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Daily News - 09 December 1998

ASD internal disputes delay budget approval
Dissension within the ranks of the Santo Domingo Accord (ASD) bloc yesterday delayed yet again approval of the 1999 national budget. The ASD is the coalition between the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) and a collection of small parties. Yesterday closed-door negotiations were held for four hours in the offices of Senate President Ramón Alburquerque to try to remove obstacles to a Senate vote on a compromise accord worked out between a Congressional bicameral committee and budget officials of the government led by President Leonel Fernández. By all accounts, Budget Committee Chairman Fernando Alvarez Bogaert (Democratic Union - Valverde) is resisting all efforts by several Senators, led by Finance Committee Chairman Darío Gómez (PRD ­ Santiago Rodríguez), to tinker with the distribution of public works and the government allowances given annually to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Many senators were upset that their provinces were not allotted more public works in the 1998 budget compromise. Despite the impasse, Senate Vice President Jesús Váquez Martínez (PRD ­ María Trinidad Sánchez) and ASD spokesman Vicente Sánchez Baret (PRD ­ Sánchez Ram'rez) assured reporters that the budget would be approved on Wednesday.

Vice President calls for holiday truce
Vice President Jaime David Fernández Mirabal proposed yesterday that the political parties cease their verbal sparring during the holiday season. He pointed out that traditionally the parties have informally observed a political truce during the holidays. He deplored some of the name-calling prevalent in many recent public statements by politicos. Continue down that road, he warned, and the DR's political parties could lose the confidence of the people as Venezuela's parties did. Last weekend an independent, Hugo Chávez, won handily in Venezuela after 40 years of two-party domination of Venezuelan politics.

Alert issued on Santiago-Puerto Plata highway
Civil Defense issued an alert yesterday warning drivers that using the alternate Luperón panoramic highway linking Santiago with Puerto Plata currently is "dangerous." Recent heavy rains have caused land slippages that taken away chunks of the highway, created large holes and undermined the foundations of other portions. Passenger traffic on the highway has already dropped some 80%, as drivers switch to older routes. The main highway leading from Santiago to Puerto Plata has not been affected by the heavy rains. The Public Works Ministry has dispatched work brigades to try to fix the highway.

Tourism Minister protests Tower Air decision
Tourism Minister Félix Jiménez yesterday called into question the decision of the Civil Aeronautics Board (JAC) to deny Tower Air's request for permission to operate flights between Boston, Miami and New York and Puerto Plata, Punta Cana and Santo Domingo. How can the DR invest US$3 million to attract more U.S. tourists to this country, he asked, and then deny permission to an airline that would help accommodate higher visitor flows from that country? He revealed that he has written to JAC President Vitelio Mejía asking him to reconsider the decision and provide at least provisional permission to Tower Air so that it might begin regular flights in short order. Traditional carriers that service the routes are booked full with Dominican residents in the US that travel home for the holidays.

World Bank conditions fund release on privatization
Tourism Minister Félix Jiménez said yesterday that the World Bank is conditioning the January 1999 release of US$10 million of a sanitation loan to the DR to approval by the municipal governments of Cabarete, Las Terrenas, Puerto Plata and Sosúa of their trash collection and sewer services. The US$10 million is the next tranche of a US$120 million Bank loan to the DR to improve sanitation and the provision of electric power to these centers of tourism. He confirmed that President Fernández has already authorized the National Institute of Potable Water and Sewage (INAPA) to transfer to private hands management of the sewage system in these areas; all that is needed is for the local governments to sign off. He indicated that there have been expressions of interest from Brazilian, Colombian and French firms in managing the sewer systems there.

Government guarantees computers for students
Speaking at the 1998 Student Merit awards ceremony held yesterday in the National Palace, President Fernández affirmed that his government will guarantee that all public school students have access to computers and related technological innovations, because "that is what will move us into the 21st Century." He declared that by year-end at least half of the nation's public schools will have computer laboratories installed, and he guaranteed that the other half will as well before his term of office is completed in August 2000.
In a related story, Vice President Jaime David Fernández Mirabal presided over the delivery yesterday to the Education and Culture Ministry of 500 computers donated by the Government of Taiwan to Dominican schools. Taiwan has pledged to donate 5,000 computers to the DR's Informatics Education Program. This first installment on fulfilling that pledge will go to the 125 computer laboratories already set up in secondary schools across the nation, said Education Minister Ligia Amada Melo. Computer classes for primary school children are not due to start until the 1999-2000 school year. Taiwan's Ambassador, Kuo Kang, said that this first installment will be followed shortly by 500 more computers and 1,000 more within one year.

A single trade negotiations coordinator?
The news daily Listin Diario reports that the Chancellery (External Relations Ministry) will propose next Tuesday to the National Trade Negotiations Committee (CNNC) the creation of a new trade coordinating group or body. The CNNC was created by the Fernández Government in February 1997 to coordinate certain trade negotiations. It is composed of the Ministers of External Relations, Agriculture, Finance and Industry and Commerce, as well as the Technical Secretary of the Presidency, the Central Bank Governor, the Director of the Dominican Export Promotion Center (CEDOPEX), the Customs Director, the Director of the Investment Promotion Office (OPI) and the national Lome Convention coordinator. The CNNC has coordinated the DR's negotiations for the free trade agreement (FTA) concluded with Central America and those still underway with the Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM). It likely would also coordinate any negotiations that might be launched with nations that have requested FTAs with the DR, namely Chile, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Venezuela.
However, the CNNC does not oversee (1) the trade talks underway for a hemisphere-wide Free Trade Area of the Americas; (2) preparations for the next round of trade negotiations under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO); (3) negotiations now underway with the European Union (EU) regarding the update of the Lome Convention on trade and investment flows between the EU and former colonies of EU nations. The first is not overseen by any interagency group, while the latter two have their own specialized coordination committees.
One of the conclusions of the National Dialogue on reform of the state reached earlier this year was a call for unified management of trade negotiations and trade strategy formation.
This past November Industry and Commerce Deputy Minister Marcelo Puello complained that the dispersion of trade responsibilities is hurting the DR in trade talks and he noted that most nations have set up centralized trade coordinator functions in their Commerce Ministries. The Chancellery proposal to create a new trade coordination and oversight body may be an attempt to head off any transfer of the lead in trade negotiations from that body to the Industry and Commerce Ministry.

Government frees funds for CEA debt, repairs
State Sugar Council (CEA) Director Oscar Santiago Batista told a press conference last night that President Fernández yesterday gave him the checks to pay off CEA debts to workers and plantation owners and make needed repairs to sugar mills. CEA received RD$100 million to pay back wages to sugar workers, some of whom have not been paid since early 1998. Sugar workers recently picketed the National Palace demanding their pay. RD$70 million was provided to pay off debt owed to sugar plantation owners. RD$30 million was given to pay for badly needed repairs to several sugar mills, such as the one in Barahona, so that they will be ready to process the current harvest.

ITBIS refunds to exporters to begin soon
The head of the Directorate-General for Internal Revenue (DGII), Juan Hernández, said yesterday that in the next few weeks DGII will begin the process of refunding to exporters the Transfer Tax on Industrial Goods and Services (ITBIS) that they have paid. The Tax Code has said since 1992 that ITBIS paid on goods which are exported should be refunded to the exporters, but a regulation creating a procedure to do so was not put into place until last April. Exporters, principally through the Dominican Association of Exporters (ADOEXPO), have repeatedly decried delays in providing refunds. Hernández said that the government has been working steadily to start the refunds, but an operating agreement over details for managing the program had to be worked out first between DGII and Customs. This has been achieved, and DGII has already started auditing some firms to confirm how much of a refund they are due. DGII estimates that some RD$400 million in refunds must be paid out.

A 100 megavolt deal due in January
Just one day after a 300 megavolt electricity generation deal was signed by government officials, sources within the Dominican Electricity Corporation (CDE) revealed to the news daily El Siglo that an agreement will be signed in January with Scotia Energy to build a 100 megavolt generation complex. The project had been put to international bid, and Scotia won over 22 competitors.

Six radio stations closed in La Romana
Six radio stations were unexpectedly closed on Monday on the orders of the President of the National Commission of Public Spectacles and Radiophony's (CNEPR) Subcommission on Public Spectacles, Juan José Santana Medrano. Santana Medrano claimed that the stations were "illegal." Closed were Bendición FM (95.9), Bomba FM (89.1), Señal FM, Hacienda FM, Máquina FM (94.3) and Tiempo 99.7. Elpidio Tolentino, Director of Tiempo 99.7, said that if the Subcommission felt the radio stations had committed a violation, they should have sent a notification to the offending stations first, not summarily close them. Tolentino suggested that there might be a politically motivated act, since some of the closed stations had recently begun denouncing alleged acts of official corruption in government institutions. Francisco Martínez, one of the owners of Hacienda FM and a former Reformista Senator, also condemned the closings as a politically motivated act. Asked about the affair by reporters, CNEPR had no official comment. However, a trusted CNEPR source privately told the news daily El Siglo that CNEPR headquarters does not know what exactly is going on in this case. The source also pointed out that legally speaking, it is the Directorate-General of Telecommunications, not CNEPR, that must decide if a station is broadcasting legally or not.

Sex education controversy continues
Education Minister Ligia Amada Melo admitted yesterday that sex education programs in the nation's schools are "weak" and should be strengthened, while denying that she opposed stronger programs in public schools. Last week Magaly Caram, the Executive Director of Profamilia, a private group that used to run a sex education program in public schools, sparked public controversy by calling on the Fernández Government to emphasize sex education in schools. She cited recent statistics about teenage pregnancies, abortions and the rise of sexually-transmitted diseases, including AIDS, to reinforce her argument. The initial angry, off-the-cuff reaction from the Education Minster was to accuse Caram of proposing the distribution of condoms in public schools and to reject the idea. Since then a number of experts and groups have publicly suggested that the Ministry should change how it deals with this subject.
Yesterday Melo said that she had been misunderstood. She and the Ministry did not oppose strengthening the sex education program currently run under the Ministry's Program for Integral and Family Sex Education (PESIF); she simply objected to doing so along the lines that Profamilia had operated when it ran its program.
Yesterday the Public Health Minister, Dr. Altagracia Guzmán Marcelino, told reporters that her Ministry (SESPAS) is ready to help the Education Ministry in any revamping of sex education programs it wishes to undertake. SESPAS already has the technical experts necessary to train teachers in providing sex education, she said. A strong sex education program is important to public health, she argued. Thirty percent of all HIV-positive cases involve young people 15-25 years old, some thirty percent of pregnancies are among teenagers, and maternal mortality is very high among teenagers.
The national representative of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Dr. Osvaldo Leger, urged all parties to put polemics aside and focus on working together to swiftly strengthen sex education in the Dominican Republic. While he urged that sex education be undertaken integrally ­ at home, in churches, health centers, etc. ­ a strong program must be provided in the schools. The situation involving sexually-transmitted diseases ­ particularly AIDS -- is grave, he asserted, and must be confronted and open dialogue started to build a consensus on how best to combat it.
In an interview yesterday, former Education Minister José Andrés Aybar Sánchez echoed the call for formulating a new sex education program through consensus. He cautioned that inadequate sex education causes more harm than good, and that any new programs need to be developed very carefully. He advocated a broad dialogue and using consensus in designing a new program.

UNDP to release DR poverty profile
Vice President Jaime David Fernández Mirabal said yesterday that when the UN Development Programme (UNDP) releases its report on poverty in the DR on Friday, it will show that the current government has made progress in combating poverty. The study will demonstrate that while poverty continues in the DR, "things have improved significantly" over the past two years. "Things have improved without hurting economic growth," he asserted.

Most vehicle accidents caused by drinking & drugs
A toxicological study just released by the Dominican Medical Association (AMD) concludes that more than half of Dominicans involved in vehicle accidents were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the accident. The study was a collaborative effort between the Institute of Forensic Pathology and Darío Contreras Hospital. It was directed by Dr. Pedro Green, coordinate and tenured professor of Orthopedics and Traumatology at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD). The study involved checking 410 patients brought to Darío Contreras Hospital after suffering traffic accidents during the period November 3-December 2, 1998. These for the most part were middle-class drivers and motorconchistas. Higher class drivers tend to go to private clinics when in an accident, so they are not reflected in the study. The urine of 300 of the 410 was tested for indications of alcohol or cocaine; 113, or 37%, tested positive for one or the other (99 alcohol, 14 cocaine). In the emergency room 118 admitted that they had been drinking before the accident. Of these, the overwhelming majority (73) ingested beers, while 23 said rum, 15 whiskey and five a mixture of drinks. Of these, 37 were "under the influence," 35 "highly influenced," 22 "intoxicated" and five "semi-conscious." Green called for the National Police (PN) and National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD) to take steps to detect drivers consuming alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines or marijuana, and for Transit Courts to cancel the driver's license of repeat offenders.

Lions edge Eagles; Giants & Tigers split double-header
The Escogido Lions managed to edge out the Cibao Eagles 8-7 last night at Santo Domingo's Quisqueya Stadium because of a ninth-inning home run by Freddy García. Meanwhile the Licey Tigers and Northeast Giants split their double-header at Julián Javier Stadium in San Francisco de Macorís. In the first match the Giants rolled over Licey 9-4. The second game was scoreless the first nine innings. The spell was broken by a 10th-inning home run by Licey's second baseman Jorge Alvarez to give the Tigers a 2-0 victory.
Although the games did not change the current ranking of the four teams within the Winter Professional Baseball Tournament, it has cut the Eagles lead to four games and narrowed the gap between second-place Licey and third-ranked Lions to two games.
Tonight at 8:00 pm the Giants face Licey yet again at Quisqueya Stadium, while the Eagles are matched again against the Lions at Cibao Stadium in Santiago..

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