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Daily News - Thursday, 23 April 2009

Economic growth forecast for DR
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) are predicting that the DR economy will grow this year, despite the current economic difficulties. ECLAC expects the DR to post a GDP growth of 1.5%, the same as Panama, Guatemala and Honduras, while Nicaragua (1%) and El Salvador (0.5%) are also on the plus side list. Costa Rica is expected to show negative growth. In the report, "Facing the crisis: Central American Isthmus and Dominican Republic: Economic Development 2008 and Prospects for 2009," ECLAC economists say that the final outcome will depend on the success of measures taken by each nation to deal with the present global economic crisis.
Igor Paunovic, head of ECLAC's economic development unit, warns about a reduction in exports due to "a contraction in external demand" that is especially evident in the United States where preliminary data reveals that the trade balance in January 2009 registered a 25% decrease compared to January 2009. The IMF said that the DR's economy would grow during the next two years. In its report on economic prospects, the international organization pointed out that the Caribbean region as a whole is suffering from the reduction in the prices of raw materials and thereby a reduction in the value of exports.
Other negative factors that affect the Dominican Republic are the weakening of tourism and the decrease in remittances from emigrants in the United States and Europe.

World Bank on business reforms
The Dominican Republic has been singled out as one of ten nations that has pushed through the greatest number of reforms in 2008 in order to create a better climate for investments and business, according to the indicators reported by the International Financial Corporation, an affiliate of the World Bank. Economic, Planning and Development Minister Temistocles Montas received the recognition for the countryin Vienna, Austria on Wednesday. Montas listed the institutional reforms and economic policies put into place by the Fernandez administration. At the event, he warned nevertheless, that despite the recognition "we are not yet a country with the best policies." He assured his audience that "we are learning, adapting and adopting these good practices". Montas said that the recognition "that distinguished us as one of the countries that has best reformed its business practices encourages the country to continue doing its homework to convert the Dominican Republic into a competitive space for businesses."
Among the practices that Montas mentioned was the reduction of the timeframe needed for registering a business, which he said was reduced from 107 days to 60 days, a 44% reduction. He also mentioned important changes in the payment of taxes, customs clearances, and trans-border business.

Doctors protest abortion ban
The president of the Dominican Society of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Dr. Milciades Albert and the president of the Dominican Medical Association (CMD), Dr. Waldo Suero, have both criticized the approval of the controversial Article 30 of the Constitution that obliges doctors to give preference to the unborn child over the mother's health. Legal expert Cesar Pina Acevedo and Dr. Milton Cordero, a former president of the Dominican Society of Gynecology and Obstetrics described the Catholic Church's stance as "a double standard". He said that the Church supports a person's right to kill in self-defense, but denies a woman the right to life when she is carrying an unborn child. He said that all medical staff treating a woman who is admitted with bleeding due to an abortion in process could now be sentenced for murder.
UN Human Development report coordinator, Miguel Ceara-Hatton writes in Clave newspaper that the decision is one of social exclusion. He forecast the wealthy will continue to have access to abortions abroad and in upscale Dominican clinics, while maternity deaths among the poor in public hospitals will increase.
Congress approved Article 30, which orders the preservation of human life since conception, in a first reading. A second reading is due when all the items under review in the extensive constitutional reform process are completed by the Congressional Revisory Assembly.

Conservative constitutional review
It is now in doubt that the DR could boast a modern constitution, reports Diario Libre in a front-page story where its highlights the way in which conservative thinking has prevailed in the changes legislators have approved for the Constitution so far. The newspaper reports that archaic, traditional concepts are being incorporated in the Constitution, such as in the areas of abortion, freedom of expression and good civic conduct.
The Revisory Assembly has approved three more articles of what will be the new Constitution, and sent number 40 to a commission. The proposed article 40 would give constitutional category to the protection of professional secrets, the clause of journalistic confidentiality and the right to answer or retort. In the face of the number of modifications presented, the assembly members agreed to send this article to a commission that would seek to reconcile more than 15 suggestions for changes. Later, the commission will present a draft of the consensus on the right that a person has to freely express his thoughts, ideas and opinions through any media, without any previous censorship. The commission members will be designated by the leadership of the National Assembly in coordination with the coordinating commission and will be announced in Tuesday's session next week.
Article 37 was approved exactly as sent by the Executive Branch, and orders that "All persons who are legally in the national territory have the right to move about, reside and leave the country freely, subject to legal dispositions." No Dominican can be expelled from the national territory nor barred from entering the same, except in those cases where international extradition conventions signed by the Dominican State exist. All persons have the right to request asylum in the national territory in case of persecution for political reasons. Terrorism, crimes against humanity, administrative corruption and transnational crimes are not considered political offenses.
Also approved without any modification was Article 38 from the President's proposal that reads: "All persons have the right to associate for legal ends and in accordance with the law." The assembly members approved the inscription of Section II of Chapter I that deals with "Economic, social and cultural rights."
The President's proposal contained in Article 39 was rejected. This article said "All persons have the right to get together, publicly or privately, without previous permission, for legal ends and without weapons. Meetings in public places will be governed by the law." As a result of the rejection, the current number 7 of Article 8 of the Constitution will remain as is. This article, if not changed during a second reading, establishes "The freedom of association and of meeting without weapons, for political, economic, social, cultural or any other reason, as long as by its nature it is not contrary or threatens public order, national security or good behavior."
Article 41 of the proposal was approved with some changes. This article says that, "All persons have the right to dedicate themselves to the economic activity of their preference, with no further limitations than those contained in this Constitution and those established by law."
The electronic system failed for the first time since the start of work by the Assembly, halting work for a few minutes, but it was quickly repaired.
Even though it was approved on the first reading and apparently will not be changed, the article relating to the right to life continues to be debated in the Congress. Assembly president Reinaldo Pared Perez says he believes that some modification may be possible during a second reading although he does not agree with this idea. Meanwhile, Julio Cesar Valentin revealed that there was pressure, fear and even terror among many assembly members when the time came to vote on controversial article 30.

Authorities on Haiti flight suspension
The DR aviation authorities say that flights to and from Haiti were suspended because the flight permit for the only airline serving that route had expired and that the airline had not completed the renewal process. The Civil Aviation Board (JAC) reported that the program of flights permitted for the Tortugair Company, the only airline with permission to cover the route between Santo Domingo and Port-au-Prince and back had expired on 16 April. The JAC said that Tortugair was operating as a charter company between the two capitals. According to the report, the JAC had issued the airline 179 landing permits for an equal number of flights so far this year. "On the other hand, airline companies from the Dominican Republic have requested similar permits from Haiti and these have been stalled in the approval process for a long time." The statement also points out that the JAC is studying a new request by Tortugair to fly between the two countries.

More corruption in CDEEE?
Former CONEP president Celso Marranzini says that a complete top-to-bottom revision of the Dominican Corporation of State-owned Electricity Enterprises (CDEEE) is needed in response to the revelations of corruption in the Blackout Reduction Program (PRA). Marranzini called for investigations into what may be occurring in the other government divisions under the CDEEE, referring specifically to nepotism, bloated payrolls, the diversion of investments and the allocation of very high salaries, as revealed by journalist Nuria Piera in her investigative TV program.
According to Marranzini, "disorder and confusion" appears to reign within the electricity sector. While criticizing the CDEEE, Marranzini said that the PRA was an aberration since it was devised so that residents of poor neighborhoods would pay a reduced rate in return for a fixed amount of electricity, but now a lot of businesses have relocated their factories to these areas in order to lower their production costs by paying just RD$250 a month for electricity. He complained of the distortion caused by the fact that even beers that are sold in more affluent areas are cooled off in PRA barrios.
During his interview on the "Uno+Uno" television program, Marranzini said that the investigation by Nuria Piera could be used to get overview of the situation in the electricity sector. He said that the CDEEE has over 4,000 people on the payroll when it could do its job with 300 or 400 employees. Marranzini also complained about management structure problems, pointing out that the head of the CDEEE is above the Superintendent of Electricity when it should be the other way round. He also revealed that there is a political issue in the electricity sector, where certain "well-connected" people are not billed for the electricity they consume. Finally, he reminded the audience that the General Electricity Law is not being observed and that the technical rate is not being applied.
The director of the PRA was promptly suspended after Piera exposed the irregularities in the department. For months, local press reports have been revealing the prevalence of politics behind the bloated payrolls in the governmental electricity sector, and the lack of investment and efficiency to ensure a reliable and reasonably priced service.
Meanwhile, Listin Diario reports there is a deficit of 681MW in the system, which is apparent in the long blackouts that are back. Demand is said to be 2,100 MW, while production is at 1,319 MW.

Teachers' Social Security scandal
Former president of the Dominican Teachers Association (ADP) and member of the board of directors of SEMMA, Maria Teresa Cabrera is accusing Francisco Cruz Pascual, the interim president of the board of the public school teachers insurance plan (ARS-SEMMA) of irregularities in office.
She reports that Cruz Pascual has incurred a series of irregularities such as the purchase of an SUV for his personal use at a cost of RD$2,088,450 and the allocation of a salary of RD$78,000 a month, as well as his salary as Deputy Minister of Education. Cruz Pascual is also was said to have taken on functions beyond his competence.
Last October Cruz Pascual warned Education Minister Melanio Paredes that the entity had a financial deficit of around RD$70 million.
Cabrera assured reporters that this deficit was not revealed to the board of directors until December and that on the contrary the last audit that was carried out in March registers a surplus of RD$44,251,000 at the end of 2008. Cabrera demanded that an investigation be launched to establish the truth of the financial deficit mentioned by Cruz Pascual as well as its causes.
She said that strangely, at the board meeting when Cruz Pascual reported the supposed deficit he requested the purchase of three vehicles, one for his personal use and two for medical supervision. She said that although the board was opposed to the purchase of a vehicle for his personal use, it approved the purchase of the two vehicles, but Cruz Pascual purchased the SUV for himself and did not purchase the two vehicles for the medical supervision, violating a board resolution. Because of the supposed irregularities, the Minister of Education took over the presidency of the board of directors of Semma last week.

La Vega asks for help with Free Zones
Secretary general of the CNTD workers union Jacobo Ramos is suggesting that the government should take on the cost of Social Security payments for workers at the La Vega Free Zone as one way of tackling the situation where hundreds of employees are being let go due to high costs. He suggested, "an agreement of this sort for 18 months, one or two years, so that the companies can hold out during this competitiveness crisis." He added that this would enable the companies to improve their purchasing power but at the same time they should promise not to fire any more employees. He also suggested that the government should call a meeting where all the parties in the production chain get together and explore solutions to the problems. He said that the country could not afford to lose its free zones and the collateral jobs they provide.
CNTD president Pepe Abreu suggested a pact with the government, saying that in order for this to happen the government should designate a sector of the economic team, whether it is Hacienda, Internal Taxes, or Economy, Planning and Development so that the free zone companies can receive assistance that would go directly to the employees.
Abreu, quoted in Hoy, said "this assistance should be in the area of social security, since there are debts that are being verified, and need to be taken care of." The La Vega Free Zone Businesses Association has asked the Industrial Development and Competitiveness Center (Proindustria) to exonerate them from the payment of three years rent on the properties that are still open in the La Vega free zone, as a way of preventing further dismissals and the socio-economic deterioration of the area.

Bonao marchers to Palace
Organizations from Monsignor Nouel (Bonao) province have delivered their sheaf of demands to the Presidential Palace. Yesterday, after three days of walking the 84 kilometers from Bonao, a commission managed to communicate their requests to the President's representatives in the reception area of the building. Their list of requests included aqueduct repair and construction, delivery of apartments to flood victims, improved energy supply, and completion of construction of the Regional University Center for the Central Cibao. Essentially, though, they want the Provincial Development Council restructured because of alleged corruption. Speaking on behalf of the groups, Rafael Jimenez Abad asked for the community to be given an opportunity to take over membership of the Council. Meanwhile, Alfonso Fermin Balcacer (Nino) accused the current council of having misspent RD$1.3 billion that the province received from its share in the Falconbridge mine. The protestors were explicit in their requests and delivered a document to Minister without Portfolio Rafael Perez Modesto and other government representatives. Perez Modesto promised to relay the list to President Leonel Fernandez.

New tsunami warning device
The Dominican Republic has installed the first oceanography machine to detect tsunamis, according to a report from the state-owned news agency Antena. This news comes just one day after British geologists warned of the high risk of a tsunami (a tidal wave produced by major seismic events) in the Caribbean in case of the collapse of a volcano on the island of Dominica, generating waves of up to five meters in height. News reports indicate that the avalanche of tons of rock and soil would primarily affect Guadeloupe. The trigger could be an earthquake or a hurricane that may bring heavy rains and major costal erosion.
The "Tsunami Read" device is located in the Multimodal Port of Caucedo to the east of Santo Domingo city, at a cost of US$100,000. The device provides advance warnings of coastal dangers due to very high tides and other events. The source indicated that the acquisition of the new instrument reinforces the network of oceanographic measuring devices already in place in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands and will assist in navigation along the coastline. The project of the Seismic Network of Puerto Rico also seeks to "educate the citizenry on how to respond to a tsunami warning."

Another deportee flight
After completing prison terms in the United States for drug trafficking, homicide, assault, counterfeiting, kidnapping and other criminal offenses, 103 Dominicans arrived at Las Americas International Airport on Wednesday. The chartered DC-10 that brought the former convicts was received in the northeastern corner of the terminal. They were repatriated by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, arriving in the country at 1:05 in the afternoon from New York. The group was escorted by nine FBI and DEA agents. According to their files, the Dominican deportees have served terms of five, ten and fifteen years in jails across the United States.

Deputy's son dies
After five days fighting for his life, 35-year old Wellington Rafael Molina Iturrino, son of PRSC deputy Rafael Molina Lluberes died at the Centro Medico Real. He had been attacked on the way back to his home at Calle Camila Henriquez Urena in Santo Domingo's Mirador del Norte neighborhood. The assailants rear-ended his vehicle and shot at him when he got out to check the damage. They later stole his car and his gun. PRSC politician Federico Antun Batlle called on the government to allocate more funds towards public security.

US Navy doctors in town
The naval medical ship USNS Comfort is in port in Santo Domingo, its second stop in the four-month Caribbean and Latin American medical mission, "Continuing Promise 2009". Doctors have come on land and according to reports are at the Damas Diplomaticas School in Los Tres Brazos to decide on the patients that will receive free surgery and medical treatment on board the ship. The Comfort is scheduled to be in the Dominican Republic until May 2.
The floating hospital is an 894-foot, 10-story-high ship with a crew of 900. Its first stop was Haiti, where medical staff treated 6,731 patients, performed 161 surgeries and filled 15,504 prescriptions. It will then travel to Antigua, Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama before returning to its homeport in Baltimore.
The ship has 12 operating rooms, five dental rooms and 1,000 beds. On board are 20 surgeons, 75 nurses, 13 dentists and more than 50 physicians. The ship will provide care services onshore and aboard the Comfort while Navy Seabees will conduct a series of engineering improvements in selected communities, including the construction of a cold storage room for the Dr. Defillo Blood Bank and repairs at a school in the Los Tres Brazos area of Santo Domingo.
"The people and government of the United States have returned to the Dominican Republic to work alongside the people and professionals of this great nation to provide humanitarian assistance to those who most need it," said Roland Bullen, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in the Dominican Republic.
"The Continuing Promise mission is a partnership with Caribbean nations and Latin America to bring medical, dental, veterinary and engineering services based on the country's request and working with the US Embassy and US Southern Command," said Navy Capt. Robert Lineberry, CP09 mission commander.

Scholarships to Japan
The Japanese Embassy is offering scholarships for post-graduate studies in Japan. The scholarship is for studies undertaken between April 2010 and March 2012. Applicants need to be university graduates, Dominican nationals under the age of 35 and fluent in English. Other scholarships are available for a three-year technical course from April 2010 to March 2013. Applicants need to be high school graduates, Dominican nationals under the age of 22, and should have a basic knowledge of English. For both scholarships, applications need to be submitted by 1 July 2009. An information session will be held at the Pedro Mir Library on Santo Domingo's UASD university campus on 30 April at 11am.
The Embassy of Japan is also inviting applications to the International Youth Exchange Program, 18 days in Japan, from 6 to 23 July. This is open to Dominican nationals between the ages of 18 and 30 who are fluent in English or Japanese and who have not yet visited Japan. The deadline for this application is 15 May 2009, and documents need to be deposited at the Ministry of Youth.
For more information, contact the Japanese Embassy at www.do.emb-japan.go.jp

Books for a show
Donate a new or used book in good condition, and get a free ticket to the Friday, 1 May concert with merengue stars Johnny Ventura, Milly Quezada, Fernando Villalona, Los Hermanos Rosario, Sergio Vargas and Puerto Rican Danny Rivera. The event is organized by the Fundacion Nacional de Desarollo Integral (run by presidential aide Felix Bautista) in coordination with the Ministry of Education. Businessman Manuel Garcia Arevalo is the organizing committee coordinator. It starts at 7pm at the Olympic Stadium and tickets need to be booked in advance. Books can be exchanged for admission tickets at the Z-101 Radio Station, Metro stations, universities, Telemicro TV station, Codia, Olympic Stadium, several malls, and the FINDI stand at the Santo Domingo Book Fair at Plaza de la Cultura. For more information, call FUNDI at 809 685-7676, 809 685-7833.
For more on upcoming events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
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