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Daily News - Friday, 18 September 2009

First Lady: FAO Goodwill Ambassador
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has appointed Dominican First Lady Margarita Cedeno de Fernandez as one of its Goodwill Ambassadors along with US Olympic champion Carl Lewis, French fashion designer Pierre Cardin, Colombian singer/songwriter Fanny Lu and Indonesian singer/songwriter Anggun.
The FAO said that Dominican President Leonel Fernandez's wife will receive the title of Extraordinary Ambassador in recognition of the numerous social development projects in food and agriculture she has undertaken in her own country, especially those benefiting women.
The five new ambassadors will formally receive the title in a ceremony that will be held at the FAO headquarters in Rome, on 16 October, World Food Day. This year the slogan is "Obtaining secure food supplies during a time of crisis".

311 System set up for complaints
Call in to gripe. President Leonel Fernandez inaugurated the government complaints line last night. Citizens can now report problems and make complaints by telephone or Internet 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Fernandez cut the symbolic ribbon and launched the 311 System in the Cariatides Hall of the Presidential Palace. Present were his wife, Margarita Cedeno, Vice President Rafael Alburquerque and ministers Cesar Pina Toribio and Luis Manuel Bonetti.
Also present was Marino Vinicio Castillo, director of the government ethics program, and the director of the Presidential Office for Technologies in Communication and Information, Domingo Tavarez.
The 311 System will enable complaints and reports to be channeled directly to the corresponding entity.
Pina Toribio said that the new system seeks to assist the government in solving problems of its citizens.
The Internet address for submitting requests is www.311.gov.do
A form needs to be filled out, which will be then sent to the corresponding government department.
Pina Toribio, said that for instance, if the complaint is about government corruption, it would be sent to the Department for the Persecution of Administrative Corruption and to the Presidential Ministry.
He said that the forms do require a person to identify themselves with their "cedula" number, or in the case of foreigners, their passport number. But he said the complaints would be handled in a secure and confidential manner.

Blackouts announced for whole country
The executive vice-president of the State-owned Electricity Companies (CDEEE), Celso Marranzini, has announced a series of scheduled blackouts. He said by programming them, the blackouts would be fairer and more evenly distributed nationwide.
He said blackouts will continue because there is just not enough money to pay the generators, which are thus supplying 80% of demand. Marranzini acknowledged that some sectors are suffering 18 and 20-hour blackouts. He said the high level of debts at the CDEEE could take at least five years to be cleared.
The official asked National Police chief Guillermo Rafael Guzman Fermin, to "prevent rambunctious people from causing problems with strikes, picketing, or marches in the barrios when we announce blackouts in specific places." He said that the blackouts would be announced in newspapers ads.
Marranzini also said that the CDEEE needed US$350 million to finish the year without having to increase the electricity rates, including US$60 million for the monthly subsidy on electricity bills. He said that there is close to a billion dollars (US$1,000,000,000) in debts, and these cannot be paid in a month or in a year, and for this he asked for patience, since an IMF agreement or a bond emission would help solve the problem. Finally, he called for a 10-year strategy, which he said did not exist.
The Dominican Association of the Electricity Industry says the country needs to invest US$3.5 billion to meet demand for power into the next decade. Marco de la Rosa, president of the organization, has expressed his support for the new authorities at the CDEEE.

CDEEE transparency and payroll
Celso Marranzini, executive vice-president of the State-owned Electricity Companies (CDEEE), has announced that financial information about the CDEEE's operations is available for all to see online. Now the general public can see how taxpayer money is being used on the CDEEE payroll at the "Recursos Humanos" section of the website. The new CDEEE head had strongly criticized his predecessor Radhames Segura for his bloated payroll.
This morning, radio talk show host Carmen Imbert Brugal commented that Marranzini had inherited a public relations department of the administration of the CDEEE with 158 persons on its staff from his predecessor Radhames Segura, costing RD$3.8 million in wages per month. Imbert commented that is many times greater than the staff of the largest media companies in the DR.
On the issue of the firings, Marranzini said that when he entered the CDEEE on 18 August, 157 people were employed in the Public Relations Department and he has fired nearly all of them. He said that "not all of them were journalists, but they were in the Public Relations Department...and I think that some of them showed up for the first time when I arrived on 18 August." He reported that only 35 are still on the payroll. He also confirmed the fact that "there were 125 consultants with salaries of up to US$50,000 a month and when Nuria Piera released her story, these were cut to 35. I fired the rest of them...".

Encouraging citizen action
The coordinator of the United Nations Development Program for the DR, Miguel Ceara Hatton blames the country's economic and social backwardness on the devastating effect of political corruption. He said that wasteful public spending, inadequate institutions, lack of ethics and a commitment by citizens to demand accountability and defend their space, are all major factors in the country's problems. Ceara Hatton made these comments during an event with more than 200 neighborhood leaders who were trained in municipal issues, organized with the support of the City Government of Santo Domingo (AND).
Ceara Hatton called on Dominican institutions to undergo transformation so that citizens can exert greater leverage and be able to demand that these institutions fulfill their functions. Calling for big change, he said that the DR is ranked 115th in the institutions category and 127th in ethics and corruption on a list of 133 countries on the World Economic Forum competitiveness ranking.
See http://gcr.weforum.org/gcr09/
Santo Domingo Mayor Roberto Salcedo urged neighborhood groups to be more vocal in defending public spaces and lobbying to prevent politicians from filling up the city with political propaganda in the run-up to the 2010 municipal and congressional elections.

Warnings on Freedom of Access
The Prosecutor General of the Republic, Radhames Jimenez Pena, and the Institutionalism and Justice Foundation (Finjus) have rejected recent attempts to modify the Law of Free Access to Information with the argument of establishing "the truthfulness" of the information. Jimenez Pena said he was totally in disagreement with the modification of the Law of Free Access to Public Information as submitted by Puerto Plata deputy Alfonso Crisostomo. "There can be no restraints of any kind placed on the freedom of expression in the press", he said.
Crisostomo submitted his bill after journalists Alicia Ortega and Nuria Piera disclosed irregularities in the use of legislator's bloated expense accounts.
Jimenez said that he does not believe that any state institution has any reason to be hiding information. He was of the opinion that information about the handling of government resources should be freely accessible to the public.
For his part, the executive vice president of FINJUS, Servio Tulio Castanos Guzman, warned about the threat to democracy if the assembly members were to insert a "veracity" test into the Constitution. He assured reporters that establishing a prerequisite of "veracity" in order to find or publish any information constitutes a form of prior censorship that should not be permitted in a social and democratic state of law.
Senate president Reinaldo Pared Perez and the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Julio Cesar Valentin have both rejected the Crisostomo initiative. They have told the press it would not get enough support to pass.

Hectic session approves Article 30
Following heated discussions, the Constitutional Revisory Assembly kept the reading of Article 30 that establishes that "the right to life is inviolable from conception until death. The death penalty cannot be established, pronounced or applied in any case."
To ratify Article 30, 128 assembly members voted in favor and 34 voted against. Only 108 votes were needed to approve the new article.
The article was strongly opposed by women's rights campaigners and the medical and legal profession on the grounds that it would outlaw abortion even in exceptional circumstances such as rape, incest or when the mother's life is at risk.

With no new taxes IMF accord is near
Today sees the end of the two-week visit by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission to the country. Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa said that the draft of the letter of intent and the agreements include a disbursement of US$990 million this year, of which US$690 million are in the budget.
Bengoa said that the US$990 million would be received after the IMF agreement was signed. He said of these, US$300 million would be from the World Bank, US$390 million from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and US300 million from the IMF.
Bengoa said that a further US$150 million would be received from the IMF next year.
The letter also establishes that in 2010 the government will place US$1 billion in sovereign bonds. The agreement will not include new taxes. The government does have plans to review tax incentives that are in place.
The government announced that it would send a bill requesting transfer of funds between government departments.
Bengoa said that although the government has a fiscal problem, the IMF mission has stated the performance of the Dominican economy is one of the best in the region.

JCE sets rules for religious marriages
The full Central Electoral Board (JCE) has accepted the suggestions made by the Commission of Registry Offices that established standards for transcribing marriages celebrated before and after the 1954 Concordat with the Roman Catholic Church.
The electoral magistrates have established the new requirements to prevent the marriage registrations from being used for illegal reasons.
For post-1954 marriages to be transcribed, they must not have been entered into any of the Civil Registries located in the jurisdiction of the parish. The new rules require the presentation of the matrimonial text issued by the parish, duly legalized by the corresponding dioceses or in the case of the National District or the province of Santo Domingo, by the archdioceses.
The new regulations were drawn up in response to the frequent use of marriage certificates to authenticate relationships for visas, residence permits, inheritance issues and so forth.

Huge drug seizure in Santo Domingo
As part of the latest drive against drug trafficking, the National Drug Control Department (DNCD), the Police Central Anti-Narcotics Department and the Justice Department seized 293 kilograms of cocaine in 244 packages and US$167,160 in cash during operations carried out in Villa Mella, in Santo Domingo North and in the National District yesterday afternoon.
The drugs were seized from Gabriel Arias Castillo (Alex El Pelotero or Alex the Ballplayer) during operations carried out in the Buena Vista I sector and in the "Benny" residential building in Arroyo Hondo. In addition, a Honda Ridgeline Crew Cab pickup truck was confiscated along with a press for packaging drugs and 1000 shells for 9mm weapons, a set of binoculars and several rolls of wrapping tape.
The details of the operation were disclosed during a press conference. Speaking for government were National District prosecutor Alejandro Moscoso Segarra, National Police chief Major General Guillermo Rafael Guzman Fermin, DNCD chief Major General Rolando Rosado Mateo and Police Anti-Narcotics chief General Alejandro Estevez Germosen.
Moscoso Segarra reported that the drugs and the money are linked to fugitive drug trafficker Jose Figueroa Agosto from whom the authorities seized US$4.6 million in cash last week.

Rosado Mateo promoted to Major General
President Leonel Fernandez has promoted the head of the National Drug Control Department (DNCD) to Major General, from the rank of Brigade General. In Decree 704-09 the President recognizes his work at the head of the narcotics agency. In his first month on the job, he has overseen the seizure of 372.4 kilos of cocaine, 1,003.4 grams of crack, 3.6 kilos of heroin, 114.7 kilos of marijuana as well as other controlled substances. During the first month, 2,319 people have been arrested, and 888 sent to justice.
Police Colonel Mauro de la Rosa was promoted by the same decree, and Brigade General Franklin B Vitini Duran was appointed regional director of the East, based in La Romana.
Wilton Guerrero, the senator for Peravia who has accused the government of complicity with narcotics dealers, recently commended the government for genuine actions to fight drug trafficking.

DR and Venezuela face off in Davis Cup
The Dominican Republic, led by Victor Estrella and Jose Hernandez, will meet Venezuela in the final round of play in Group II in the Americas Zone. If the Dominican team wins, it would then jump into play in Group I. According to El Nuevo Diario, the games will be played starting on Friday at the Santo Domingo Tennis Club.
The draw for the first match favored somewhat the Dominican side with first racquet Estrella (ranked 265 by the ATP) facing Venezuelan Daniel Vallverdu (ATP rank 1035). The second match will put Jose Ramon Hernandez against the top-ranked Venezuelan, Jose Antonio de Armas (ATP #292).
The Tennis Federation (ITF) referee Carlos Niemes from Ecuador, assisted by judges Abel Alvarez and Alexander Perez, both Cubans, supervised the draw.
For more upcoming events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
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