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Daily News - Wednesday, 06 May 2009

Fernandez inaugurates projects
President Leonel Fernandez inaugurated a housing project in La Vega, two bridges (I and II on the Manabao highway), and newly paved roads in the mountain municipality of Jarabacoa . During the inaugural yesterday, he said that this had involved an expenditure totaling RD$469.6 million. In all, 144 families made homeless by tropical storms Olga and Noel will be housed in the complex. Fernandez personally handed apartment keys to 30 families. The remaining units will be divided up and allocated by a committee. Housing Institute (INVI) director Alma Fernandez (no relation) said the government still has to deliver another 1,118 housing units to victims of the tropical storms that hit the country in late 2007. A note of tension was provoked during the celebrations when one community leader asked Fernandez about progress on the second phase of the housing complex, the aqueduct and street repairs that also had been promised by the President. Fernandez was not able to provide an answer.

Tourism for Santo Domingo
The city of Santo Domingo has rarely been promoted as a tourist destination and that needs to change, according to Victor Pizzaro. The expert on tourism matters was speaking at an event about the city's future, organized by the Santo Domingo Cluster and the National District Municipality.
He said that Santo Domingo could not currently be considered a tourist destination because it lacks a "relevant promise" to tourists. During the event, which was sponsored by USAID and the Dominican Sustainable Tourism Alliance Project, Pizzaro said that a great deal of work needs to be done for Santo Domingo to become a viable tourist destination. He added that a lack of information on Santo Domingo also deters potential investors. "Only cities with proactive businesspeople can be competitive," said Pizzaro.

Continued caution over flu
Dominican health officials continue to prepare for the possibility of AH1N1 virus affecting the DR. The Dominican Medical Association (CMD) is asking the Ministry of Public Health to increase its efforts at the nation's ports and airports, where thermographs have been installed.
The Ministry also announced that beginning today it would launch an educational campaign in the nation's universities.
The Environmental Health Department for Livestock has banned all entry of livestock and pork products from Haiti to limit the possibility of the virus spreading to the DR. This announcement comes as a surprise as there has been no direct link with pork products. Osmar Benitez, president of the Dominican Agro Industrial Council, says that livestock from all countries, not just Haiti, should not be allowed into the DR.
Dominican pig farmers say they have lost RD$465 million because of the swine flu scare and members of the National District Pig Farmers Association are asking for the media to help with a campaign to reassure the public that the flu is not transmitted through eating pork. Association president Miguel Zaglul says that since the outbreak hit the headlines, pork consumption in the DR has fallen to 2.2 million kgs per month, which is 5.3 kgs below the usual national average.

Payroll still the same
Minister of Hacienda Vicente Bengoa says that the government's payroll has remained at the same level. He justified this by saying that the payroll was comparable to that of 2008, when there was a 15% wage increase for employees who make RD$30,000 or more per month. He added that this administration has been prudent in its work and is committed to increased transparency. Bengoa went on to say that an increase in the number of teachers, doctors and military personnel assigned to the Democratic Security Program resulted in the 21% increase in payroll expenditure.
Several media reports, nevertheless, have highlighted the large number of government employees on the state payroll who draw a salary without actually performing any function.

More articles approved
The Constitutional Revisory Assembly that is studying the expanded Constitution proposal sent by President Leonel Fernandez to Congress has approved six more articles, including articles that protect the privacy of bank information. Committee members also approved an article that grants journalists protection for their confidential sources. The approved articles included 54, 55, 57, 58, 59 and 60. Members discussed Article 54, on the right to physical education, of which numerals 2 and 3 were approved. The first numeral of Article 54 will be reviewed during a second reading at a later time. Article 55 was also approved with a slight modification to the wording of the article that now establishes the right of public administration for Collective and Environmental rights. The wording for Article 59, on citizens' rights to go before a judge if they feel threatened, was changed slightly.

SEMMA has problems
Semma, the health insurance company for state schoolteachers is operating with an RD$100 million deficit, according to a recent audit. The audit also revealed "irregularities that must be resolved immediately." The news was revealed during a meeting headed by Minster of Education Melanio Paredes. The special committee agreed that SEMMA needed to be audited more comprehensively, especially in the areas of finance and operations. The committee decided that a special commission would run Semma's day-to-day activities until the audit was complete.

Strike averted
A two-day strike scheduled for the southwestern province of San Juan de la Maguana, which was to begin at 6am today, was canceled after President Leonel Fernandez promised to meet with a special representative committee at the Presidential Palace on Friday. San Juan Senator Ramon de la Rosa said the strike had not been called to get the government to build promised public works, but because agricultural products were not being sold. A lack of coordination between what was harvested and what farmers have been able to sell has led to large product surpluses. Farmers are waiting for the government to purchase 300,000 quintals of beans.

Rewarding a snitch?
Electricity distributor EDESUR has announced a new program for people who are illegally connected to the energy circuit to "stabilize" their situation and not pay fines, as long as they disclose the names of other people who are illegally connected to the system. EDESUR's Lorenzo Ventura made the announcement during an inauguration of a new office in Santo Domingo. EDESUR says it has reduced its losses by 28%, increased invoicing and increased service to "24-hour energy" sectors. The company says it has more than 400,000 clients, of whom 92% pay their bills, collecting upwards of RD$1.4 billion per month.

Quirino's wife can travel
Travel restrictions against Belkis Ubri Medrano, wife of former military captain Ernesto Quirino Paulino Castillo, have been lifted, opening the way for her to travel to the US. Because of her connections with her husband's drug case, Medrano was not allowed to leave the country when her family was cleared to leave, some two months ago. She is expected to leave the DR soon and will enter protective custody in the US as part of her husband's plea deal with NY state prosecutors. Paulino Castillo is standing trial in NYC for drug trafficking.

Robbery at La Sirena
Miguel Zaglul, head of security at Grupo Ramos, parent company of the La Sirena megastore, has confirmed that a thief got into the store and walked away with thousands of pesos worth of watches, wallets, and cell phones, as reported in Hoy. Crime investigators speculate that he spent the night in the store and was trying to get out through the air conditioning ducts when his presence was detected. Security staff notified the police, who arrived immediately, but the man was still able to get away. As a result of the theft, the Av. Mella store, the first of the La Sirena chain, opened at 10am, instead of at the usual time of 8am.

Beheading causes stir
The Dominican government has "energetically" condemned the beheadings of a Dominican and a Haitian in the Buenos Aires de Herrera sector of Santo Domingo over the weekend. In a letter to the Haitian government, the Dominican Foreign Ministry said that the event does not represent a policy of persecution against any person, whether Dominican or foreign. The event is an extreme, but rare case in the DR. Nevertheless, Haitian Foreign Minister Alrich Nicolas criticized the incident, saying it raises questions about the values of Dominican society.
Hoy, citing police information, reports that Haitian national Carlos Nerilus was lynched by a "crazed mob", and that onlookers recorded the murder with cell phone cameras and even applauded as it took place. Witnesses told Listin Diario that Nerilus decapitated builder Pascual Lara with an ax on Friday. The next day, Lara's neighbors sought out the Haitian suspect and decapitated him opposite their friend's wake. The Police say that Rusbelt de Leon Lara is the chief suspect in the Haitian's murder.
The Dominican government says it will investigate the case and track down the suspects.

A-rod on the way back
Good news is coming out of Florida for Yankee fans. The Bombers' third baseman, Alex Rodriguez hit two homeruns during a seven-inning practice game yesterday. It is the second seven-inning practice in a row for Rodriguez, who is recovering from hip surgery. Rodriguez has been inactive since 9 March and there is speculation he could be back in the lineup as soon as Friday, against Baltimore. Rodriguez says he feels good and the Yankees could use his bat. The Bombers are third in the AL East and have lost five straight games to the hated Boston Red Sox. With off-season acquisition Mark Teixera batting .195 Rodriguez's addition comes at a much-needed time.

Pujols honored
St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols has been named MLB baseball's player of the month for the National League. In April Pujols hit .337 with four doubles, 8 home runs, 28 RBI and 22 runs scored. He also has four stolen bases and currently leads the league in runs scored and runs batted in. He is also second in homeruns and total bases.

Horford's Hawks not enough
Al Horford and his band of upstarts, known as the Atlanta Hawks, were not enough for the newly crowned king of the NBA, Lebron James. The Atlanta Hawks, playing in their first 2nd round Playoff series in 10 years, lost out big time to the James-led Cavaliers, 99-72. It was a fitting night for James, who was named NBA MVP and presented the award before the night's game. Horford, who is still recovering from an ankle injury he suffered against the Miami Heat, scored four points in 26 minutes of play. He chipped in with eight boards and two assists.

Aguayo succeeding
After a strong showing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Dominican sailor Raul Aguayo is continuing his rise to the top of his sport. This year Aguayo came in second at the 2009 Laser Atlantic Coast Championships, held in Annapolis, Maryland. Aguayo, who scored a total of 20 points, competed against 84 other sailors in the race.
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