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Daily News - Tuesday, 21 July 2009

LF orders lights turned on
Leonel Fernandez announced measures to reduce blackouts after meeting with key electricity sector executives at the Presidential Palace yesterday. He said the government this month would make US$30 million in payment to AES group to considerably reduce blackouts, and recognized arrears of US$700 million with power generator companies estimated for 2009.
The announcements came on day one after his return from his 10-day trip to the Middle East, leaving behind a country affected by a near total collapse of the electric system. Last Thursday there was a total blackout of the entire country.
Present at the meeting were representatives of EGE-Haina, the Transmission Company, and the AES Dominicana Group, and Radhames Segura, the vice president of the Dominican Corporation of State-owned Electricity Enterprises (CDEEE), the government's leading electricity sector representative.
Segura reported on the decisions reached at the meeting shortly after. He attributed the blackouts to the increased demand for electricity as a result of the heat wave that is affecting the Dominican Republic.
"We have arrived at an agreement with the AES Group that operates the greatest number of generating plants in the country, to provide US$15 million to bring a shipload of natural gas that could put the AES Andres on line together with the turbine of Dominican Power Partners (DPP), simultaneously, for an additional 390 megawatts. The two units will be able to operate continuously until 31 August," according to Segura.
The CDEEE executive explained that the government will deliver funds to the EGE-Haina so that Haina-gas (100 MW), now out of service, so this can be put back on line.
Moreover, he said that they are reaching an agreement with Falconbridge, which had problems with some transformers at a sub-station and can only put 55 MW on line. However, with the repairs, the company will be able to provide 90 MW, he said.
Government plans also call for, according to Segura, getting 300 MW on line as fast as possible with the 90 from DPP, 90 MW more from Siemens-Haina and the 55 MW from Falconbridge.
The government is also negotiating with the San Pedro de Macoris electricity company (formerly Cogentrix) due to the fact that for some time now it is only operating one unit. The idea is to get two of the units back on line for an additional 90 MW.
Segura told reporters that "the government is doing everything possible", to restore 80% of the service on a permanent basis during the summer."
The electric sector estimates a US$700 million deficit this year, but only US$421 million have been provided for in national budget. The problem with collections produced a shortfall among the proportion that was supposed to provide the US$421 million.
For the first six months, the budget estimated US$35 million per month, from which they should have disbursed US$210 million, but the government only made payments of US$187 million, leaving a US$23 million shortfall, according to Segura.
For this month, the government should have disbursed US$35 million, but up until now payments have been US$6 million, plus the US$15 million that will be paid this week.
A recent rate increase, bringing billings in some cases to more than 100%, should bring in a windfall in collections.
Segura had not been available to the press until now as he had traveled to the Middle East accompanying President Leonel Fernandez.

Fernandez minimizes corruption
President Leonel Fernandez says political aspirations are behind what he describes as a media campaign against Radhames Segura, who is in charge of electricity service in the DR. Leading business, religious and civic organizations have corroborated findings of TV investigative journalist Nuria Piera that the government-run electricity payrolls are bloated with family and relatives and political patronage, indicative of the lack of administrative efficiency at the CDEEE and other government-owned power companies in the DR. The findings are especially irritating at a time the government has instituted major rate increases and blackouts have returned with a vengeance.
Segura said in a press conference yesterday that the claims of corruption in his administration seek to discredit his management at the CDEEE.
He said that at the CDEEE there is not a single case of corruption, as reported in Hoy. He said those who believe differently should challenge him in court.
Referring to demands for the government to stop increasing corruption, President Fernandez has insisted his administration has instated controls, and said that the Ministry of Hacienda needs to enforce the procurement law.
In response to the generalized perception of rising corruption, the governmental Comission of Ethics and Fight Against Corruption and the School of Judges of the Prosecutor General Office said they would begin a program to educate government officers in ethics and morality. The Prosecutor General Office invited Dominicans in general to press charges for corruption in government to his office. And the government announced the creation of a special telephone line for calls denouncing corruption.
Servio Tulio Castanos Guzman, of the Foundation for Institutionality and Justice, called for a reingeniering of the Prosecutor General Office, considering the department has not been sufficiently proactive in prosecuting corruption, as reported in El Caribe. He spoke of a priority to rid the department of politics.

DPCA goes after PRA director
The National Department of Persecution of Administrative Corruption (DPCA, formerly "Depreco") filed a case against the former director of the Program to Reduce Blackouts (PRA), Marcos Lara Lorenzo and other collaborators, who it accuses of taking RD$12 million through different fraudulent maneuvers.
According to the Diario Libre, the DPCA director, Hotoniel Bonilla, filed his case before the judge coordinator of Instruction for the National District, Rosalba Garib Holguin, requesting that the magistrate set a hearing date to decide on a petition to have a RD$3 million bail bond and a travel impediment established on Lara, the former administrative director Sauris Rodriguez Sanchez and the former administrative manager, Nicolas Concepcion Nunez. The complaint established that as par of the results revealed in an audit of the CDEEE, the PRA department head moved hardware and construction materials that were supposed to be used in the remodeling of two offices, one on Abraham Lincoln and the other in the Herrera Operations Center.
The materials were used for a project called "The Christian Renovator Movement" that was coordinated by Lara. The audit says that of the RD$894,248 disbursed for the PRA for these remodeling jobs, RD$313,235 were identified as purchases of materials for these offices which were transferred to the 27 de Febrero Avenue and another part to Independencia Avenue, where the ministry "Chosen Of God" operates. Among the invoices audited are some that were from Ferreteria Genial, which were verified in order to prove the authenticity of the data. However, "Investigative personnel went to the address where the business was allegedly supposed to be, discovering that the entity had no fixed place of business," says the DPCA report. The investigation makes clear that Lara placed family, relatives and members of his church "Chosen of God", with the idea of retaining funds from the salaries for his own use. The documents say that Lara hired six nephews, three brothers-in-law, an ex-wife, a father-in-law, five relatives and 18 members of the church.
The situation came out into the open after Nuria Piera aired an investigative journalism TV show on Channel 9.

PC and FLASCO view corruption
The executive directors of Citizen Participation (PC), Javier Cabreja, and of the Latin American Social Studies Faculty (Flacso), Francisco Cueto, said that the results of the recent Gallup-Hoy poll reveal the reality of life in the Dominican Republic. They are referring to the perception of generalized public corruption by a high percentage of the population.
The two civic leaders recommended the government study the poll results in regards to government efforts to fight and punish corruption. They urged the government take effective measures to deter corruption and strengthen democracy, the system of party politics and the quality of life for the population.
Cabreja and Cueto talked about the results of the Gallup-Hoy poll that indicated 66% of those surveyed believe that the corruption is increasing while 84% believe that there is a lot of impunity. The government handling of the economy is seen as negative by 82% of the people interviewed.
In the opinion of Cabreja and Cueto, one of the reasons that the people perceive so much corruption is that there are few controls to combat this plague.
The spokesperson for Citizen Participation called the fact that people are not seeing any measures directed at investigating and punishing corruption, "but rather they get answers from the authorities that seem to justify the situation."
In the Gallup Poll published in Hoy, 65.8% considered bad the government's efforts to fight corruption.

The high cost of corruption
A professor at the master in public administration at Funglode, Manuel Villoria told Hoy that if the country reduced corruption in office, it could have savings of RD$65.7 billion. Funglode is the think tank of President Leonel Fernandez.
Villoria spoke of 4% of the Gross Domestic Product, or twice the budget of the Ministry of Education. He was interviewed at Funglode after speaking on "Ethics and Leadership in Public Administration." He said less corruption would translate into more tax collections, domestic and foreign investment and more confidence in the economy. He corroborated the low positioning of the country in regards to the perception of corruption index of the country. Villoria is a member of the Executive Committee of International Transparency in Spain. He is a professor in political science and management at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid.
"The key in government is development strong institutions," he said.

A drug-fighting plan, for what?
Mabel Feliz Baez, director of the National Drug Council, criticized what she described as a lack of will and cooperation among government agencies that combat drug trafficking. As reported in El Caribe, she said that without a predefined direction, institutions such as the Navy and the Drug Control Department (DNCD) will not be able to show results. She said, "I am not seing an integral, coordinated fight amongst the agencies that deal with this problem. We have a National Drug Strategy, but everyone seems to be drafting a plan. For what? I don't know," she said.
Recently, the US Drug Enforcement Agency commented on the "many" non-regular flights that are able to fly in Dominican air and maritime space with drug shipments from Panama, Colombia and Venezuela. The DR continues to be a leading transshipment port for drug transport to Europe and the US.
"I am aware that it is necessary that governments [in the Caribbean] unify efforts against drug trafficking, because if the drug traffickers of the different countries can work together, then there is even more sense in governments working together," said Feliz. The DEA recently reported drug shipments are arriving in containers on merchant ships.

Passports need to be renewed
Flavia Garcia, the director of the Passport Department (DGP), announced the start of a new push for Dominicans to get a biometric passport. She spoke at a press conference in Boston, Massachusetts, and told reporters that the push follows International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requirements.
Biometric passports first began to be issued in May 2004 in the DR.
A 'biometric passport' is defined as one that is digitally printed and that registers the fingerprints, and has the direct impression of the photograph and the signature of the person. The digital passport incorporates the most advanced technology and security that guarantee the true identity of person. There are more than 100 safety features that can only be detected by special "readers."
Garcia said that her mission is to provide Dominicans with a passport containing "the highest standards and criteria of international quality".
She called upon Dominicans who reside overseas to change their passports at the nearest Dominican consulate, since by 2010 all passports should be biometric.
The following consulates are now capable of issuing the new passports: Hamburg, Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, Boston, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Miami, St. Maarten, Panama, Rome and Milan. The article does not mention the Consulate in New York City, but that is a given.

Preserving natural and cultural heritage
The ministries of Culture (SEC) and Environment (SEMARENA) have signed a cooperation agreement to safeguard, protect and promote an awareness of cultural and natural heritage in the Dominican Republic. Culture Minister Jose Rafael Lantigua and Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal agreed to strengthen the mechanisms to safeguard and defend cultural and natural heritage.
They said that President Leonel Fernandez has insisted on multi-institutional and multi-sectorial collaboration for the preservation and conservation of natural and cultural heritage in protected areas and underwater, said Environment Minister Fernandez Mirabal.
Fernandez said that newconservation efforts will be directed to the La Isabela National Park in Puerto Plata, the new Parque Nacional Mirador del Oeste (off the Palace of Engombe in San Cristobal), the salvaging of the Captain Kidd Underwater Preserve and areas in Cabo Frances Viejo, Saona and La Caleta (Santo Domingo).
Also see http://www.dr1.com/travelnews/archive/2009/tnews072109.html for more info on the new findings at the Captain Kidd Preserve.

Poverty reaches 70%
The overall poverty level in the country is between 40% and 43%, but there are provinces, such as Elias Pina where the level is closer to 70%, according to calculations done by economist Miguel Ceara Hatton. The national coordinator for the UN Development Program (UNDP) said that the situation is such that it should be corrected. He recognized the efforts made by the government.
From his point of view, according to the El Caribe, the current energy crisis just makes things worse for the poverty stricken provinces, although he said there is no way to measure how much worse.
He went on to add that "The energy problem is an institutional problem, because the fact that they cannot collect money for a service makes this sector unprofitable and unable to be run adequately. From this we see that the first component is the institutional issue, that is to say, collect for electric energy."

Mega-projects lack urban norms
According to architect Magaly Caba, the modernity that the government seeks with its mega-projects will not be achieved if these are not subject to the urban norms. She said that that are insufficient, contradictory, and in many cases inexistent, as reported in Hoy. She criticized the lack of institutions to regulate the effectives of modernity and called for an analysis of proposals so these be effective and integrated so they can help to resolve urban problems.
She told Hoy reporter Eladio Pichardo and her audience at the workshop "Mega-projects and their Impact on the City of Santo Domingo: Analysis, Perspectives and Challenges" that there is a lack of institutional order.
She said, "The feeling is that we should accept these mega-projects as they happen because the party in power and their special technicians know the issues and know what they have to do."
The architect said that building a second Metro line, constructing the Duarte Corridor and rebuilding the Port of Sans Souci, among other projects, is what is expected of a nation dedicated to development and tourism. However, she said that these are decisions that should be analyzed with regard to the state of things in the city of Santo Domingo.
Taking part in the activity organized by the Alternative City group and held in the Hotel Lina, were architects Omar Rancier and Cristobal Valdez, together with Roman Batista from the organizing committee and community leader Nicolas Guevara.
The different work groups proposed bettering conditions in the rural areas of the Dominican Republic so that the rural population had less incentive to migrate to the city. They also recommended studies to identify areas where low-cost housing could be built, and suggested that the municipalities participate in the construction of this housing.

80% favor abortion in case of rape
The Gallup Dominicana poll for Hoy revealed that 79.8% of Dominicans would favor abortion in case the life of the woman were in danger. 45.5% said they would favor abortion in case of incest. 53.6% of those polled consider that the issue should be regulated in the Penal Code, and only 14% say it is a constitutional issue. In the reform of the Constitution, legislators have voted in a first reading to ban any form of abortion (Art. 30).

COE issues Green Alert
The Center for Emergency Operations (COE) has issued a green alert for residents of Hato Mayor, El Seibo, Duarte, Samana, San Cristobal, Azua and Santo Domingo. The alert means that persons living in low-laying areas and near steep inclines should be on the lookout for floods and landslides. These may be caused by the effects of a tropical wave moving NE over from the Lesser Antilles.
The COE also recommends that small craft along the Atlantic Coast remain in port, due to high seas and winds.
In the Samana Bay and along the Caribbean coast these craft may carry out their work, but should remain close to the shoreline.
The tropical wave over the Lesser Antilles is showing a large cloud mass and winds that vary from 35 to 55 kilometers per hour. However, there is only a slight possibility that this wave could become a storm.

Toys for Guns get cheated
Fernando Mateo, the former Bloomberg campaign advisor on Latin Affairs and advisor on taxi-related issues, told reporters that he was cheated in a real estate deal in Harlem that saw his US$3.8 million of his fortune go up in smoke. Millionaire Mateo said that he and his wife Stella are practically penniless after they used their life savings to purchase an apartment building at 2141 Lenox Avenue from a man who falsely claimed to be the property's landlord.
"I have worked for 30 years. This was very painful", said Mateo, a native of the Dominican Republic, and founder of the popular movement Hispanics Across America. "I hope that justice is done through the courts", he said. In a lawsuit presented on 1 July in the Manhattan Supreme Court, Mateo said that he had lost "virtually all of his assets" in the alleged project.
Mateo, 51, who lives in the Westchester suburb of Irvington, is known for his community programs, including one that taught inmates at Rikers Island how to install rugs, do plumbing and become electricians. Mateo is also famous for his program of exchanging guns for toys in New York City. Last year, he and his business partner Peter Skyllas, had talked about getting into the business of real estate, when this "great opportunity" presented itself, according to Mateo, who is the president of the New York State Taxi Federation. He was introduced to the real estate business by Skyllas.
But the building was never for sale. Skyllas had been tricked by Henry Vargas, according to Mateo's allegations in the court documents. Vargas supposedly told Skyllas and other potential investors that he and his family were the owners of 90% of the shares of the building in Harlem. The agreement came crashing down when a real estate broker began to contact tenants and the owner of the building, Manuel Duran, who proved that he was the owner of the building since 1997.
Mateo is asking for US$10 million in damages. Skyllas is not named in the lawsuit. Vargas could not be reached for comments.

Bonao on strike for 72 hours
Merchant, community and popular organizations begin today at 6am a 72-hour strike in Bonao in a demand for road repairs, an end to the blackouts, drinking water and other community needs. Groups of young people protested on Monday in different barrios of Bonao, on the eve of the strike called by the Broad Front of Popular Struggle (FALPO) and other organizations.
The strike organizers are also asking for the completion of the extension of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo with the necessary equipment and furnishings.
Another demand is a request to put a stop to crime in the area and the substitution of the members of the Development Council for the province, who they accuse of wasting RD$1.3 billion.
The merchants of the Monsignor Nouel Chamber of Commerce said that they would support the protest for 24 hours in an attempt to sensitize the authorities.
The spokesperson for the popular organizations, Rafael Jimenez, said that they have had enough of government authorities ridiculing the residents of Bonao.
"The letters, the vigils, the Masses, the picket lines, the walks, the press releases, the public statements, not even the via crucis march to the Presidential Palace have worked," said Jimenez. Yesterday a government commission went to Bonao, where they met with strike leaders in order to try and get them to stop the strike call, but the meeting failed to reach an agreement.

Festival del Merengue Santo Domingo
Preparations are underway for the celebration of this year's Santo Domingo Merengue Festival. It will take place at the Avenida del Puerto. On Friday, 24 July, the orchestras that will be playing live for the general public are: Eddy Herrera, Geovanny Polanco and Rubby Perez. On Saturday, 25 July, Pena Suazo, Banda Real, Omega will be the stars of the evening. For the closing, on Sunday, 26 July, the bands are Fernando Villalona, Jose El Calvo, Sergio Vargas and Grupo Mayombe from Puerto Rico.
For more information on upcoming events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
 
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