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Daily News - Friday, 11 September 2009

New company law boosts ranking
The Doing Business 2010 report, recently published by the World Bank now ranks the DR in 86th place of 183 countries. The DR climbed 16 places, up from 102 in the 2009 report.
See http://www.doingbusiness.org/
Maria Victoria Abreu, of the National Council of Competitiveness (CNC), says that the new Corporation Law (No. 479-08) promoted by the CNC made all the difference. She explained the new law calls for new modern corporate structures, in addition to significantly easing company formation.
See http://www.doingbusiness.org/economyrankings/
For more on CNC efforts and an overview on competitiveness in the DR, see http://competitividad.org.do/

"Stealing electricity is a sport"
The new administrator of the State-owned Electricity Companies (CDEEE), Celso Marranzini is well aware of the fact that the country's electricity system depends on old generators, is weak and that all consumers must be made to pay for the service they receive. If not, nothing will change.
After barely three weeks on the job, Marranzini told Hoy reporters that investigators are fairly sure that the nationwide blackout that greeted his first week in office was the result of management error at the AES-Andres substation.
In an interesting technical explanation, Marranzini revealed that this type of failure is common in systems whose protective mechanisms are "unbalanced" because some of the generators violated resolutions from the Superintendent of Electricity on the frequency of their operations. He said that this might not happen now, "but this is a very weak system.
In 2007 and 2008 there were no nationwide blackouts. In 2005, 10 such blackouts were registered, and so far in 2009 there have been 2, but measures have been taken to ensure this does not happen again", he told reporters.
Marranzini reported that the generators are supplying between 80% and 83% of demand, but "undoubtedly one has to understand that during these hot months the demand is greater.
He said that the energy sector has an immediate financial problem, not a generation problem. Since a lot of people do not pay, there is not enough money to repay the debts with the generators. Marranzini said that one of his goals is to increase collections by 2% or 3% monthly, although he admitted that this was going to be difficult.
As he put it: "Stealing electricity is a national sport." With this in mind, he said that the authorities have to enforce the law that penalizes energy theft as a way of preventing losses by the distributors. "Putting 10 people in jail for stealing electricity will make everyone pay", he declared.
But he said that generation is a problem. Over the last 7 years only 50 megawatts of new generation have been added to the system, making the system dependent on old generators.

US$600 million to fix power mess
The solution to the financial and distribution problems that plague the DR's electricity sector require a sustained investment of US$600 million over the next 4 years, the Minister of Economy, Planning and Development, Temistocles Montas said yesterday. The minister said that a substantial part of these resources would go towards protecting transmission lines to prevent energy theft through illegal connections and the acquisition of prepaid electricity meters by the distributors.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has already facilitated credit for US$150 million for this purpose, but a similar sum will be needed over the next 3 years in order for the sector to achieve financial sustainability, said Montas.
"The big problem of the electricity business in the DR is that nearly half the population that consumes electricity does not pay for it, and therefore, it is a lose-lose situation. You install two electric meters and collect on just one, and that way you cannot tackle the problem", he added.
Interviewed on the morning television talk show Diario Libre AM, Montas said that the current problem is based on the vulnerability of the transmission lines, which does not allow for prepaid electric meters, because people will continue to use illegal connections. "First the transmission lines need to be shielded", he stated. "For a long time it has been clear that if an investment process is developed in the area of distribution, it will be easy to solve the problem of the electricity sector", he pointed out.
It has been estimated that 1.6 million homes are electricity users but not clients and it will be necessary to shield the networks, especially in the most vulnerable residential areas in order to prevent illegal connections, where there is a need to install prepaid electric meters.

Technican issues at the dams
While the new CDEEE administrator is calling for the heads of those who steal electricity, Diario Libre reporter Jose Javier writes about how technical issues and very low water levels in the hydroelectric reservoirs prevent them from supplying more than 90 megawatts to the entire system. The dams are also under a new administrator, engineer Frank Rodriguez.
The reporter says that of the 80 generators in the country, only 5 offer optimum service, and what's worse is that of the 38 hydroelectric dams, only 18 were working yesterday afternoon.
Of the 20 hydroelectric facilities that were not working, three have been out of service since 2007. Los Anones has been out since May 2007 because of "flooding of its machine room," according to the coordinator of the National Interconnected Electric System (SENI). Nonetheless, as of February 2009, the Hydro-Electric Generation Enterprise (EGEHID) had income of US$3.61 million and a surplus of US$5.12 million. Apparently the EGEHID did not have the resources to repair the 3 hydroelectric facilities that have been out of service since 2007, or to provide maintenance for the majority of the hydroelectric power plants in the country. But it did spend a lot of money on a substation at another dam, but it is also off-line due to low water levels.
At the same time the government is investing heavily in new dams, with US$300 million in Pinalito to produce 50 megawatts.
Out of service are Aguacate 1 and 2, since 29 October 2007 for a "major overhaul". The other 17 facilities went off-line this year: Jimenoa because of problems with a floodgate, Jiguey 1 and Lopez Angostura for "major maintenance work".
Low water levels are keeping Domingo Rodriguez 1 and 2 offline, but it was here in San Juan de la Maguana province that the government recently inaugurated a 69kw transmission line and a new sub-station at a cost of RD$118 million. Baiguaque1 and Madrigal don't have enough water and Gaiguaque 2 blew a circuit breaker. The situation is similar at the other hydroelectric installations.

Constitutional Court: 13 judges
The Constitution Revisory Assembly's Constitutional Reform Verification and Auditing Commission is now ready to submit its report on the creation of a Constitutional Court made up of 13 judges that can be renewed and whose leadership will be changed every 3 years. All the judges will be appointed for 9-year terms. Commission president and assembly member Frank Martinez said that the members of the Constitutional Court would be subject to judicial review so that the body that selects them has no disciplinary control.
Diario Libre says that once it is included in the new Constitution, Congress will take on the task of writing the law that will define the organization, function and procedures of the Constitutional Court, and will leave it to the National Council of Magistrates to determine the profiles of the high court judges.
"We need to consolidate what is the tutelage of the fundamental rights, the citizens have rights and we understand that within the justice system there are other systems of control, concentrated control that would be exercised by the Constitutional Court and that now is done by the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ), and the diffuse control that is carried out by any tribunal in the country," said Martinez.
He described the amendment or reconsideration as a positive step because it incorporates the modern tools in the exercise of the rule of law and litigation in our country. "It is a good start for the legal professional to be trained in constitutional matters and they can hope that some day they can take part in the selection process, as was done for the members of the Supreme Court", he pointed out.
The work done by the Commission for Verification and Auditing includes recommending to the full assembly is that there should be 3 members of the Election Court and 5 members of the Central Electoral Board (JCE), an organization whose membership was not defined during the first reading of the reform.
The issue of nationality will be reconsidered in order to find a solution to the cases of children of foreigners who have resided in the country for many years and are already registered in the Dominican civil registry.
Another article to be modified is Article 44 so that the evangelical pastors can celebrate marriages with a series of conditions. "One law will regulate this, because it is not going to apply to all the pastors either. That will have to be decided through councils, for example in order to have control of who can celebrate marriages. Moreover, each pastor will have to acquire the knowledge that is implied in civil law", he stated.
Another issue to be reconsidered is the rendering of accounts by the legislators as an unavoidable obligation.

PRD and PLD agree terms
In an important political agreement the two major parties have agreed on the process that will see the Law on Political Parties and Groups approved as soon as possible. The Dominican Liberation (PLD) and Dominican Revolutionary (PRD) parties are ironing out the details in order to know how viable it will be to put the Law of Political Parties into practice within the deadlines it proposes.
Yesterday, a commission made up of Cesar Pina Toribio, the PLD delegate to the Central Electoral Board (JCE), Virgilio Bello Rosa, the PRD delegate to the JCE, Mario Torres, the interim secretary general of the PRD and others, met with the Administrative Chamber of the Electoral Board. The head of the chamber, Roberto Rosario, said that he would do everything possible to consolidate the timeline difficulties that the approval of the law presents.
Pina Toribio and Bello Rosa said that they were satisfied with the discussion on the legislative proposal.
JCE president Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman has queried the length of time available to apply the Law of Parties for the coming congressional and municipal elections win 2010 and specifically the primaries. He insists the obligations established by the bill are not viable.
Bello Rosa called him "pessimistic". "Apparently, in the JCE itself there are differences between the judges. When the president of the board talks about how it can't be applied in any manner, this is a very pessimistic position and the position of Roberto Rosario is that it is possible to apply it", he said.
Castanos said the day before yesterday that the agreement between the PRD and the PLD on the Law on Parties would not do any good, if the application of the law were not viable.

AMET has 900 female agents
Of the 2,400 officers who work for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (AMET), 900 are women and most are under the age of 30. AMET chief General Rafael Oscar Bencosme Candelier said that he was proud of the fact that 37.5% of his force was female.
As part of celebrations of the 12 anniversary of AMET, founded in 1997 during the first Fernandez administration, a Mass was held at the First Cathedral of the Americas in Santo Domingo. During the Mass, the general told the faithful, "These women... serve society and are part of what makes the institution proud."
He said that AMET's 2,400 agents are working to make the streets and highways safer and prevent the negative projections that have been drawn up for the last quarter of the year.
The statistics seem to indicate that this quarter, which includes the Christmas holidays, will see a lot of accidents. So far this year there have been 1,232 highway or traffic-related fatalities in heavy or medium sized vehicles, 775 fatalities related to motorcycles accidents and 363 highway deaths.

Nearly 1,200 foreigners in DR jails
There are 1,192 foreigners in the Dominican Republic's 35 jails. Of these, 43% are in jail for drug-related offenses, mostly trafficking. Haitians make up the majority of foreign prisoners, followed by Dutch, United States and Spanish citizens, according to information that El Nuevo Diario obtained from the Director General of Prisons.
There are also 29 Colombians, 27 from France, 26 from Venezuela, and 16 from Italy. There are just 10 from Curacao, 10 from Germany and the same number from Great Britain. Only 8 Canadians are in Dominican jails, and there are 6 from Switzerland, Peru and Jamaica.
Besides drug trafficking, homicides (20%), robberies (17%), and rapes (12%) are the most common offenses that have landed foreigners in the Dominican penal system. A sad but true fact is that of the total prison population of 18,331, only 6,832 people have actually been sentenced and the remaining 11,499 are either in preventive custody or awaiting trial. Only 3.29% of inmates are female.

Cops nab BPD bank robbers
The National Police has named three of the men accused of robbing the Banco Popular branch office in Juan Dolio. Police chief Major General Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin has called on the other members of the gang to give themselves up.
Agents attached to the Criminal Investigations Department identified Rafael Soriano Rincon, Ariel Olivo Amador and suspects named as Purry, Hansel and Deybi as the people who carried out the raid on the Banco Popular branch office in Juan Dolio, San Pedro de Macoris. The police have Jose Guadalupe Herrera Sanchez, a.k.a. "Joselito" in jail for his part in the incident.
The police said that the fugitives and the prisoner are members of a dangerous gang of criminals who have committed a series of armed robberies and attacks on businesses and individuals all around the country, using a variety of weapons.
According to some newspapers the police had identified the robbers only 40 minutes after the robbery was committed and within hours had arrested Herrera and seized one of the vehicles used in the raid, as well as two shotguns, one of which had been taken from the bank guard during the robbery.
Investigators also established that the day before the robbery the criminals had attacked and carjacked Jose Rafael Reyes, stealing his Nissan Murano, which was also used in Juan Dolio.

Unresolved drug cases
Journalist Odalis Mejia reports in Hoy today how important drug or money laundering cases seem to vanish in the interest of the authorities to resolve them. "The investigations are advancing," seems to be the catch words that the authorities use when asked for an update on these cases. She points out that from July to present, an estimated 20 small planes are known to have made clandestine drug shipments. But she says there have been arrests in less than half of these cases. She says the disappearance of evidence is common.
See http://www.hoy.com.do/el-pais/2009/9/10/293144/... for a list of the cases that are up in limbo.

Accomplices sought in US$4.6m case
The Dominican authorities are investigating all possible ties and relationships in the case of the US$4.6 million that was found in a parked SUV at an apartment complex in Santo Domingo's La Esperilla sector. The assets and money belonging to the Puerto Rican fugitive Jose D. Figueroa Agosto, sentenced to 209 years in jail on the neighboring island, are being traced with the aim of seizing them as part of a money-laundering scheme. National District Prosecutor Alejandro Moscoso Segarra told Diario Libre that many of these assets are in the names of fronts. "We are going after these front men", he said. He said that they were working on a list of the assets and have intervened several accounts that belong to the fugitive involved in the case of the US$4.6 million seized on 3 September, about which 16 people have been questioned.
Moscoso Segarra warned that it is hard to explain how anyone can buy an apartment for more than RD$40 million, and the real estate company does not ask where the money is coming from. "This real estate company is obliged to ask this woman where she got the money to purchase two apartments, practically for cash". Moscoso Segarra said that this company was liable for a court summons for permitting money laundering.
Presidency Minister Cesar Pina Toribio asked yesterday for all Jose Figueroa Agosto's probable "important connections" to be investigated. "To a certain extent, each of these cases is going to reveal ties, and it is going to reveal participation, including, possibly authorities and organizations or any entity", he said.
"What has to be done in each case is to continue the investigation and those who are found to be involved at any level of complicity will be punished and receive the full weight of the law", he added. He said that drug trafficking is "checkmating" institutions not only in the Dominican Republic, but also in the whole world.
Meanwhile, the director of the Prosecutor's office Anti-Laundering of Assets Unit, German Miranda Villalona, said that he was disturbed by the fact that the Puerto Rican fugitive was walking around with a DNI carnet, three "cedulas" from the JCE and provisional residence permits as well as permanent residence permits issued by the Migration Department. He called for less leniency and tougher treatment for international criminals. He said that casinos, auto dealers, money exchange houses and the real estate sector are a risk for money laundering.
So far, the DNCD and the National District prosecutor have questioned 16 people in connection with the case. Yesterday further searches of car dealerships were made in the northern region, and a special team of investigators was sent to Puerto Plata to track assets said to belong to the Puerto Rican drug dealer.

Watches: US$4.6+ M
28 watches, including a Patek Philippe watch, confiscated in the apartment of Sobeida Feliz Morel search on the same day that US$4.6 million was found in a parking lot SUV are worth more than the cash, according to a report in Hoy. The vehicle is in the name of former deputy Ramon Arcangel Santana Ramirez, of Padre Las Casas, who told investigators he sold the right to the tax exemption.

Macadamia nuts on the market
Macadamia nuts have a high commercial and nutritional value, and there is a growing demand for them. They also provide credible ecological and economic alternatives for agriculture.
The brand name La Loma ("the hill") has become well known in the region for being the principal macadamia producer.
The brand belongs to Los Montones SA, headed by Jesus Moreno, a businessman noted for his initiatives in favor of the environment and for his quest to find sustainable agricultural products that are also profitable for the people who grow them. Jesus Moreno is also of the family behind Helados Bon, which is also recognized for its programs to support Dominican forests.
The "La Loma" brand of macadamia is the first of its kind in the region and is putting the Caribbean on the map. According to Moreno, "the creamy flavor of the nut allows for a perfect balance of good flavor and good nutrition."
Macadamia cultivation also has a social impact because it contributes to sustainable agriculture and the sales of the nut enable the more than 40,000 pounds of local production to provide profits for the growers, reduce migration to the cities and provide a measure of prosperity to the country dwellers. In addition, macadamia trees are well known for their stabilizing effect on soils, reducing erosion and reducing the carbon footprint.
Experts from Costa Rica and Venezuela are sharing information about the crop with Dominican counterparts as part of a technology transfer and specialized educational program. Among the health benefits of the macadamia nut are the fact that it contains omega 3 and 6 and a high level of unsaturated fats.

Presidente Beer Summer
Grupo Niche, Omega and Eddy Herrera with a 7pm Saturday, 12 September performance live at the Parking area of the Mirador del Este Park off the Av. Faro a Colon. Free.
For more on upcoming events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
 
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