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Daily News - 10 February 1999

Poll: PRD leads among independents
In today’s installment of the controlled release of results of a recent national poll, news daily Listin Diario reports that the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) scored highest among voters claiming no party affiliation. Asked by Listin and Sigma Dos if the DR’s presidential elections were held today, which party would the respondent vote for, 46.0% said the opposition PRD, 27.4% replied the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), just 7.2% indicated the Social Christian Reform Party (PRSC), and a whopping 17.5% declared themselves "undecided." The results are significant because the "non-militants" usually decide who wins the presidency. Another poll question was equally significant: asked who they would want to see their party ally with should a presidential election go into the second round (which occurs when a single candidate does not win 50%+1 votes), voters indicated overwhelmingly that they would prefer a PLD-PRSC alliance as was done in the 1996 elections.

Senate approves public procurement reform
The Senate unanimously approved yesterday in second reading a bill that will prohibit the Government from slicing up public works projects into small chunks in order to avoid putting them up to open bidding. Under the bill proposed by Senator Milton Ray Guevara (PRD-Samaná), any project whose total value is over RD$3 million must be put up for open public bidding. Public works valued between RD$2-3 million would be decided by a drawing organized by the College of Engineers, Architects and Surveyors. The bill now passes to the Chamber of Deputies for final approval before being sent to the President for signature. The bill is intended to stop the all-too-common practice of chopping large public works projects into small contracts in order to avoid open bidding, and thereby award projects to favored contractors.

Dispute brewing over construction of new Justice complex
Bulldozers began breaking ground last week on the construction of a new building to house the Supreme Court and Attorney-General’s Office and already dust is being kicked up. The Public Works Ministry started work on the building, to be constructed on the former site of the Agriculture Ministry in Centro de los Heroes, without soliciting bids. Ministry engineers told El Siglo that the building would include a detention center (jail) in its basement, a design detail that proved to be news to both Supreme Court head Jorge Subero Isa and Attorney-General Mariano Germán Mejía. Consulted Monday by El Siglo, Subero Isa said that Ministry engineers had asked him for a few design comments nearly a year ago, but had not consulted him since and he had not been aware work had started on the complex. Germán Mejía yesterday told El Siglo that he likewise had not been kept informed of building plans, and that he would oppose any plan to include a jail on the premises. Pressed by the newspaper, Ministry officials have admitted that bidding had not been solicited for the project. They claim, however, that the Ministry is free to do all excavation and preparatory work on its own authority, and then solicit bids for the actual building work.

Alburquerque: Senate WILL pass Monetary Code this week
Amidst media speculation that the current extraordinary session of Congress would end without approval of the new Financial and Monetary Code, Senate President Ramón Alburquerque (PRD-Monte Plata) insisted that the Senate would finish its work on the Code this week no matter what it took. If the Congress does not approve the Code in first reading in the next two weeks, it will have to be introduced in the next regular session of Congress as if it were a completely new bill, requiring a new round of hearings and committee work. Alburquerque rejected speculation that the Senate would deal the Code such a setback. He said that he would invoke weekend work sessions if that is what it took to win final approval. The Code is one of the major economic reforms sought by the Fernández Administration. It would change the rules governing the Central Bank, commercial banks, savings and loan associations, interest rates, financial transactions, issuance of public debt instruments (such as bonds), etc. Most of the Code’s articles were agreed upon by the Senate last week, but a stalemate over the remaining few regarding savings and loan associations have stalled final approval. The S&L industry here is demanding to offer the same range of financial products as commercial banks; without such a reform, S&L’s claim, they will disappear. S&L’s and the commercial banks have requested a delay in Senate work on the Code until they can reach a compromise on the matter. A large portion of regulations included in the Code have already been implemented by monetary authorities and the financial community.

PRD presses court demand on LMD
Lawyers for the PRD returned to the Supreme Court yesterday to re-file their demand against the election of Amable Aristy Castro to head the Dominican Municipal League (LMD). The PRD wants the Court to rule unconstitutional the process and steps taken to elect Aristy Castro and nullify his election. PRD lawyers had filed the same request on January 26, the day of the elections. The Court says it cannot hear the complaint yet, however, because it "inadvertently" sent the original of the petition to Attorney-General Mariano Germán Mejía for comment, and he has never returned it. Court rules do not allow it to act using a copy. Germán Mejía promised to return the copy "as soon as possible."

Bids solicited for Santo Domingo tramway
The Technical Secretary of the Presidency, Temístocles Montás, announced this week the formal solicitation of bids for the construction of the first segment of the overhead tramway planned for Santo Domingo. Bids for the construction project will be accepted during March, and the winner will be announced in May so that work can begin this summer. Government engineers estimate the first segment of the tramway – to run along Avenida John F. Kennedy -- could be completed within 10 months of groundbreaking. The tramway project was announced during President Fernández’s recent European trip, when French financing was secured for the project. As envisioned, the tram would commence at Kilometer 9 on the Duarte Highway, run the length of Avenida John F. Kennedy until it reaches the elevated portion, follow Avenida San Martín to reach Avenida 27 de Febrero near the Braulio Alvarez Park, and pass along Avenida Duarte until stopping at the Sánchez bridge. Fernández Government officials hope to have the first segment finished and opened and the second segment started before President Fernández leaves office in August 2000.

DIGENOR: Most bottled water safe
The Directorate-General of Norms and Quality Systems (DIGENOR), the body charged with setting and monitoring production standards in the DR, released a study yesterday showing most bottled water sold in the DR meets acceptable sanitary production standards. DIGENOR Director-General Hugo Rivera said that the technical study showed that 73 of 89 registered bottlers of "purified" water are complying with DIGENOR standards, and that Dominican bottled water has an average potability index of 92.2%. DIGENOR and the Public Health Ministry (SESPAS) say that any water with an index between 90 and 100% is considered potable, or safe for immediate human consumption. He discounted a 1998 study by the Microbiological and Parisitology Institute of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD), which had claimed to have found 26.19% of bottled water contaminated with E coli bacteria and 73.8% stripped of minerals. The bacterial contamination problem has been remedied, he insisted, and the lack of mineral content does not mean water is unsafe to drink. He pointed out that even international standards allow low mineral content for bottled water, but like Dominican norms, call for mineral-poor water to be identified as such on bottle labels.

Fenatrano halts transport strike
Yesterday the director of the transport union Fenatrano, Juan Hubieres, called a halt to the drivers’ strike in Santo Domingo after reaching an understanding with Metropolitan Transit Authority (AMET) head Hamlet Hermann. Although in its initial stages Fenatrano had targeted the strike in SD’s zones east of the Ozama River, today it was slated to hit the critical North-South artery Avenida Máximo Gómez. Hubieres said that he and Hermann had reached an understanding on several of the drivers’ demands regarding the issuance of identification tablets for public cabs ("publicos," known popularly as "conchos") and the ownership of vehicles that will operate the Máximo Gómez corridor. Hubieres suggested that much of the union’s problems regarding ID tablets was not the fault of AMET per se, but rather the turf struggle between AMET and the Technical Office for Land Transport (OTTT) over who controls public transport in Santo Domingo. He said Fenatrano would refuse to recognize OTTT’s authority to issue ID tablets, and seek them instead from AMET. [Also yesterday another union group – the National Central of United Transporters (CNTU) – announced that it also would call upon its drivers to deal with AMET instead of OTTT regarding the identity tablets.] Hubieres also warned that if Hermann did not keep his promises, Fenatrano would quickly go back on strike, this time targeting critical arteries like Tiradentes and Winston Churchill avenues.

Remains of President Billini added to National Pantheon
In a ceremony headed by President Leonel Fernández and featuring full military honors, the remains of President Francisco Gregorio Billini y Aristy were added to the National Pantheon yesterday alongside other national leaders and heroes. The remains of the 19th century writer, teacher and President were exhumed last Monday from a private family tomb at a Santo Domingo cemetery. Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez used the occasion to call upon Dominican politicians to stop bickering and start dialoguing and working together for the national good. He drew parallels to the turbulent times of Billini, and said he saw the same "uncontrolled passions," "political immaturity," "lack of respect for institutions and laws" and vindictiveness that Billini faced. "This is not the way to make a nation, nor to construct the Dominica Republic dreamed of by Duarte."

Sugar Council to sell land to retire debt
The State Sugar Council (CEA) Director Oscar Santiago Batista said yesterday that the CEA will sell about one million square meters of its lands in order to raise funds to retire its debt and pave the way for its privatization.

CDE to charge poor users nominal fee
As part of its efforts to get everyone to pay for the electricity they consume, the Dominican Electricity Corporation (CDE) announced yesterday that poor families would be charged a nominal fee of RD$100-150 per month if they register their illegal connections. CDE estimates some 500,000 families currently receive electricity without paying for it, and claims that these illegal connections are a major contributor to the company’s financial woes. Even though the RD$100-150 will not reflect true costs, CDE feels that receiving even a symbolic amount is better than the cost of running battles with free-riders. Nonetheless, CDE stressed that it would do "everything possible" to get rid of all free-riders, including fines.

Special Olympics start tomorrow
The Fourth National Games of the Special Olympics will open Thursday at Santo Domingo’s Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic Complex. First in the U.S. 30 years ago, the Special Olympics is nonprofit program of sports training and competition for individuals with mental retardation or physical handicaps that seeks to improve the sense of self-worth of these individuals. Special Olympics provide year-round training and athletic competition for more than one million athletes in nearly 150 countries. For this year’s national-level games in the DR, some 450 athletes from across the country will compete. The opening ceremony will be held in the gymnastics pavilion at 3:30 pm, and includes a welcoming from Sports Minister Juan Marichal. The games will be held through Sunday, February 14th.

Casandra Award Results
The Casandra Awards ceremony was held last night in a televised ceremony at the National Theater sponsored by Dominican National Brewery (CND), makers of Presidente beer. The Casandra awards are given to 47 categories of show business by the DR’s Asociación de Cronistas de Arte (Association of Art Reporters -- Arcoarte). They are the Dominican equivalent of the Grammy, Tony and Emmy Awards and are named for legendary Dominican performer Casandra Damirón.
The top Casandra honor is known as the El Soberano ("The Sovereign"), given to the person whose work during the prior year is considered head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field. The Soberano was given this year to Nuria Piera, whose investigative reporting television show logged numerous successes in 1998 and won the Casandra for its category for the third year in a row.
The presentations of the regular awards were made in two distinct segments: Communications, Popular. For example, in the Communications segment, "Nuria en el 9" won Best Investigative Program, "Punto Final" Best Variety Show, "Vivan Los Niños" Best Children’s Show, and there was a tie for Best Television Special between documentaries about the life and death of Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) leader Dr. José Francisco Peña Gómez ("La Vida de Peña Gómez") and about the aftermath of Hurricane Georges ("Detrás de Georges").
In the Popular segment, the big winner was Los Toros Band. They won Best Musical Group, their album "A Pasito Lento" won Musical Album of the Year, and their lead singer, Héctor Acosta, won Best Male Singer. There was a tie for Best Female Singer between Martha Echenique and Marcel. Best New Artist was awarded to Raffy Matias. The Merengue of the Year was "Me Muero por Ti," written by Angelito Villalona and sung by his famous older brother Fernandito Villalona.
Special "International Casandras" were awarded to Puerto Rico’s Elvis Crespo, Cuban-Americans Emilio and Gloria Estefan, and Venezuela’s José Luís Rodríguez ("El Puma"). These four have been declared "Distinguished Guests" by the City of Santo Domingo and are receiving separate honors from Mayor Juan de Dios ("Johnny") Ventura this morning, after which they will be received by President Fernández at the National Palace.
For a complete listing of the nominees and winners, plus the history of the Casandras, visit their website at
http://www.dominicana.com/casandra

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