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Daily News - Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The 2010 budget is set
The National Development Council (CND), chaired by President Leonel Fernandez, has approved a RD$378.9 billion budget for 2010. This budget exceeds its 2009 predecessor by RD$50 billion, despite the fact that the government has been running at a budgetary deficit from what was estimated for 2009 and the revenues that have actually been collected. 2010 is an electoral year.
On paper the 2009 budget includes an extra RD$4 billion and RD$5 billion for the ministries of Education and Health, which will receive RD$37.43 billion and RD$35.964 billion respectively in 2010. Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa justified the increased budget and spending by saying the funds would go to infrastructural and social programs. He stated that the DR expected to generate RD$263 billion and receive RD$115.964 billion in loans. The DR will repay RD$68.9 billion for loans taken in the past.
Bengoa added that the PetroCaribe agreement would represent US$260 million in funds available for the government, plus US$700 or US$800 million in investment projects.
The Ministry of Public Works is the "fattest cat" among all the ministries, receiving RD$29.7 billion in 2010, close to RD$10 billion more than their 2009 budget. The money will be used for the DR's two major public works projects, the second line of the Santo Domingo Metro and the Duarte Corridor, a series of highway overpasses aimed at easing traffic flow in Santo Domingo.
The Presidency also got a budget boost of RD$8.2 billion, receiving RD$43.6 billion in 2010. Hoy writes that as part of the DR's Stand-by Arrangement with the IMF the country must reduce its current spending, but Bengoa says that total spending will decrease from 76.8% to 72.52% and that capital spending will increase from 23.20% to 27.48%.

Constitution approved
The DR's new constitution has been approved by legislators. Reinaldo Pared Perez, president of the Senate and the National Revisory Assembly, said he is proud of the work that was done and claims it is more advanced than the Constitution that was passed in 1963 under then-President Juan Bosch, founder of the ruling party. Legislators voted 122 in favor with 14 against the new piece of legislation. The official proclamation of the new Magna Carta will take place on 10 December 2009, but the final read-through and approval by President Leonel Fernandez will be held tomorrow at 4pm. The new constitution has a total of 153 pages and 277 articles, compared to 122 articles in the 1994 Constitution.

Where is Sobeida?
The Sobeida Feliz case has become so intriguing, providing fodder for the tabloids and the imagination, that it has distracted attention from the wider case involving her alleged lover, fugitive drug baron Jose Figueroa Agosto (sentenced to 209 years in Puerto Rico on drug trafficking charges) and US$4.6 million found in a luxury SUV in her possession in Santo Domingo. The case has taken some odd twists and turns, the latest being a set of photos published by El Nacional that have led people to ask, "Is that Sobeida?"
Feliz was reported missing on 3 November, but according to rumors, she could be trying to have plastic surgery to alter her appearance. This resulted in a mysterious visit by Police and DNCD officials to a private clinic in Santo Domingo, after they reportedly received a tip-off about Sobeida's location.
The photos published by El Nacional give credence to the rumor that Feliz may have been captured by rival drug-traffickers. The National Department of Investigations and the National Forensic Science Institute (INACIF) are now studying the photos to establish whether they are genuine.
This has all conveniently helped the public to forget that Figueroa, the far bigger fish, is still on the run, with no clues about his whereabouts.
The authorities have even put up a RD$1 million reward for any information that leads to Sobeida's capture. Anyone with any information is asked to call 1-809-200-1420.
Meanwhile, District prosecutor Alejandro Moscoso Segarra has gone on the record saying that her husband, Eddy Brito, who is also out on bail, should be in jail to prevent him from absconding.
See: http://elnacional.com.do/nacional/2009/11/16/31796/Sobeida

More speculation on Sobeida
Hoy newspaper's Claudio Acosta speculates that elements with great influence in government may not want Sobeida Feliz to be questioned by the authorities. He writes that Feliz disappeared after her release on bail after having been found in possession of US$4.6 million in a luxury SUV and linked to drug trafficker Jose Figueroa Agosto, a fugitive from Puerto Rican justice, was possible because the Dominican Penal Code does not authorize surveillance for suspects who have been released on bail. He comments that it is interesting how neither the Police, which in his words only adhere to the Penal Code when it is convenient, nor the DNCD were following her. She is the only known link to finding Figueroa Agosto. "Everyone is free to believe their explanation or any other. But this writer prefers to listen to common sense that suggests that the only thing that can explain the lack of surveillance is a wish to prevent the fugitive from answering questions in court. Why? I cannot go so deep." He writes.

Soccer field controversy
It is common for companies to provide after-work activities and equipment for their employees, as a way to raise worker morale. But a move by the Brazilian firm Odebrecht, the leader of construction on the Duarte Corridor series of overpasses, has caused a stir. The company has built a 1,000 square foot outdoor soccer field exclusively for their workers inside the Centro Olimpico Juan Pablo Duarte. The field, located on the intersection of Maximo Gomez and 27 de Febrero Avenue, is within the boundaries of the public sports and recreational park, leading to criticism from several quarters. The state-of-the-art field, which is surrounded by large fences to keep people out, only serves to highlight the decaying infrastructure of the rest of the Juan Pablo Duarte sports complex.
Recent media reports focused on the destruction of the green areas in the sports center for the construction of sports areas.
"This is unacceptable. The Olympic Stadium was not conceived as a private installation. If it were that way anyone who builds something there would privatize it," said Luisin Mejia, president of the Dominican Olympic Committee.
Sports Minister Felipe Jay Payano said that they would look into the matter.

Deadline for non-payers expires
Today is the last day of the 15-day grace period the energy distribution companies and the Superintendence of Electricity granted non-paying consumers to pay their outstanding bills and/or standardize their situations, or face public embarrassment with the publication of their names in the newspapers. It is expected that they will carry out the threat and print the names of consumers who haven't paid. The 15-day period also allowed people to standardize their situations without the fear of prosecution, but that immunity will be gone now that the deadline has expired.

Government subsidizes its consumption
An op-ed piece in today's Hoy highlights the fact that many government departments do not pay for their electricity service. Rafael Perez writes that we always hear government electricity authorities saying: "Most here do not pay for the electricity service" and "we have to increase the rates to improve the service."
But he wonders out loud: "Which of the ministries, centralized and decentralized government departments, electoral boards, hospitals, schools, police, military installations or even the Presidency pays for the service?"
He answers his question: "Evidently none."
"For many years we have heard that the state pays millions in electricity subsidies, trying to make us believe that they are paying for a service that the general public does not pay for, which is not true.
"What is known as subsidy is not more than part of the payment for the government's own consumption".

Last minute marbete
Today is the last chance for car owners to get their marbete stickers without paying a penalty fee. But as is the usual case in the DR, many drivers have waited until the last minute to get their car situation in order. Car owners wishing to obtain their stickers can expect long lines at banks. The process closes at 5:30 this afternoon, after which car owners will be charged a RD$600 late payment fee. They will also need to endure very long queues at DGII offices where the stickers will continue to be issued. AMET has announced that as of 5pm they will impound any car that doesn't have the sticker and Listin Diario reports that 30% of vehicles are still marbete-free.

Gaby wins gold in Mexico
Dominican Taekwondo champion Gabriel Mercedes is still on a winning streak. This time he took the gold medal and US$20,000 purse at the World Taekwondo Tour, recently held in Mexico City. The silver medalist at the Beijing Olympics was facing the strongest competition yet in his post-Olympic career. The 16 toughest taekwondo artists in the world take part in the professional tournament. Mercedes beat Brazilian Marcio Wenceslau 3-0 for his gold medal.
The one-day World Taekwondo Tour, the first of its kind, drew a total of 16 top-class athletes in four weight categories.

National Symphony concert
The National Symphony Orchestra, directed by Maestro Mihnea Ignat and featuring invited violinist Ruben Mendoza, presents its Wednesday, 18 November program.
The program is:
Beethoven: Coriolan Overture. Mendelssohn: Concert for Violin and Orchestra. Dvorak: Symphony No. 9. Maximo Aviles Blonda Hall, Palacio de Bellas Artes. For more information and reservations, Tel 809 687-0504 ext. 2213 and 2217 or [email protected]

Santo Domingo Festival
Cherito, Darlyn, Jandy Ventura, Rafely and Big Band Masa are just some of the bands that will be playing at the Santo Domingo Festival across the Malecon seafront avenue on Sunday, 6 December. The bash, which is sponsored by the Santo Domingo City Council, marks the start of the Christmas season partying. Now in its third year, it is produced by entrepreneur Luis Medrano and sponsored by the Cerveceria Nacional Dominicana.
For more on upcoming events, see www.dr1.com/calendar
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