishes the right to life "from conception to natural death". According to Diario Libre, this has led the ruling party bloc to try and reach an agreement with the other parties in order to send the issue to a commission where the 73 assembly members who have yet to express their opinions will be able to do so, and they can also listen to the sectors that want to express their opinions. In the presence of Vice President Rafael Alburquerque, Presidential Minister Cesar Pina Toribio and congressional leaders Reinaldo Pared Perez and Julio Cesar Valentin, the PLD assembly members debated the articles related to banning slavery, bondage and human trafficking, the right to privacy, respect and non-invasion of private life, family life, the home and the correspondence of the individual, liberty and personal security. Vice President Alburquerque stated that they were trying to avoid stalling the constitutional reform discussions and to proceed with the issues that are not generating conflicts. He said that the PLD plans to send this issue to a commission. The coordinator of the commission designated by President Fernandez said, "We want the assembly members to make their suggestions and discuss them there. They have made some interesting proposals." The assembly also discussed freedom of information and the right of conscience, and journalistic confidentiality, the freedom of unions, the rights of citizens to health care, social security, the right of workers to strike and of management to close down factories, the right of private property among other aspects, issues on which there was complete agreement among the PLD assembly members. For the next PLD bloc meeting, articles 52, 53, and 54 of the presidential proposals are going to be discussed. This meeting is set for next Friday at 10 o'clock in the morning.

Church hardens abortion stance
Last night the Catholic Church hardened its stance against legalized abortions and the plans of some sectors that are trying to push legislators to vote for possible modifications to Article 30, which will continue being debated today in the framework of the constitutional reform process. Some groups, including the Dominican Medical Association (CMD) support a proposal to relax the total ban on abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger.
As part of the actions, hundreds of people from several parishes in the National District and the province of Santo Domingo held a vigil in front of the National Congress building as a way of bringing legislators' attention to this controversial issue.
Songs, prayers and candle lighting formed part of the vigil by the religious faithful who also carried signs calling for an end to abortion.
A Mass is being held at 7:00 o'clock in the morning and the vigil will continue at 2:00 in the afternoon.
Fathers Lorenzo Ruiz from Santa Cecilia and Luis Rosario from the Youth Congregation (Pastoral Juvenil) denied that their position against therapeutic abortions means that the Church opposes saving the life of the mother or a baby in the face of an emergency situation. "Abortion is a crime like any other, what is happening is that there are sectors that want to leave a window open for its practice, and this is not possible," they said.

Government to hand over 160 apartments
With a budget of more than RD$136 million, the government will hand over 160 apartments in a residential complex it built for the victims of the flooding in Villa Altagracia during tropical storms Noel and Olga in late 2007. According to El Caribe, the apartments are located in ten buildings in Villa Progreso-Altagracia and Villa Progreso-La Cumbre. The units were built by the National Housing Institute (INVI), thereby fulfilling a promise that the President made to the flood victims. According to the Presidential Press Office, each apartment has two bedrooms, a living and dining area, kitchen, bathroom, stairs, and communal areas with roofs that have been treated for leaks, a simple cement floor, Class A windows, pine cabinets and stainless steel kitchen sinks. The residential area also includes water, lights in public areas, paved streets, sewers, a water treatment facility, parking and garden spaces. The total cost of the project was covered by the INVI and construction began last year. The Quinto Centenario barrio, as it has been named, will be used to house most of the people who were affected by the flooding in Villa Altagracia.

Industrialist reveals financing not there
The president of the Dominican Republic Industrial Association (AIRD), Manuel Diez Cabral, revealed yesterday that financing from commercial banks is not flowing into the private sector. El Nuevo Diario reports that after saying that this situation is not a lack of liquidity on the part of the banks, the business leader attributed the problem to a lack of guarantees and conditions on the part of clients of the national productive sector that need to access credit and financing. "The problem is not whether or not there money, the problem is how this productive sector qualifies to access this financing," pointed out Diez Cabral. The business leader went on to warn of the risk that is being taken by the fact that the government financing the deficit of the current accounts with capital from the Central Bank and with investments, and suggests that the authorities take decisive measures to resolve the growing deficit of the current accounts. The AIRD president attributed the deficit of the current accounts to the growth in imports and the reduction in exports, "this year the projection of the deficit is for between 6 or 7%, which are really miraculous numbers given that there is still macro-economic stability with this deficit in the current accounts." He lamented the fact that the deficit in the current accounts has become an unmanageable issue, "and we are losing this race, then these are the decisions that we have to take in order to send the right signals."

New car sales down 60%
The president of the Association of Vehicle Manufacturers Concessionaires (ACOFAVE) reported today that sales of new cars were down 60% in the first quarter of the year compared to the two previous years. Fernando Lama said that the reduction in new cars sales is a consequence of the high levels of tax that go into the final price of the product. He said that they paid a tariff of 10%, plus 16% VAT, and a 17% tax to get the first license plate, and this totals 43%. Lama stated that 20 businesses selling new cars directly employ 4000 people, but the crisis could force them to fire many of them. El Nuevo Diario says that ACOFAVE asked the government to issue a temporary measure to eliminate the tax on the first license plate, and a reduction in interest rates. Meanwhile, ACOFAVE executive director Enrique Fernandez said that the reduction in new car sales can only be compared to 2004 which was the worst year. According to his projections, the market for new cars will barely amount to 11,277 units, while in 2004, they sold 11,925 vehicles. He pointed out that new car imports have fallen to 0 due to lack of demand. Leading car dealers Gilberto Marion-Landais and Jose Antonio Barret were also present at the press conference, alongside Fernandez and Lama.

Bonao residents on pilgrimage
A pilgrimage organized by the Broad Front of Popular Organizations (FALPO) by 110 people from Bonao is making its way to Santo Domingo with the aim of pressing the government to fulfill the promises it has made to the community. The demonstrators left the Our Lady of Fatima Church at 7:15 yesterday morning with the aim of arriving at the Presidential Palace by mid-morning on Wednesday, when they will try and present President Fernandez with a list of their requests. The petitioners demands include an end to blackouts, permanent drinking water for the whole province of Monsignor Nouel, the re-structuring of the Provincial Development Council because, according to the pilgrims, the current council has handled RD$1.3 billion pesos and has little to show for it. Finally, the marchers want the bridge over the Arroyo Toro to be finished. The march includes disabled people like Ramon Duran Pena, who uses a wheelchair. University professor Rafael Jimenez Abad told Listin Diario reporters that the group requested an ambulance to accompany the march, especially since it includes people over the age of 60, but a spokesperson said that the government had refused because they did not approve the march.

Police nab four ATM crooks
Agents from the Forgery Investigation Department have arrested four members of a gang dedicated to cheating ATM users at a range of banks and locations. Listin Diario says that Estonian Reigo Saulo, 38, and Dominicans Juan Llulis, 32, Jose Ramon Vadez, 34, and Johanna Carolyn Sepulveda Glas, 35 were arrested when they tried to steal a bank card from Yerren Saul Lebron Luna, who was using an ATM at La Sirena on Venezuela Avenue, according to the police. The newspaper reports that the gang members would tamper with ATMs so that the victims' cards would remain stuck in the machine. When the victims went for help, they would extract the cards using special threads and other tools. The people who were arrested were found with cards from several banks in their possession. Last week department head Colonel Antonio Rafael Cabrera Sarita revealed the existence of credit card cloning gangs in the country, saying that some were headed by Russians, Canadians and Africans.

US Embassy goes to Bavaro
The American Citizens Service Unit of the Consular Section of the United States Embassy has announced that as part of its program of service to its citizens, there will be an operation in the Bavaro area next Tuesday, 5 May, from 12:30 to 3:30 in the afternoon in the Amstar Building on Km 2 of the highway. During the operation, personnel from the American Citizens Service Unit will provide services on passport renewals and notary services. No processing for new passports will be done, nor will requests for Consular Certificates for Overseas Birth be taken. These services are only available at the Consular Section in Santo Domingo. A consular officer will be available to answer questions on Social Security and other federal benefit programs. These services will only be offered by appointment. In order to renew passports or for a notary service, you can program your appointment with the American Citizens Service Unit from 1:00 until 3:30 from Monday thru Thursday. For appointments regarding federal benefits a person can call the consular Section between 1:30 and 4:00 in the afternoon from Monday thru Thursday. The appointments should be arranged before 30 April.

Book fair launched
Just hours before last night's inauguration of the XII International Book Fair by President Leonel Fernandez, the work of security, cleaning, setting up of booths for exhibitors and carpentry work, painting and decoration dominated the organizers' attention. More than 322 exhibitors, dozens of guides, and 30 countries will work to ensure that visitors can make the slogan of this year's event, "Reading raises you up" part of their lives. According to Diario Libre, this XII edition of the Book Fair, which features Brazil as guest of honor, will include visits by some prominent international writers and intellectuals like Fray Betto, a leading liberation theology thinker and author of more than 40 books. The book fair will also feature appearances by Nelida Pinon, the first woman to hold the presidency of the Brazilian academy of letters, along with Adolfo Castanon and other intellectuals. Book Fair director Alejandro Arvelo promises that this fair will be "the best organized in the last five years". Minister of Culture Jose Rafael Lantigua was seen yesterday walking around and closely monitoring the set-up. He looked optimistic, saying that he thought that due to the economic crisis that has gripped the attention of the politicians, the number of book fair participants might be reduced, which, to his own great relief, has not been the case. Lantigua said that they have been following an austerity plan. Referring to the sales of books, teaching materials and food that also form part of the offerings, Lantigua said, "I think that during these 14 days (the duration of the event) the Fair will boost the economy here in Santo Domingo."
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