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Daily News - 19 March 1999

No breakthrough agreement in dialogue
Yesterday’s session of the political dialogue between the three major political parties – the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD, which currently controls Congress) and the Reformist-Social Christian Party (PRSC) – produced no breakthrough on the two thorniest agenda items, the composition of the Central Election Board (JCE) and who should be the Secretary-General (SG) of the Dominican Municipal League (LMD). The fifth session, held at the National Palace starting at 5:30 pm (instead of the planned 4 pm), mostly saw a reiteration of party positions. After a fruitful fourth session on Tuesday, many participants had been predicting possible compromise agreements in Thursday’s meeting. Despite the lack of movement, participants left last night’s meeting trying to sound upbeat notes. They agreed to meet again on Tuesday at 6 pm.
The dialogue was an initiative of President Fernández, who proposed that PLD, PRD and PRSC leaders meet with him at the National Palace to resolve their differences in a "patriotic pact" to guarantee democratic stability and peaceful and fair presidential elections in the year 2000. In addition to the JCE and LMD questions, the dialogue has agreed to discuss (1) the election of the Chamber of Deputies directorate; (2) the selection of the Chamber of Accounts (Cámara de Cuentas); (3) President Fernández’s proposal to convene a Constituent Assembly in May 2001 to reform the Constitution.

CONEP: No to CARICOM pact unless negative list cut
The President of the National Council of Private Enterprise (CONEP), Celso Marranzini, publicly advised the Dominican government to refuse to sign any market access protocol with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) if the latter continues to insist on a long list ("negative list") of products exempt from the August 1998 Treaty’s trade liberalization measures. He said even though CARICOM reportedly has pared its proposed list from some 900 products to 200, that is still far too high. In an interview with the news daily El Siglo, he said that CONEP would prefer to see a negative list of 2-3 products. He commented that in a way he was glad that CARICOM had presented such lists, because it proved the DR is readier to accept opening its markets than its neighbors are. Also interviewed was industrialist Antonio Espín, who agreed that the CARICOM draft list is still far too big. "200 products is an extraordinary quantity. That would make impossible, truly, adequate competition between our countries," he opined. He agreed with Marranzini that the list should be cut to 2-3 products.

Texaco & Esso call for petroleum cost/price transparency
In interviews published in the news daily El Siglo, managers of the Dominican subsidiaries of Texaco and Exxon called on the government and the Dominican Petroleum Refinery (REFIDOMSA) to establish true transparency in the prices they pay for imported petroleum and petroleum derivatives. Texaco Caribbean General Manager Angel Rivera and Esso Sales Manager Jaime Martí concurred that the current system is very opaque and these two companies have no idea how REFIDOMSA arrives at the prices it sets for petroleum derivatives it produces for local distribution. The lack of transparency makes it difficult for Esso and Texaco to initiate price competition, since it has no idea of what sort of margins REFIDOMSA and the government’s partner in the refinery, Shell, are working with. The lack of price competition hurts the consumer. It also has led Texaco and Esso to halt plans to build a storage facility in Puerto Plata until they can determine, on the basis of realistic market figures, whether the project would bring sufficient return on the investment.

JCE accuses Migration of fabricating cedulas
Yesterday Central Elections Board (JCE) President Morel Cerda accused Migration Director-General Danilo Díaz of fabricating false voter identity cards ("cedulas") in order to discredit the JCE. He accused Migration of secretly using JCE’s own equipment to fabricate the cards. Counterfeiting cedulas is a "grave" criminal offense, he warned, and if the JCE had to take Migration officials to the courts to prove his charge, then so be it. He suggested that if Migration had to go to such lengths it only proved the JCE’s long-standing contention that getting a false cedula is only possible if JCE officials are bribed to do it, and there are safeguards against that.
Morel Cerda also accused Migration and National Police (PN) agents of "practically kidnapping" a JCE employee, Juan Peña González, from the Bonao cedula processing center to pressure him into saying that he was delivering cedulas to people other than their owners for fraudulent uses.
Lastly, Morel Cerda accused Díaz of not carrying out an agreement with the JCE to create a joint inspection team to weed out any bad cedulas from the JCE registry and stop future cedula problems. The JCE has allowed three Migration inspectors to start working at JCE premises, but Migration refuses to accept JCE inspectors.
Danilo Díaz immediately denied and discounted both the counterfeiting and kidnapping charges, suggesting that Morel Cerda’s "gratuitous" accusations were attempt to undermine the impact of the JCE President’s public admission last week that the cedula program had problems. As for JCE employee Peña González, Díaz said that he had been detained by Migration inspectors and PN officers on charges of having given a cedula to someone other than its real owner for the purpose of that person entering the U.S. under a false identity. That, he said, is a grave crime Migration will stop wherever it finds it.
Yesterday was simply the latest chapter in what has become a war of words and accusations and counter-accusations between the JCE and the Directorate-General of Migration. Three weeks ago Díaz accused the JCE of issuing cedulas to Haitians and other aliens. After repeated JCE challenges to prove his charges, Díaz traveled last week to the Board to present "irrefutable proof." In the face of the evidence offered by Díaz, JCE President Morel Cerda said that (a) it did appear that the JCE had issued cedulas to foreign nationals; (b) he would investigate the problem, weed out the bad cards, punish any JCE employees found to have acted improperly; (c) JCE would establish with Migration a program to clean up the cedula registry and prevent future frauds. Earlier this week Díaz said that the admission of problems, when combined with the low rate (about 10%) of Dominican voters issued new cedulas so far, called for the JCE to abandon plans to insist on the new cedula as the only acceptable proof of voter identity for the May 16, 2000 elections.

Senate approves bond measure
The Senate yesterday approved in first reading the bill which would authorize the Government to issue bonds to pay off RD$500 million in its debt to suppliers and contractors of public works. Passage had been delayed because of complete opposition to the measure by two Democratic Union (UD) Senators, members of the Santo Domingo Agreement (ASD) coalition that controls the Senate [ASD groups PRD will allied small parties]. The measure now goes to study in the Finance Committee before coming up for a second reading. Under the bill, six-year bonds would be issued in denominations of RD$5,000. The bonds would offer 6% annual interest, paid quarterly. The proposal was originally put forward by the Fernández Administration during the last session of Congress. It was reintroduced in this session by ASD leaders, but does not have the support of all coalition members.

CDE capitalization to restart in April
The administrator of the state-owned Dominican Electricity Corporation (CDE) announced this week that the process of "capitalization" (Dominican officials insist that the term "privatization" is inappropriate) of CDE will restart in April. Radhamés Segura said that the bidding for the distribution units of CDE will commence on April 15th, while that for generation units of CDE will start on April 23rd. Originally bidding for both aspects of a reorganized CDE were to be held in December, but were put on hold by the government while aspects of CDE finances were cleaned up. On the television show "Uno + Uno" broadcast by Teleantillas, Segura admitted that CDE still has some RD$15 billion in debt to international financial institutions, local suppliers and private generators, and that it is still receiving some RD$700 million per month in operational subsidies from the government.

ASONAHORES’ 1998 tourism statistics
The President of the National Association of Hotels and Restaurants (ASONAHORES), Rafael Blanco Canto, yesterday released the final statistics of his organization on tourism in the DR during 1998. He cited the statistics during a presentation to the Caribbean-U.S. Forum on Investment and Trade. According to ASONAHORES: (a) 2.3 million tourists came to the DR in 1998, 97,745 more than in 1997, a rise of 4.4%; (b) the majority (1.3 million, or 56.7%) of tourists were from Europe, followed by 23.3% (533,900) from the U.S., 9.1% (209,300) from Canada, 8.7% (200,100) from Latin America and 2.4% (42,320) from "other nations"; (c) the room occupancy rate dropped from 76% in 1997 to 73% in 1998, primarily because of the 10.1% leap in the number of rooms on offer (and the impact of Hurricane Georges).

Airport personnel caught on hidden cameras seeking bribes
Customs Director-General Miguel Cocco Guerrero and Airport Security chief General Luis Damián Castro Cruz revealed this week that a number of airport security guards and customs employees working at Las Américas International Airport (AILA) have been caught seeking and taking bribes from travelers by hidden cameras that authorities have installed in the Immigration, Customs and Ambassadorial/VIP sections of the airport. The cameras are monitored by officials of Airport Security, J-2 (Air Force intelligence) and the National Directorate of Investigations (DNI). The two officials said that most of the tourists bothered for bribes were from the U.S. When security officials confronted the bribe-seekers afterward, they usually denied any wrongdoing, only to be shown where they had hidden the U.S. dollars they received and told they were on film and would be dismissed. Cocco and Castro said that in 1998 some 80 employees working at AILA were dismissed for extorting airline passengers.

Senate moves on sports pension bill
The Senate approved in first reading the proposed bill to create a pension system for Dominican sports stars. The bill was approved without amendments, and now goes to study and vetting by the Senate Finance and Sports Committees before coming up for a second reading vote. Originally proposed to Congress by President Fernández in January, the bill would create a system of state pensions for Dominican sports stars "who have given the Dominican Republic a good name." Stars that have been elected to the Dominican Sports Hall of Fame would receive RD$6,000 monthly from the state; those no yet in the Hall of Fame but which have brought honor to the Dominican Republic, would receive RD$3,000 per month. Sports Minister Juan Marichal, himself a Hall of Fame name, proposed the bill to the President after numerous news stories over the past year about how many Hall of Fame members and other well-regarded sports stars of the past live now in dire economic straits. In the Senate the bill’s sponsor is Senator Jesús Vásquez Martínez.

Crucial game tonight for DR’s national selection team
The DR’s national selection soccer team plays tonight the most crucial game of the elimination round for the Caribbean Cup. Tonight at 7 pm in Port-au-Prince’s National Stadium the Dominican team faces off against the host Haitian team. Haiti is favored to win the elimination round and be the team that goes to the Cup in Trinidad and Tobago starting on June 12th. Haiti beat Puerto Rico decisively 3-0 on Wednesday, while the DR only managed a scoreless tie with the British Virgin Islands (0-0). The DR selection plays the Puerto Rican team on Sunday at 5 pm. The DR must score tonight in order to stay in the running, and it must hold down Haiti’s scoring to keep it from gaining too large a point lead in the standings. As it now sits, Haiti has three points, the DR and VI one apiece, and PR none. The stadium is expected to be packed for tonight’s match.

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