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Daily News - Monday, 07 September 2009

New government appointments
In Decree number 659-09, the Executive Branch appointed Ruben Bichara as head of the Electricity Distributor of the East (EdeEste). Bichara formerly served as the head of the Center for Industrial Development and Competitiveness (Proindustria). In the same decree, the President sent former Santiago province governor Jose Izquierdo to head Proindustria.
Meanwhile, in Decree 688, the Executive Branch created a project called Valle del Juancho Farming Development (Prodevaj). The project seeks to apply integrated farming developmental policies and diversify crops as a strategy for overcoming obstacles that impede the operation of the installed irrigation system. It will also promote and develop a quick process for planting, harvesting and producing food crops to satisfy the national demand for foods.
Likewise, in Decree 658-09 the President appointed Yeni Berenice Reynoso Gomez as Santiago prosecutor, replacing long-time District Attorney Raul Martinez. The President also ordered a change in the La Romana governor's office, designating Martire Castro.
In Decree 661-09, he appointed Manuel de Jesus Santana, Nestor Julio Guilamo, Mauricio Gonzalez, Daysi Maria Grullon, Maritza Mejia, Pedro Dennis del Rosario and Santiago Vargas as deputy managers at the National Lottery.
As new assistant directors of the Dominican Agricultural Institute (IAD), he appointed Priamo Virgilio Mendez and Aura Melania Peralta Arias. Nina Valentinovana Lysenko was appointed Vice Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources.
In other decrees, 664-09 and 665-09, Evaristo Bautista was made an assistant at the Consulate in New York City, replacing Yoryi Hernandez, and Pedro Juan Rodriguez was appointed member of the board of directors of the Dominican Corporation of State-owned Electricity Enterprises (CDEEE).
In decree 666-09, Fernandez awarded the Duarte, Sanchez and Mella Order of Merit, in the degree of Gentleman, to George Litton Jr.
In Decree 667-09 the President appointed Luis Neri Olivero as a member of the board of director of the Rural and Suburban Electrification Unit, replacing Julio Berroa.

IMF and government
The government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) team want to conclude a new Stand-by arrangement by the end of this week. The ongoing talks center round how to improve tax collections, given that the government feels it would be politically unacceptable to raise taxes.
The IMF mission that arrived last week is made up of Alejandro Santos, head of mission and head of the Caribbean and Latin American Division of the Western Hemisphere Department of the IMF, and Mario Dehesa-Davila, Mariano Cortes, Kenji Hosono, Ali M. Alichi and Geoffrey J. Bannister, all economists from the department.
They are meeting with Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa and Planning, Economy and Development Minister Temistocles Montas.
During last week's meeting, Bengoa emphasized that the country is asking the IMF for financing to cover this year's budget. Bengoa attributed the deficit to a shortfall in income. He said that the government was expecting a RD$21 billion gap between budgeted income and collections by year's end.
The IMF team acknowledged that the situation was complicated by the slow-down in economic activity.
Montas told El Nuevo Diario reporters that the IMF could provide up to US$1.22 billion in quick disbursements. Of this money, US$500 million would come from the World Bank and another US$500 million would come from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
The US$225 million would be funds that the IDB puts at the disposal of the Central Bank. In the opinion of one expert, former Central Bank governor Guillermo Caram, the funds from an IMF agreement would be enough to reactivate the local economy and eliminate the need to issue sovereign bonds.

Complicated situation
Today's Hoy editorial comments that IMF representatives are saying that the Dominican economic situation is complicated. "For over a year the Dominican authorities have begun to lift the subsidies on industry, electricity, farming and the impoverished population that was draining the government resources. Meanwhile, infrastructure is being built with foreign borrowing, almost always contracted on unfavorable commercial terms. We owe Petrocaribe more than US$1.2 billion, and the sources of peso and dollar loans have declined".

Cut current spending
The Fernandez administration is facing a major budgetary deficit, but there have been no announcements that the government is considering any reductions in its current spending.
Opposition party PRD vice president Luis Abinader expressed concern that the government is seeking new borrowing to reduce the fiscal deficit that the Ministry of Hacienda says is at RD$10 billion at half year. The economist says, "It is irresponsible to mortgage the country instead of eliminating the bloated and parasitical government payroll" and the superfluous current spending.
He said that so far President Leonel Fernandez has not taken any responsible measure to reduce the budgetary deficit. He said that while the authorities reduce investment in capital investments, they continue to add unproductive expenses and increase the payroll. He said that in the first quarter of the year, the payroll was up 21% compared to the same period in 2008.
Abinader called for an improvement in the quality of public spending, adding that the government needed to give priority to essential public works that will stimulate the economy. He said that while the developing world is rationalizing their resources, the government here is adding more parasites to the payroll.

The easy way out for the CDEEE
An editorial in today's Hoy calls on the government to resort to sustainable ways of improving the State-owned Electricity Company (CDEEE) revenue levels. It urges the new authorities to pursue those who do not pay for all they consume, government institutions that do not pay for the service, and those who do not pay because no one makes them pay. "To resort to continue to increase the cost of electricity for those who already pay would be to continue to condemn paying consumers to finance the senselessness of the sector," comments the editorial. The newspaper criticizes the fact that these are the same people who carry the heavy burden of contracts that have only made it possible for certain power generating companies to derive profits from hard to understand inequities that can only be explained by a electricity sector that has been directed and maintained by Third World and politically-driven logic.
Diario Libre points out today that this month's Edesur electricity bills reflect an unannounced rate increase. Adriano Miguel Tejada, editor in chief of the newspaper, says that his power bill doubled this month, despite the increase in blackouts, as evidenced by the purchase of diesel for his building's back-up generator.

Palace Pilgrimages don't work
Since 4 August 2006, when unemployed laborer Angel Sosa carried a cross from Dajabon to Santo Domingo and became what the press and television called the 'Dajabon Pilgrim', a wave of self-sacrificing people seeking to draw the government's attention to their communities' problems has, generally speaking, failed.
Some would even say the protest mechanism has failed miserably. According to Hoy newspaper, even Sosa's 316-kilometer pilgrimage, a walk that was covered, due to its novelty, by all the television, radio and print media, did not get him an appointment with the President.
Sosa was campaigning for better highways and other public works projects for the border province. He never met the President but was granted a meeting with two government officials who listened to his litany of requests. A few days later the Minister of Public Works began some of the projects he had requested.
Since then, there has been a stream of pilgrimages from every corner of the country: Bonao, Miches, Moca and Neiba, just to name a few. The group from Miches was met by a Police cordon that intercepted them before they reached the Presidential Palace, after walking 191 kilometers. The pilgrims refused to hand in their petitions to third-tier officials and returned to their towns without even a promise.
Eddy Reyes rolled his wheelchair 220 kilometers from Neiba in Bahoruco province, and was received by Presidency Vice Minister Alejandro Herrera, but nothing has come from the trip, according to the newspaper.
Recent pilgrims from Moca were blocked from reaching the Presidential Palace and decided to camp out in Enriquillo Park and see if some official would receive their stack of requests.

Constitution review questions
With many expectations about changes and amendments, this Wednesday the Constitutional Revisory Assembly begins the second reading of the 255-article Constitution bill submitted by the Executive Branch. A large number of changes were made to the bill in the first reading.
Assembly president Reinaldo Pared Perez told Diario Libre they would pass the articles on which there is consensus first, and leave the controversial issues for last. Two of the most debated articles focus on the right to life, strongly defended by the Catholic Church, and the creation of a new constitution court, strongly opposed by the Supreme Court of Justice.
To a lesser degree, the other controversial issues deal with nationality and presidential re-election, the increase in the number of legislators in the Chamber of Deputies and the refusal of the legislators to give details on the use of additional funds provided to them.
In Wednesday's session, Assembly vice president Julio Cesar Valentin will establish the issues that will be submitted in blocks, groups, chapters and titles and not article-by-article as was done in the first reading.

Sickness Compensation package
Today the Superintendence of Health and Labor Risks (Sisalril) will begin to receive requests for the Sickness Compensation package that is being offered for common illnesses. The actual program began last Tuesday, according to the Director of Subsidies. Fausto Perez Espinosa said that the measure would benefit thousands of employees who work in shopping centers, small and large businesses and contribute to social security and when they used to get sick their work contracts were suspended in accordance with the Labor Code. Among the common illnesses that are not work-related and are covered under the new protection are surgeries such as appendectomies or pneumonia.
The resources to cover these expenses will come out of the contributions that the employees and the employers make to the system, which were increased beginning 1 September to 0.43% that is specialized for Maternity and Breast Feeding subsidies as well.
The benefits include coverage for both government and private employees under the Family Health Insurance scheme (SFS) that have had deductions taken out for the past twelve consecutive months before the request for the subsidy. Perez said that the illnesses would begin to be covered starting on the fourth day and protection will run for 26 weeks.
The subsidy can be extended and a request made through the Social Security Treasury webpage - www.tss.gov.do.
The coverage is 60% of the average salary when the illness is ambulatory and 40% if there is hospitalization, as established in Article 131 of Law 87-01. The director of Subsidy Control said that the percentage for hospitalization is lower because the system covers hospitalization, doctor's bills, lab work and medicine.
In order to prevent employees from faking common illnesses, the authorities created a form to request the subsidy that workers can access through the Internet, which needs to be taken to the doctor who is treating the employee so that they can fill it out with their personal data, for patients to hand in to their employers.
In turn, the employer should send this form to Sisalril, by fax or other electronic means.
There is also an international coding system for medical procedures that will have to be filled in and that in principle, Sisalril will do this, as the administrator of the subsidy funds, and designate medical inspectors to review the process. Sisalril will also receive the medical claims and cross-reference the information with the health insurance providers (ARS).
The employer will pay the amount of the subsidy to workers and Sisalril, and later this will be returned in the form of a certificate of payment as a credit when the procedure is proven to be valid.
People with several jobs are also covered under this scheme, according to Perez Espinosa. If someone works in two places and in one of them has a salary of RD$20,000 and in the other job pays RD$10,000, he or she will contribute 60% according to the larger salary, and 40% for the lesser salary. This has a ceiling of RD$56,350 in earnings according to the law.
Social Security treasurer Henry Sadhala reported that the contributions that social security receives both from employees and employers should increase over the next 12 months to between RD$700 and RD$800 million, and the rate goes from 0.33% to 0.43%.
According to director of Information and Defense of Affiliates (DIDA), Nelsida Marmolejos, the subsidy for common illnesses will stop many workers from going to work sick for fear of losing their jobs.

Fuels cost less this week
Gasoline and diesel prices are down this week, according to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce weekly fuel price bulletin. Propane gas remained unchanged. Premium gasoline will sell for RD$151.10, a RD$2.90 decrease. Regular gasoline will cost RD$141.50 for a RD$3.50 price break. Diesel fuel will now be RD$117.20, a reduction of RD$5.40 a gallon. Premium diesel also fell by RD$5.40 a gallon.
The Ministry of Industry and Commerce, through its Communications Department, reported that despite a reduction in United States fuel stockpiles, prices were down on the international markets. On the positive side, according to specialists, this reduction indicates a slow improvement in the demand for petroleum and for fuels.

Tourism model "unsustainable"
Government authorities and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) have described the prevailing Dominican tourism model as "highly unsustainable." The UNDP criticizes the lack of diversification, the irresponsibility of tourism project developers and the thirst for fast profits from businesspeople in the sector. Also criticized is the culture of exploitation and poor management of natural resources. These and other issues are part of the conclusions in a draft of a national, inter-ministerial dialogue that was organized by the Ministry of the Environment and the United Nations Development Program that met to discuss climate change for 3 days in Santo Domingo.
The real estate development model and its short-term bias that hurts the hotel industry was also discussed.
The discussions also identified the absence of clear cadastral registries that allow for tourism projects to be located within vulnerable coastal areas. Construction projects within the 60-meter mark were also criticized.
For tackling the situation, the adhering to a territorial and tourist zoning plan that emphasizes the coastal ecosystems that are being impacted by climate change was recommended.
The forum, according to El Nuevo Diario, also called for incentives for more sustainable tourism models and development in areas with reduced environmental risks. The forum stressed that better zoning codes need to be introduced and fiscal incentives should be established to stimulate more sustainable models.
One point stood out: better roads are needed to stimulate projects in other areas. Tourism contributes between 8% and 9% of the Gross Domestic Product and is the main hard currency provider, followed by remittances and duty free export zones.
Nevertheless, eco-tourism expert Bolivar Troncoso said that the story came as a result of a leak by someone who stole the preliminary draft of the conclusions. He criticized the statements as malicious, when "we are taking effective measures for tourism sustainability here," he said.
Meanwhile, the vice president of the National Hotels and Restaurants Association (Asonahores), Arturo Villanueva, said that the UNDP officials have never had to pay a payroll. He rejected criticism of the all-inclusive model and now the real estate development model that has taken off in the DR. He said the Dominican tourism model has been copied in Mexico, Jamaica and Cuba, as reported in Hoy.

AMET hard at work
The Metropolitan Transport Authority (AMET) has issued over 850,000 tickets for traffic violations over the past year, an average of 2,850 per day. These tickets were issued for disobeying traffic signs and signals, excess speed, reckless driving or for consuming alcoholic beverages while driving, among other issues. According to AMET, these are the main causes of the accidents that leave dozens dead and hundreds injured each year.
AMET press director Miguel Medina told Listin Diario that since August 2008 in the National District alone, AMET issued 722,000 summonses for traffic violations, including non-use of seatbelts, driving the wrong way on a one-way street, driving without lights, going through a red light and drunk driving. Also included among the violations are carrying a child under the age of 8 in the front seat, using bald tires, carrying too many passengers, driving on sidewalks, and many other violations.
In Santiago, AMET has handed out 36,000 summonses, 7,700 in La Vega, 8,000 in Moca, 4,800 in Jarabacoa, 3,400 in Puerto Plata, 3,700 in Sosua, 5,500 in Mao, and in the east, they have handed out more than 40,000 tickets.
Over the last few weeks, more than 10 people have been killed on the nation's highways, including 4 in a crash between two buses in Bani last Friday. On the new highway that goes to Samana, there have been 18 fatalities along the stretch that goes through Monte Plata province, and for this reason AMET is placing more agents all along the major highways.

DNCD seizes US$4.6 million in cash
National Department for Drug Control (DNCD) agents have carried out two searches in apartments in Santo Domingo's upscale residential La Esperilla neighborhood. The result: US$4.6 million in cash in a Mercedes Benz SUV parked outside the Torre Alto Paraiso building. This is the largest ever confiscation of cash by the DNCD.
According to Hoy newspaper, the agents were on the trail of Cristian Almonte Peguero, who is being sought for extradition by the US. In the search they found a bunch of keys and when they went to the parking area they found the black-windowed, armored SUV and the huge stash of money in three bags.
The main suspect in the search is said to have escaped capture as he fled in a Jeep Cherokee which he later left abandoned on Roberto Pastoriza Ave.
According to DNCD spokesperson Roberto Lebron, the department is extending its search to find the rest of the group that allegedly specializes in money laundering.
Lebron explained that they found lots of keys in apartments 14-B and 15-B of the Torre Alto Paraiso. The agents went down to the parking lot and activated one of the keys, opening the black Mercedes Benz, license plate Z-000536, where three packages with the money in US$100 bills was found.
Several luxury SUVs, weapons, ammunition, expensive watches and communications equipment were also seized. The main suspect, Cristian Almonte Peguero left ammunition clips, gun licenses, a National Department of Investigations (DNI) identification card, and several car keys in the abandoned Jeep Cherokee.
At the Torre Alto Paraiso, the DNCD agents also seized a Toyota Land Cruiser and a Mazda CX-9, both of which were taken to the DNCD headquarters.

The US$4.6 million man was mobster
Fugitive Cristian Almonte and his suspect companion Sobeida Feliz Morel are accused of leading a powerful network of drug traffickers with tentacles in the east and north of the country whose members have to report the operations that they carry out. They battle other networks over the control of drugs that enter the nation from these sectors of the country.
Almonte and Feliz Morel are suspect of having lead one of the more than 40 micro-cartels that exist in the Dominican Republic, and according to what National Department of Drug Control (DNCD) head General Rolando Rosado Mateo told Diario Libre, they have recently been followed by the DNCD Intelligence Department.
The reports tell of how the tailing of Almonte began about a month ago, when drug agents picked up a man with 4 grams of cocaine.
This unleashed a string of arrests that led to the seizure of the US$4.6 million found inside one of the SUVs that was impounded. The case also led to the arrest of Sobeida Feliz Morel, who according to the Prosecutor is Almonte's mistress and associate. The DNCD is looking in other areas, especially tourist developments.
Meanwhile, a commission from the Prosecutor General's office is tracking possible bank accounts in Almonte's name or in the name of Feliz Morel or belonging to people with links to the pair, both in the country as well as in foreign banks.
Yesterday, the state intelligence agencies were pursuing the fugitive, and they called him a "dangerous man", who is heavily armed.
One source reported that all the country's airports are under heavy surveillance by special agents, as well as the roads in and out of towns and cities, "and all suspicious vehicles are carefully checked out."
After being identified by the prosecutor of the National District as the mistress of the fugitive Felipe and/or Cristian Almonte Peguero, the head of an alleged network of drug traffickers, Sobeida Feliz Morel was sent to Najayo Prison in San Cristobal yesterday by the judge of the Tribunal of Permanent Jurisdiction, Daysi Miguelina Abreu, who imposed one year of preventive custody as a coercive measure.
Feliz Morel, 30, is accused of violating several articles of Law 50-88 on Drugs and Controlled Substances, as well as Law 72-02 that identifies and punishes money laundering. According to the defense attorneys for the accused, headed by Candido Simon Polanco, Sobeida is married to an unidentified businessman and has two daughters. The lawyer said that there was no evidence found that implicated their client and that they would present the marriage certificate and prove her innocence when the time comes. The preventive custody will be reviewed every three months.

US CG & DR Navy work together
US Coast Guard Cutters Venturous (WMEC 625), Kodiak Island (WPB-1341) and several vessels from the DR Navy concluded a seven-day joint maritime law enforcement operation in the Mona Passage off the southeastern coast of the DR on Saturday.
"Working together and developing ways to improve and increase US and Dominican interoperability are critical to our collective success in countering illicit maritime trafficking," said Lt. Cmdr. Derek Cromwell, US Coast Guard Liaison in the Dominican Republic.
"This is an operation that helps combat international narco-trafficking and at the same time helps us become more efficient in times of joint interaction between military services of other countries, in this case the US Coast Guard," said Capt Anthony Jiminian, Chief of Dominican Republic Naval Operations.
The coordinated actions between the Dominican Republic's Navy, National Drug Control Division (DNCD) and Joint Interagency Task Force-DEPROSER (Defend, Protect and Serve) tactical response teams, US Coast Guard cutters, US Customs and Border Protection aircraft, and JIATF-South resulted in the successful disruption of an airdrop Tuesday evening off the south coast of Isla Saona. Due to the increased law enforcement presence in the area, a suspect airplane was unable to drop contraband and forced to return to South America.
"We were excited about the chance to work with our partners from the Dominican Republic Navy to stop illicit activity in the Mona Pass. This operation was a great learning experience and has ultimately strengthened the ties between both countries," said Cmdr. Ted St. Pierre, Coast Guard Cutter Ventrous' commanding officer.
The Venturous, a 210 Medium Endurance Cutter home-ported in Tampa Fla, and Kodiak Island, a 110-foot patrol boat, home-ported in Key West, Fla, are currently deployed in the Caribbean under the tactical control of Coast Guard Sector San Juan, conducting counter-drug operations in support of JIATF-South, US law enforcement, and US Dominican Republic bilateral conventions and drug control policy.

COE maintains alerts
The Emergency Operations Center (COE) is keeping the green alert for nearly half of the Dominican Republic due to the approach of a low-pressure trough located in the Mona Passage that threatens to bring more rains. The COE alerted the provinces of Monsignor Nouel, Duarte, Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Samana, Hato Mayor, El Seibo, La Romana, Monte Plata, La Altagracia, San Pedro de Macoris, San Cristobal, Ocoa, Peravia, Santo Domingo and the National District.
The National Meteorological Office (Onamet) says conditions favor increased cloudiness, and rain showers with thunder and lightening in the northeast, east, southeast and the border areas.

DR could still get to FIBA World Cup
The DR lost to Canada in the FIBA Americas Championship over the weekend, losing the 4th berth automatic qualification into the FIBA World Cup set for Turkey in 2010. Hoy newspaper commented that what was lacking was the "team work" that results when the teams train together with sufficient time.
Expectations for the team, which had 3 NBA players on it, were high. The play of the team evidenced inconsistency in play, the weakness of the point guard, weaknesses in team captain Julio Toro and those who assisted him, and the individualism within the team, as reported in Hoy.
Journalist Dionisio Soldevila said that the team was poorly organized and that strategies were lacking, as well as offensive and defensive play. He said that coach Julio Toro turned out to be the big nightmare.
The newspaper says that the DR is ranked 26th in the world, and could still be invited to play in the World Cup. If this were possible, the invitation would be received in December. The DR has not competed in a world basketball championship since 1978. The invitation, however, would come at a cost of an estimated RD$40 million that the Dominican government would have to pay to host the Centrobasket in Santiago de los Caballeros in 2010. In December, the FIBA needs to choose four countries to complete the 24 that will participate in the FIBA World Cup.

Alberto Coto, the mathematician
The Guinness record-holding mathematician, 39-year old Alberto Coto will be in the DR to chair the Love Mathematics Workshop at the Santo Domingo Hilton on the Malecon. Some 300 students, aged 12-18 years, have been invited to attend the event that is sponsored by the Foundation for the Development of Science and Technology. Alberto Coto is a double Guinness Record Holder of Mental Math Calculations and is recognized as the fastest person in the world in mental calculation, as evidenced by all his Guinness Records. He is the winner of the Mental Calculation World Cup in Leipzig, Germany, and he won three medals (two gold and one silver) at the Mind Sports Olympiad in Istanbul, Turkey last year.
For more on upcoming events, see www.dr1.com/calendar
 
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