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Daily News - Friday, 24 July 2009

Weaknesses, not corruption?
President Leonel Fernandez and government officials yesterday provided explanations about the large bureaucracy and multiple laws that are already in effect to fight government corruption. President Leonel Fernandez convened with media directors at the Presidential Palace yesterday and argued that government employees are neither protected nor privileged. He acknowledged that the public is irritated after reports of corruption have been amply aired in the media. But during the meeting he described corruption that has been detected in government as "minor things."
Speaking to a group of media directors, President Leonel Fernandez admitted that there have been "weaknesses" in the administrative handlings of his government, but said that this had taken place in decentralized government departments. He said he did not protect government officials and that his only loyalty was to the homeland.
Fernandez said that he was confident that there were no corrupt officials in his government. "I trust that they are not committing acts of corruption."
He added that there was a lack of internal control mechanisms or auditors in the decentralized government departments, and that it is possible for government officials to appoint their relatives, spend too much, and that this unsupervised practice can lead to the perception that there is corruption in government.
"In the centralized part of government, there is more control, today we are publishing the tenders, and no-bid contracts are not being handed out", he told the journalists.
Fernandez says that many of the problems in the decentralized institutions are to do with management of funds, human resources, misuse of cellular phones and the purchase of expensive vehicles.
But he repeatedly downplayed the situation by saying they were no "hyper" cases of corruption. "I think we should also stop [these acts of corruption] because the public is unhappy with this phenomenon and we believe that our duty and obligation is to fight to control that," said the President.
Fernandez said that no alleged corruption case that has dominated the news has been about the misuse of public funds, fraud or accepting bribes and added that he is willing to fire any government official who is charged with proven corruption. He added that any government employee who doesn't act honestly could not be considered his friend or a good employee.
He said his government is applying Law 10-07 on the national system of internal controls and the Controller General of the Republic and Law 449-06 on government procurement.
He said the authorities are working on procedures to get rid of people who hold down two jobs or more in government.
"We are not satisfied with what we have, we are aware that we have the political will to face corruption. We have had many meetings to investigate new standards to strengthen the controls, we will give more dynamism to the ethics commission, and more public information through the Internet", said the head of state.
He announced a hotline for people to make complaints and denounce corruption. He also announced that he would promote a transparency pact with the private sector.
During the meeting, Presidency Secretary Cesar Pina Toribio reported on the work of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. Simon Lizardo, speaking for the General Controller's office, said that 67 centralized government institutions have auditing departments, and come August there will be units at 176 decentralized institutions nationwide.
Eric Hazim, in charge of purchasing and procurement for the government, said that 3,000 government officials are trained in handling procurement.
Hotoniel Bonilla, director of the Department for the Persecution of Corruption (DPCA) said that prosecutors have been trained, and that his department is acquiring new technologies. Bonilla acknowledged that only a few minor corruption cases have been penalized.
Deputy national treasurer Maria Felisa Gutierrez said that internal government controls in place in centralized departments are advancing to reach out to decentralized institutions.

Less judges at Chamber of Accounts
The Constitutional Revisory Assembly has approved a proposal in a first reading to reduce the number of Chamber of Accounts members from nine to five. The current Chamber will stay the same, as the new constitution is not due to come into effect until 16 August 2010. The Chamber of Accounts is the government department in charge of auditing government. At present, its judges are chosen by the President.
Last year, all the judges of the Chamber were replaced after a corruption scandal was aired.

Lower prices for farm produce
Ministry of Agriculture reports a bumper plantain harvest this year. This means that with more than 499 million units hitting the market this year, and another 150 million this summer, plantains should go down in price.
The Ministry says prices should be around RD$2 to RD$5 the unit on markets.
The Ministry is also predicting lower prices for yuca (cassava), sweet potato, cabbage, eggs, limes and many other farm products.

Blackouts and ground transport monopoly
Business representatives meeting yesterday have called for the government to take action to resolve the electricity problems. "We have spent over 10 years seeing how the CDEEE is being handled by contractors, when in reality it needs a manager. Contractors can be really good at building substations, lifting electric posts. The problem is about management, not contractors," said Celso Marrazini, former president of the National Business Council.
He also criticized the fact that the government only spends 2% of the GDP on education, and the high cost of ground and sea transport due to the monopolies that are obstacles to better prices for consumers and affect the DR's export capacity. "We have a deficient public transport system that is controlled by so-called unions with capacity of extortion," he said.
He also criticized the cumbersome government bureaucracy, as reported in El Caribe.
Ricardo Rosario, president of the Traders and Business Federation (Fenacerd) said that its more than 30,000 affiliates are impotent as they watch their power bills increase by more than 100% for delivering blackouts all day long.
"It is incredible that when the blackouts last up to 14 hours a day, businesses get a 100% increase in their electric bills. Businesses that paid RD$60,000 in April, are now being charged RD$160,000", said Rosario.

RD$10 billion less in Customs revenues
The Customs Department (DGA) says that companies are importing less. He forecast that government tax collections would decline by RD$10 billion this year, due to the reduced imports.
DGA director Rafael Camilo said that imports of raw materials, vehicles and appliances were down. He said new estimates for 2009 are for RD$48.6 billion, down from the RD$59.5 billion that was forecast for the year.

Trading with Haiti
Public and private entities met in Haiti yesterday to discuss how to make the most of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), with a particular focus on strengthening trade with Haiti. Hoy reports that participants in the conference agreed that the EPA, which was signed by Cariforum and the EU, could be used to officialize trade between the neighboring nations.
The Ministry of Industry and Commerce Foreign Trade Office and International Trade Agreement Administration (Dicoex) director Yahaira Sosa said that the main benefit of the EPA would be legal security, adding that political problems would be unlikely to create commercial barriers.
As part of a potential trade agreement between both countries, Haiti would have preferential treatment from the DR for five years, and then Haiti would then have to provide reciprocal treatment.
Also attending the meeting were Eddy Martinez, director of the Center for Exports and Investment (CEI-RD) and Rosa Maria Garcia, president of the Dominico-Haitian Chamber of Commerce.

USAID donates funds
The United States International Development Agency has donated RD$14.9 million to 10 non-governmental organizations to develop eco-tourism projects, aimed at improving the lives of local communities.
USAID director Richard Goughnour said that the funds would help to develop innovative tourism projects, increase visitor satisfaction and support viable economic practices, among other things.
The beneficiaries of the funds are the La Romana-Bayahibe Hotels Association, Juntayaque, Paraiso Ecological Society, Farmers for Progress, the Foundations for the Development of Pedernales and Espaillat, Progressio, Artemiches, Muva and the Damajagua River Guides Association.

Dominicans open-minded on religion
A recent Gallup-Hoy poll indicates that 53.4% of the population feels that there should not be an official religion established in the Constitution in the DR. Another 31.6% believe the Roman Catholic religion should be the official religion. And 12.8% feel there should not be an official religion, but the Catholic religion should receive special attention. 73.8% feel the government should help religious orders. 15.6% feel that the state should help the Catholic religion, while 9.4% are against helping religious orders.

Another wildcat strike
The Fenatrano transport union held another wildcat strike starting at 6am this morning, taking many public transport users by surprise. This is just the latest attempt by Fenatrano director Juan Hubieres to use bullying tactics to achieve his aims.
Listin Diario reports that a conflict with the owners of the Parador Cruce de Ocoa is at the root of this latest stoppage.
The strike caused more problems for commuters on Av. 27 de Febrero. As passengers tried to enter non-union public taxis, Fenatrano drivers impeded their access, increasing tensions.
Hubieres defended the strike by saying that his union must use these tactics, even if they are unpopular, in order to be successful.

Bani and Ocoa are trans-shipment points
Peravia senator Wilton Guerrero and Ocoa deputy Abraham Martin are denouncing the way in which the cities of Bani and Ocoa are being used for drug trafficking, and they accuse the National Drug Control Department (DNCD) of indifference.
Martinez said that drugs recently confiscated thanks to his efforts in Bani, and a drug operation he thwarted in Ocoa were part of a major shipment, and that whoever is truly responsible should be arrested and sent to justice. He said he was sorry to have frustrated the transaction of 14 packages of drugs in the communities of El Memizo and Laguneta, because he has not received any support from the authorities. Martinez says he fears for himself and his family and said that he has been receiving death threats since yesterday.
Guerrero said that a genuine will to confront drug trafficking in the country does not exist. He said that the government limits itself to confiscating a few kilos of drugs in the barrios.
Guerrero said that the community of Matanzas, in Bani, is a "free zone" for drug traffickers. He said that operations only came to a stop for a few months after the incident in Paya in which seven people were killed, "but now it is all back."
He said that part of the drug shipment that arrived in an airplane that crashed into the sea off Bani is being sold by people who took control of the shipment as if it were just another product from a family's shopping, as reported in Hoy.

Court rules against Leonel Almonte
The First Tribunal of the Penal Chamber of the National District has sentenced former banker Leonel Almonte to two years in jail and a fine of RD$100 million after being found guilty of defrauding clients at the bankrupt Banco Universal. The court also ruled that he must pay RD$100 million in compensation for fraud committed against bank depositors. Judges Antonio Sanchez Mejia, Esmirna Mendez and Teofilo Andujar Sanchez also ordered Almonte to return more than US$4 million to depositors Cristian Caraballo, Rainilda Rodriguez and Rosa Caraballo for the period 1982-1985, as reported in Listin Diario.

MLB in DNA scandal brewing
A rash of identity and age fakes from minor league prospects has led MLB baseball teams to take an extra step in protecting their prospects and their investments.
The New York Times is reporting on the case of baseball prospect Miguel Sano who agreed to take a DNA test to verify his age and family connection. The Times writes, "Miguel Sano, a top prospect in the Dominican Republic, was given DNA tests and a bone-scan procedure to help confirm that he was 16, he said in a telephone interview from his hometown, San Pedro de Macoris. The DNA tests were conducted on Sano and his parents to determine if he was their son, he said. Sano's sister underwent the bone scan as well, to help confirm that she was his older sister, and not a younger sibling whose birth certificate was used to falsify Sano's age."
The need for more testing and proof of ages for players comes in the light of a new case where the New York Yankees voided the signing of an amateur from the Dominican Republic after a DNA test conducted by Major League Baseball's department of investigations showed that the player had misrepresented his identity.
There was also the case of Smiley Gonzalez who admitted he wasn't who he said he was or the cases of Miguel Tejada and Vladimir Guerrero who both admitted to lying to scouts about their age in order to get scouted and drafted.
Age changing and birth certificate forgery is common among older ball players seeking to increase their chances in the signing process but deficiencies in the Central Electoral Board's (JCE) civil registries have aided in the scandals.
A bigger scandal that could be brewing for MLB is that federal legislation, signed into law last year and scheduled to take effect on November 21, prohibits US-based companies from asking an employee, a potential employee or a family member of an employee for a DNA sample.
The Times reports, "In a written statement, Major League Baseball said that it used DNA testing in the Dominican Republic "in very rare instances and only on a consensual basis to deal with the identity fraud problem that the league faces in that country.
The statement added that the results of the tests were not used for any other purpose. A spokesman for Major League Baseball declined to say how many players had been tested and whether the results were stored or destroyed."

The Graduate at Bellas Artes
Last chance to see the praised Dominican adaptation of the novel by Charles Webb, The Graduate, directed by Ivan Garcia. The drama is staged at the Palace of Fine Arts (Bellas Artes) this Friday, 24 July and Saturday 25 July for promotional admission prices of RD$500-RD$300. Alexander Pimentel will be Benjamin Braddock, and Fedra Lopez will be Miss Robinson. Tickets for sale at the Bellas Artes box office.

Festival del Merengue Santo Domingo
The Ministry of Tourism and Brugal Rum are again sponsoring the Santo Domingo Merengue Festival. Events will be centered 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 on upcoming events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
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