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Daily News - Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Customs opens office in Santiago
The Customs Department (DGA) is opening a new office in Santiago, the country's second largest city, tomorrow. The DGA is hoping that the new office will lead to the decentralization of the DGA, which is based in Santo Domingo. The inauguration event is due to start at 5pm with the participation of Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa and DGA director Rafael Camilo, among others.

Doctors resume strikes
After a break lasting several months, the Dominican Medical Association (CMD) has resumed striking to pressure the government to increase wages for public hospital staff. The CMD has gone on a three-day strike as of Wednesday at 6am.
Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez encouraged citizens to go to hospitals, saying service would continue as scheduled, while describing the strike as "criminal".
The strike follows a recent protest by president Waldo Ariel Suero and other members of the CMD, when a group of physicians chained themselves at the Ministry of Labor building in protest.
The CMD members were forcibly evicted and jailed in the early morning hours.
They have all since been released, but Suero said CMD protesters would continue appearing at all government offices on an ad-hoc basis until the authorities concede to their demands.

Business sector fires back
The nation's business sector is firing back at Radhames Segura, vice president of the State-owned Electricity Corporations (CDEEE) after the chief executive of the public electricity services blamed the business sector for not investing in the energy sector and pointing to this as the leading cause of the present deficit. Segura, in his latest deferment of blame, pointed to business for the failures of the Edes (Sur, Norte and Este) and claimed that the businesses sector wants to force the government to sell the distribution companies to the private sector at a knockdown price.
Lisandro Macarulla, president of the National Business Council (CONEP) remarked that this is the same argument Segura employs every time the system collapses in the DR.
Macarulla said that it is difficult for the business sector to invest in the energy sector because there is no guarantee of return on that investment and a lack of judicial security.
He added that Segura had received US$6 billion from the government over the past 7 years and has yet to do anything tangible to resolve any of the problems with the sector.
Macarulla also accused Segura of having a monopoly on the nation's electric sector and controlling all parts of the sector.
Segura has been personally accused of corruption in office in the case of the CDEEE, with a recent Nuria Piera TV investigative journalism show focusing on the bloated payroll at the CDEEE that includes 43 relatives and persons close to relatives of Segura himself.

Give us "guaranteed" power
Demonstrators gathered opposite the headquarters of the State-owned Electricity Corporation (CDEEE) yesterday in protest at the constant blackouts and the company's corrupt employees.
The protestors chanted, "Give us guaranteed power," a play on Radhames Segura's last name, which means guarantee in Spanish.
Segura is the VP of the CDEEE.
The group, made up mostly of young people dressed in black and holding up signs, spent about an hour at the CDEEE, beginning at 11am. Protesters were also accompanied by a group of musicians, who played throughout the protest.

UN pledges objectivity in Haitises case
The UN commission in charge of hearing the complaint on the construction of a cement factory in Los Haitises National Park says that their recommendations would be ready by the end of September. A court judgment ordered the suspension of construction works at the Monte Plata province site.
The commission will issue its decision based on the potential environmental damage the building and operation of the cement factory would have on the adjacent protected area. Valerie Julliand, United Nations Development Program representative in the DR, said that all the commission members are foreign officials with roots in other Latin American and Caribbean countries, and this would help ensure greater objectivity.
Colombian former Environment Minister Juan Mayr Maldonado is heading the mission. Environmental groups have questioned his participation in the light of his track record dealing with environmental and social issues in Colombia. Mayr is accused of favoring large corporations at the expense of indigenous communities in Colombia.
Although the commission will make a recommendation, whether it will be accepted by the Dominican courts and the government is a separate issue, says Julliand. Julliand acknowledged this, saying that the commission is not above the law.
Hoy reports that the cost of the evaluation is yet to be known. The Dominican government requested the evaluation of the environmental license granted by the Ministry of Environment and the location for the cement plant.
Hoy reports that during the first meetings with the commission held yesterday, there was tension in the air as representatives in favor and against the cement factory voiced their opinions.
UN commission is looking into ecological land use, the karst aquifers in the area, biodiversity, public health, and environmental, social and economic impacts, among other considerations.
The UNDP pledged objectivity, transparency and technical quality in the investigation.
As reported in Hoy, the mission met with the Academy of Sciences, which supplied all the studies that have been carried out on Los Haitises karst area.

US Rep asks for Refidomsa check
US Representative from California Loretta Sanchez is asking the US State Department to investigate the recent sale of a 49% share in the Dominican Petroleum Refinery (Refidomsa) to Venezuela. Sanchez argues the sale could violate international trade rules. In a letter to the State Department, Sanchez argues this agreement could have devastating long-term repercussions for the DR. She cited Hugo Chavez's history of "regional interference," as part of the concern. She is also asking the State Department to determine whether the sale violates DR-CAFTA or any other agreement between the US and the DR.

Almost US$300 million in more loans
President Leonel Fernandez has sent several requests for government loans to Congress, as reported in Hoy. The funds would be invested in the Ciudad de la Salud, a no-bid contract for the construction and equipping several public hospitals entrusted to Carimex LLC and the Supervisory Office of Public Works, under engineer Felix Bautista. Deutsche Bank of Spain would be the lender for the US$111.2 million and US$14.5 million for the pediatric, maternity and general hospitals located in the Ciudad de la Salud, on Av. Charles de Gaulle in eastern Santo Domingo, as reported in Hoy.
An additional loan of US$79.6 million and another for US$10.4 million would be used for equipping hospitals in Higuey and Monte Cristi and 18 other primary health centers.
Another loan for US$20 million would be used for the rehabilitation of the Cosntanza-Casabito-Duarte Highway under the Ministry of Public Works.
And another for US$45 million would go towards completing the wholesaler market, the Merca Santo Domingo project, under the Supervisory of Public Works office.
A credit for IMF Special Drawing Rights for 9.5 million would be used for the development of projects in rural border communities, under the Ministry of Agriculture.

Sun Land projects on hold
Despite the US$130 million financial package the government secured with Sun Land and another RD$5.2 billion included in last year's budget, works that were due to be carried out with these funds are on hold, as reported in Diario Libre. The newspaper points out that the construction of the five buildings at the UASD university is paralyzed.
The government was accused of taking out the financing without submitting it to Congress. A controversial Supreme Court ruling confirmed that the government had violated the Constitution when taking on the loan, but excused the government on the grounds that only Congress could make the accusation.
The 2006 loan and its 19 IOUs for US$130 million were signed by engineer Felix Bautista, of the Supervisory Office of Public Works, an Executive Branch department, and the Sun Land corporation.
Diario Libre recalls that the use of funds has been questioned all along, because the estimates of what has been invested in public works falls below the allocation of funds. The contract originally stipulated the construction of 11 works, but an addendum later reduced these to a parking building, a university hospital, a cafeteria, a technological center and an administrative building for RD$3 billion.
On 24 October 2007, the government and the company rescinded the contract and the government allocated RD$5.24 billion in funds in the 2008 National Budget for the conclusion of the works that should have been completed on 15 July of 2008.

Corruption behind popularity drop
Writing in today's Hoy newspaper, former Central Bank governor, historian Bernardo Vega comments on the sliding popularity of the ruling party and the reasons behind this. He points out the obvious, the international economic crisis and its local repercussions, but says there is a far greater reason.
He mentions that the recent Gallup-Hoy poll shows that while in November 2006, 28% of voting citizens described government efforts to fight corruption as very good or good, yet today only 16% can praise this effort.
Now 66% of those polled understand corruption is on the rise, 58% feel there is more corruption now than before and 48% perceive that there is more corruption than under President Hipolito Mejia.
Only 14% say that corruption is on the decline. And an extraordinary 83% of those polled said that there is too much impunity.
And to the question as to in which government institution there is most corruption, the CDEEE leads.
Even 59% of those who said they favor the PLD responded that corruption was on the rise.
He concludes that the economic situation and the generalized perception of rampant and rising corruption have eliminated the advantage the ruling PLD party had over the PRD in 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.
"The economic situation is difficult to revert, but the President should act to tackle corruption," he says.
He says the government needs to take measures to ensure that the party does not lose too many seats in Congress in 10 months time.

Incentives for Barahona
In a deal with Siglo XXI (Aerodom), airlines that land or take off from the Maria Montez Airport in Barahona will be exempt from paying up to US$100 in taxes and charges.
This initiative will be put in place to create incentives for airlines to fly to Barahona.
The agreement, which will initially last one year, needs a final OK from President Leonel Fernandez and will only cover private airlines with planes of up to 12 passengers and 30,000 pounds in freight cargo.
Passengers would no longer pay the US$16.30 and other charges which are automatically added to a plane ticket, which can total as much as US$100.
Airport Department director Andres Vanderhorst said that he hoped that the agreement would stimulate movement at Barahona's Airport.

Samana highway crash
A massive accident on the new Samana highway has resulted in the deaths of three people. The accident occurred on the 34th kilometer of the highway, near the African Palms processing plant.
The surviving victims, who were taken to the Lara Hospital in San Isidro, have yet to be identified. Two children are believed to be among the survivors.
Listin Diario reports that the accident happened when a Daihatsu truck slammed into a vehicle traveling in a south-north direction.
Officials say that the accident occurred as one vehicle was trying to pass another at high speed.

Morales will be PRSC president
Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso will be declared president of the PRSC party in August, according to leading PRSC member Humberto Salazar.
Salazar says the PRSC is working on preparing its general assembly on 9 August, where the formal announcement will be made.
Although PRSC members see the naming of Morales as a step forward for the party, it would be hard to imagine a reemergence of the party, which has been in decline since the 2003 death of long-time party leader Joaquin Balaguer.

Joan is a Golden Boy
Dominican boxer and former two-time world boxing champion Joan Guzman has signed a deal with Oscar De La Hoya's "Golden Boy Promotions." "This is a special day in my career," said Guzman. Guzman continued by saying he had always admired De La Hoya's fighting and style in and out of the ring. Guzman believes that by signing with Golden Boy he can get back to the top of his weight class and become a world champ. De La Hoya said that everybody recognizes Guzman's quality as a boxer.
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