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Daily News - Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Medina meets with Puerto Rican Secretary of State
President Danilo Medina held a meeting with the Secretary of State of Puerto Rico, David Bernier at the Presidential Palace yesterday, Tuesday 28 October 2014. The Presidency says they discussed strengthening the bilateral agenda.

The courtesy visit took place after former Vice President and foreign minister Carlos Morales Troncoso's funeral that was attended by Bernier in representation of Puerto Rico.


Carlos Morales Troncoso laid to rest
The final farewell to former Vice President Carlos Morales Troncoso took place yesterday, Tuesday 28 October 2014 in a solemn ceremony headed by President Danilo Medina, together with First Lady Candida Montilla de Medina, Vice President Margarita Cedeno and the Minister of the Presidency Gustavo Montalvo, Administrative Minister of the Presidency Jose Ramon Peralta and Foreign Relations Minister Andres Navarro.

The flag flew at half-mast as Morales Troncoso's coffin arrived at the Presidential Place and a battalion of the First Regiment of the Presidential Guard was the guard of honor.

President Medina gave the eulogy, highlighting Morales Troncoso's character and achievements. The late former VP's body was then taken to the Cathedral and finally laid to rest in the Puerta del Cielo private cemetery near kilometer 22 of the Duarte highway.

Carlos Morales Troncoso was Vice President of the Republic between 1986-1990 and 1990-1994. He was Minister of Foreign Relations from 1994 to 1996 and from 2004 to 2014.



Naturalization Law likely to be extended by 90 days
The Chamber of Deputies has fast-tracked the approval of the bill for extending the deadline for the Naturalization Law 169-14 by another 90 days. The facilities offered for regularization of status and naturalization expired yesterday, Tuesday, 28 October 2014. Law 169-14 law establishes a special regime for people born in the Dominican Republic but irregularly registered in the Dominican civil registry and on naturalization.

The bill, which now needs to pass in the Senate before being signed and enacted by the President, was submitted by the Executive Branch.


Loans for the Cibao-Sur highway
The highway that has been described as key for the development of mining operations in the southwest and central mountain areas received a boost when the PLD-majority Chamber of Deputies confirmed two loans from the Brazilian export bank (BNDES) for highway constructions.

The Chamber of Deputies approved new loans for US$612 million yesterday, Tuesday 28 October 2014.

Of the total, US$298.7 million will be contracted with the Brazilian export bank BNDES for the construction of the Piedra Blanca-Cruce de Ocoa stretch of the Cibao-Sur highway, allocated to Consorcio Cibao-Sur made up by the builders Norberto Odebrecht (Brazil) and Rizek y Asociados (DR).

The Ministry of Public Works recently announced that it would not undertake the highway because of the high cost, but is apparently tackling it by sections instead.

The Chamber of Deputies also approved a resolution for US$295.5 million worth of public works signed between the Ministry of Public Works and the Consorcio Corredor Duarte made up by Odebrecht and Ingenieria Estrella. The funds will enable the construction of the 7.5 km Corredor Ecologico Pontezuela in Santiago along with other public works.

As part of the new borrowing, the Chamber of Deputies approved the commercial bank loan by BNP Paribas for US$17.9 million to complete the construction of the Azua II-Pueblo Viejo Risk Management System.


Alberta Energy Regulator to assist DR in oil and gas legal framework
Before opening its offshore areas to oil and gas exploration, the Dominican Republic plans to create a domestic oil and gas regulator, relying in part on advice from the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER). The announcement was made earlier this month, October 2014 by Energy Minister Pelegrin Castillo who was in Calgary for talks with AER executives.

Castillo says the country's highest priority is to push forward exploration for hydrocarbons, both on and offshore. Castillo said in Canada that the Ministry is relying on the Canadian entity to help create the framework and laws needed to effectively manage oil and gas activity.

Today, the DR has no oil or gas production and imports 140,000 bbls of refined products per day, costing some US$5 billion a year, Castillo told the Daily Oil Bulletin of Canada in an interview.

The country wants to follow in the footsteps of neighboring Cuba that has already taken steps to open their offshore waters to oil and gas activity.

"We are working in order to [make up] for lost time," said Castillo. "In the last 25 years, we have lost a lot of time and opportunities. That's why we expect to move soon. At the end of next year, we could be in a [situation to announce] a call for oil companies to bid [on offshore oil and gas rights]."

At the same time, before any mineral rights are posted, Castillo acknowledged that his government must pass a law in the Dominican Congress that will spell out a national oil and gas policy and create a regulatory framework to govern exploration and production, both on and offshore, he said in the interview.

The legal framework would establish the rights and terms between the companies and the government and would be introduced at the end of this year or at the beginning of next to Congress.

Castillo rates his government's chances of passing the new law as very good. His party, the National Progressive Force (Fuerza Nacional Progresista), is part of a coalition government made up of several parties. The coalition led by President Danilo Medina Sanchez has governed since 2004 and holds the majority in both the Dominican Congress and Senate.

The country's need for oil and gas makes the matter a special priority, and one that transcends party politics, said Castillo.

He said that while previous governments have granted offshore oil and gas concessions, the process was not an open tender. The ultimate result has been that no oil and gas has ever been found on a commercial scale, either offshore or onshore. Still, he maintains that certain geological structures are quite attractive and merit further exploration.

Three areas have been identified. Ocoa Bay, an area of shallow water ranging from 50 meters to not more than 300 meters in depth, he said. For years, the bay's coastline has been known for oil seepages, according to Castillo.

Another priority is the area off the coast of San Pedro de Macoris, which is also known for seepage, although of gas, not oil. Gas seepage in the area has been detected at depths of 1,400 meters, roughly 40 to 60 miles off the coast. A third prospective offshore area lies between Montecristi and Puerto Plata, in the north, and it too will be a priority for the government, Castillo said.

Castillo offered no firm timeline for when oil and gas rights might be posted, beyond indicating that it could occur as early as 2015 or else in 2016, the year his government's mandate runs out.

Yet, Castillo states that it does not actually matter who will win the next election or who will be governing [then], because this as a state policy is not expected to change.

The offshore environment for the Dominican Republic may be affected by disputes over territorial waters. Currently, the DR has offshore border disputes with three nations: the Netherlands, over the border between the Dominican Republic and Curacao, which is part of the Dutch Antilles. The DR also disputes its offshore border with Puerto Rico, subject to negotiations with the United States. Finally, the country disputes its border with the Turks and Caicos Islands, which are part of the United Kingdom, and subject to future negotiation.


DR ranked 84th of 189 in World Bank Doing Business report
The Dominican Republic has been ranked 84th in the 189 economies researched by the World Bank for its "Doing Business 2015: Going Beyond Efficiency" annual report that measures the regulations that enhance business activity and those that constrain it. The report analyzed regulations that apply to an economy's businesses during their life cycle, including start-up and operations, trading across borders, paying taxes and resolving insolvency from June 2013 to June 2014.

Doing Business measures regulations affecting 11 areas of the life of a business. Ten of these areas are included in this year's ranking on the ease of doing business: starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.

The ranking for the Dominican Republic in the Doing Business 2015 stayed the same as in the previous report at 84th in the world.

The World Bank report says that it takes 19.5 days to start a business in the DR compared to the average 30 days for the Latin American and Caribbean region. The insolvency bill proposed by the National Competitiveness Council that is pending for approval by Congress is one of the main reasons for the mid-range score of the Dominican Republic in the 2015 Doing Business Report of the World Bank. The DR also scored poorly in getting electricity, another of the key factors.

The World Bank highlights that the Dominican Republic improved its credit information system by enacting a new law regulating the protection of personal data and the operation of credit reporting institutions. During the same period, the country also strengthened minority investor protections by introducing greater shareholder rights and requirements for greater corporate transparency. In addition, the Dominican Republic made trading across borders easier by reducing the number of documents required for exports and imports. Conversely, it made dealing with construction permits more costly by increasing the building permit fees.

The DR did well in the ranking in the ease of paying taxes, trading across borders and enforcing contracts.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the DR at 84th ranked below Colombia (34), Peru (35), Mexico (39), Puerto Rico (47), Panama (52), Jamaica (58), Guatemala (73), Trinidad & Tobago (79), Uruguay (82) and Costa Rica (83).

The DR's island neighbor, Haiti is ranked 180th of 189 countries. Colombia (ranked 34th) is in the first place in the Latin America and Caribbean grouping, while Venezuela is in the last place on the ranking with 182.

The report finds that Singapore tops the global ranking on the ease of doing business. Joining it on the list of the top 10 economies with the most business-friendly regulatory environments are New Zealand, Hong Kong SAR, China, Denmark, South Korea, Norway, the United States, the United Kingdom, Finland and Australia.

Doing Business measures regulations affecting the life of a business. Ten of these areas are included in this year's ranking on the ease of doing business: starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.




Electricity towers sabotaged
A routine inspection has detected major damage to 14 electricity transmission towers that could have left the southwestern region without power for more than half a year, according to a report from the state-owned Dominican Electricity Transmission Enterprise (ETED). The early detection of the problem made it possible to carry out the urgent repairs.

ETED spokesman Julio Cesar Arias attributed the damage to sabotage, saying that screws were removed at points that could have resulted in the towers collapsing like dominos in a moderate wind. He said that replacing the collapsed towers would have cost around RD$100 million and taken more than half a year because they have to be imported from Spain. Each tower costs RD$7 to RD$8 million.

Arias said the situation would have resulted in chaos in the National Electricity System and the local economy.

According to ETED, the Public Electricity Corporation (CDEEE) and the Public Prosecution Service for the Electricity Sector (PGASE) this was no ordinary robbery.

Moises Ferrer of PGASE said that the perpetrators only took 150 metal plates and the screws and whoever did it left the towers in this condition, knowing they would collapse.

Towers 17 to 36 on the Julio Sauri to Pizarrete line and from Pizarrete to Madre Vieja in Yaguate municipality, San Cristobal province were sabotaged. Ferrer said they were located in inaccessible areas that were not securely guarded.




Metro arson suspect turns himself in
The main suspect in the Monday, 27 October 2014 fire on the Santo Domingo Metro turned himself in to executives of the Telemicro Channel 5 TV station yesterday, Tuesday 28 October 2014.

He is identified in the media as Frankelis Holguin, a law student at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) said that he was on the Metro when the fire started but that it was not what people said. He admitted there was a fire and that he had a rucksack although when asked what was in it he just said, "you know".

Police officers went to the television station to pick up Holguin to proceed with their investigations and to confirm he was the same man shown in the photograph provided by the Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET).


2016 election could be a close race
According to research by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for Diario Libre, should Danilo Medina respect the 2010 Constitution that bans his re-election, the outcome of the election is not decided.

The research shows that none of the pre-candidates has enough support to win in a first round. The poll showed that former President Leonel Fernandez attracts 31% of the voters, former President Hipolito Mejia has 17% and Hipolito Mejia's former vice president in the 2012 election, Luis Abinader has 14%. Former presidential candidates Guillermo Moreno has 7% of the vote and Miguel Vargas Maldonado 3%.

Greenberg forecasts that in a second round against Hipolito Mejia, Fernandez is likely to win by 47% to 37% with an estimated 12% abstention rate. The poll found that if Abinader were to run, the margin would be lower at 46% to 42%.

In analyzing the results, the pollsters say that while Fernandez is likely to win, his position is weaker than two years ago with his approval rating falling 17 points over the last two years, currently standing at 28%. The research suggests that the fall is due to corruption that was ranked only second to unemployment in the concerns of the population.

Fernandez is perceived to be the most corrupt of the leaders with 48% of the population describing him as such, compared to 25% saying Mejia is the most corrupt and only 7% naming Miguel Vargas, who has yet to reach the presidency. Only 1% named Danilo Medina as the most corrupt.

Even within his own party, Fernandez's approval rating has fallen from 79% in 2012 to only 41% at present. However he is still seen as the strongest leader with 39% naming him as such compared to 28% for Medina and 15% for Mejia.


Judge chosen for Felix Bautista trial
Supreme Court Judge Alejandro Moscoso Segarra has been selected to hear the case against Senator Felix Bautista for alleged corruption and money laundering. Attorney General Francisco Dominguez Brito also accused Soraida Antonia Abreu Martinez, Jose Elias Hernandez Garcia, Bolivar Antonio Ventura Rodriguez, Carlos Manuel Ozoria Martinez, Gricel Aracelis Soler Pimentel and Bienvenido Apolinar Breton Medina.

Dominguez Brito is asking for the accused to be remanded in custody.

The Supreme Court has also ordered Judge Frank Soto Sanchez to continue to hear the appeal by Bautista to release the more than 155 real estate assets that have been confiscated from his company, Rofi and rejected the accusation made by the National Lawyers' Convergence (CONA) that he should not hear the case due to his supposed links with Bautista.




Another twist to kidnapping story
The incident that took place yesterday, Tuesday 28 October 2014 at the Holiday Inn on Santo Domingo's Abraham Lincoln Avenue, initially reported as an attempted kidnapping, has ended with Venezuelan businessman Luis Rios Virla being handed over to the authorities.

Rios Virla went to the Naco police station at noon so that they could fulfill an arrest warrant for him as ordered by executives of the Banco Peravia who are accusing him of making death threats against them. The businessman said that he had trust in the Dominican authorities, and would continue to invest in the country.

Accompanied by his lawyers Miguel Valerio and Cesar Amadeo Peralta, Rios Virla restated that the incident at the hotel earlier that day was an attempted kidnapping.

He says that 14 men came to the hotel at 6am claiming that they were policemen with a warrant for his arrest.

According to his lawyer, Rios Virla had arrived in the country with another five businessmen to claim US$15 million that they had deposited in the Peravia Bank and had spent three years trying to get back.

Peralta said that the men in the alleged kidnap gang had been detained by the police and had abandoned one of their vehicles at the hotel. He confirmed that the vehicles were new and that all the men were armed. He said that the police had taken all of the men to Naco police station as well as the other vehicles.

However, Peralta's version of events contradicts that of the head of marketing at the Holiday Inn in terms of the time of the supposed kidnapping attempt and the number of people involved.

According to Exmin Carvajal, the incident took place between 8am and 8:30am and there were six men involved. He said that Rios Virla was a regular guest at the hotel and assured that the incident had nothing to do with the Holiday Inn.

Angel Lockward, lawyer for Banco Peravia was also at the Naco police station and he had the arrest warrant authorized by a judge and public prosecutor Manuel E Tejada, against Rios Virla for allegedly making death threats against bank executives Gabriel Jimenez and Jose Luis Santoro.

At present it is not clear whether Rios Virla is under arrest at the police station, as Lockward says or in his room at the hotel as his lawyer maintains.


Rains to continue
A frontal system over the east of the Dominican Republic is causing heavy rains across a large part of the country.

According to the National Meteorological Office (Onamet), rains are most likely to affect Hato Mayor, El Seibo, La Altagracia (Higuey), La Romana, Monte Plata, Samana, Maria Trinidad Sanchez (Nagua), Espaillat (Moca), Hermanas Mirabal (Salcedo), Sanchez Ramirez (Cotui), Duarte (San Francisco de Macoris), La Vega, Monsenor Nouel (Bonao), Santiago Rodriguez, Valverde (Mao), Dajabon, Santiago, Puerto Plata, Elias Pina, San Juan de la Maguana, Independencia and Bahoruco.

The rains are expected to continue due to the level of humidity in the air and an approaching tropical system.


Xiomara Fortuna at Teatro Guloya
Listen to the music and songs of popular folklorist Xiomara Fortuna and the Sin Hora Band in Concert (Solo poemas... concierto intimo) with musicians Kike Saavedra, Josue Irizarry and Otoniel Nicolas this Saturday, 1 November 2014 at 8:30pm at the Teatro Guloya. RD$500 and RD$600 with CD included. Calle Arzobispo Portes 205, Colonial City, Santo Domingo.

Santo Domingo 10K race
Registration is open for the Santo Domingo 10K Race starting at 5pm on Sunday, 9 November 2014. The event takes place at Santo Domingo's Mirador del Sur Park. Cost is RD$800.

Cash prizes are RD$20,000 first place for men and women, RD$15,000 second place for men and women and RD$10,000 for third place. The race is valid for participation in the Gran Prix de Maratonistas de la Hispaniola. For more information, contact 809 475-1919.

I National Choral Event
Enjoy the songs of a selection of some of the best choirs in the country in an event that started yesterday, Tuesday 28 and continues at 6:30pm this evening, Wednesday 29 October 2014 at the Maximo Aviles Blonda hall of the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Santo Domingo.

The choirs from the Banco Popular, Melodias de Victoria and Angel Valera de los Santos (San Pedro de Macoris), Higuey Basilica, Colegio de la Salle (Av. Bolivar), Universidad Catolica de Santo Domingo, Julio Alberto Hernandez, Mision Agape, Adventista Metropolitano, Sociedad Coral a Voces, Camara INTEC, Koribe, Teatro Orquestal Dominicano and the National Choir will be singing.

Free admission. Tel 809 687-0504, 809 682-1325.

For more on ongoing and upcoming events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar

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