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Daily News - 27 April 1999

Bidding process started for Playa Grande resort
The Central Bank announced yesterday the start of the bidding process for the Playa Grande resort, located on the North Coast between Puerto Plata and Nagua, approximately 80 kilometers east of Gregorio Luperón International Airport. National and international investors wishing to bid for the property need to present by May 31st their credentials to a Bid Committee appointed by the Bank's Monetary Board in order to be "pre-qualified" to participate in the bidding. Pre-qualified participants will then have until July 30th to present their bids. The Playa Grande project includes 3.5 million square meters of grounds, including a 1.6 kilometer stretch of beach and an 18-hole golf course where every hole has a view of the sea. Interested parties wanting details on the bidding procedures and requisites should contact the Central Bank's Department of Project Development and Financing (Departamento de Desarrollo y Financiamiento de Proyectos (DEFINPRO).

General strike in Bonao
A general strike has been called for the city of Bonao starting today and will continue indefinitely until strikers' demands are met, say its organizers. The strike is organized by a community group calling itself the Dignity Bloc of Monseñor Nouel Province (Bonao is the provincial capital, located northwest of Santo Domingo along the highway to Santiago). Among their demands are the completion of some 60 public works paralyzed due to central government nonpayment to contractors, the completion of construction of the UASD extension campus in Bonao (Centro Universitario Regional del Cibao Central ­ CURCE-UASD), and the delivery to the province of the RD$125 million it was supposed to get when shares were sold in Falconbridge Dominicana by the Balaguer Administration in 1994. Representatives of the national government traveled to Bonao last Friday to "seek solutions" and avert a strike, but strike organizers belittled the effort as too little, too late. Contractors were paid some 10% of what the Public Works Ministry owes them, so they are unwilling to re-start construction on the halted projects. Anticipating trouble, the National Police (PN) yesterday sent hundreds of its members into the city, making surprise arrests of some 70 people (so far, none of the Bloc leaders), seizing firearms and clearing the streets of anything that might be used as a protest instrument (such as used tires that might be set afire).

Airport Dept. Director: No turning back on Herrera decision
The Executive Director of the Airport Department, Melanio Paredes, yesterday rejected calls to reconsider the move of Santo Domingo's Herrera Airport to El Higüero, north of the city near the Duquesa city dump. Paredes said that "there's no going back" on the decision, and that any government official who wishes to make public observations about the decision should first check his facts with the Public Works Ministry. The latter was a clear allusion to the recent public objection to the decision by Tourism Minister Félix ("Felucho") Jiménez. He dismissed the objections of Herrera industrialists, saying their desire to keep the airport in Herrera was incomprehensible, unless they simply wanted the convenience of "an airport in the front yard of their homes." Herrera Airport cannot pass any rigorous safety and security tests for a metropolitan airport, and must be closed. [Yesterday Airport Commission President Rafael Serrano Banks said that the decision to move the airport was in fact based on the determination that Herrera did not, and could not, meet International Civil Air Organization air safety criteria.] As for worries expressed by many about the proximity of Duquesa to the new airport, Paredes rejected claims about safety risks presented by the dump and said that its appearance can be changed by covering it over with a garden.

Employment up in 1998
In its latest statistical report, the Labor Ministry says that 676,000 more workers were brought into the Dominican workforce in 1998 than in 1997. Industry employed 355,615 workers, while commercial establishments employed 103,743 men and 50,966 women.

Finger-pointing about LPG shortage
With the arrival of a new shipment of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), the lines at business refilling gas tanks are slowly returning to normal. The blame game, however, has just started. Over the weekend, Industry and Commerce officials blamed the private firm Mundogas for the shortage, saying that it had a serious financial liquidity problem and it was not fulfilling its assigned 40% quota of the national market for LPG. Yesterday Industry and Commerce Minister Luis Manuel Bonetti raised the stakes, saying that Mundogas had not informed his Ministry that a promised gas shipment had not arrived as planned, and that he was contemplating imposing financial sanctions on the firm and lowering its LPG market quota. For its part, Mundogas claims that it has been set up by the government. Its contract with the government calls for payments of the LPG subsidy (the government subsidizes LPG prices on the assumption that it is used mostly for household cooking) within 10 days of presenting a bill, but lately government payments have been averaging 51 days. Mundogas claims that this was done to create liquidity problems for the company so that it would have difficulty fulfilling its quota, and thus justify a cut in the quota. The National Budget Director, Luis Hernández, while admitting that the government had gotten "somewhat behind" in payments recently, said that it was less than Mondogas claims and that his office is speeding up payments to avoid future problems.

US$21.8 million IBD loan to be signed today
The Technical Secretary of the Presidency, Temístocles Montás, is due to sign today in Washington a US$21.8 million loan agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to modernize the operation of the DR's presidency.

Controller-general finds 20 LMD vehicles missing
The Republic's Controller-General, Haivanjoe Ng Cortiñas, reported yesterday that an audit of the Dominican Municipal League (LMD) conducted by his office cannot account for 20 motor vehicles put into use during the prior administration of Julio Maríñez Rosario. The audit had been requested by Amable Aristy Castro, one of the two LMD Secretaries-General "elected" by opposing municipal assemblies on January 22nd (Maríñez Rosario was the other). Aristy Castro claimed he had found evidence of corruption during the reign of his rival, and requested an official audit.

Police clean up Najayo prison
National Police (PN) Chief Major General Pedro de Jesús Candelier Tejada led a "lightning raid" on Najayo Prison yesterday, in the process putting under arrest the entire penal service contingent at the prison ­ including its commander -- and seizing from prisoners large quantities of drugs, arms, cellular phones, refrigerators and even air conditioners. The arrested prison guards are accused of providing illegal "services" to "special prisoners." Some prisoners claim to have paid RD$150,000 for "special cells" that are more comfortable than those accorded ordinary prisoners, and RD$20-30,000 for a bed.

Nationwide doctors' strike tomorrow
The Dominican Medical Association (AMD) has called a 24-hour nationwide doctors' strike beginning at 8 am tomorrow. The strike will affect all regular services in public hospitals and clinics. It does not affect private clinics and hospitals and emergency services will still be offered in public hospitals.
The strike is to press the AMD's demand for a major pay hike after talks between the organization and the Public Health Ministry failed to reach agreement. The AMD leadership claimed that the Ministry had only offered a fraction of what the doctors want, and conditioned it on Congressional passage of new taxes to pay for it. They returned to past claims that they cannot confide in a dialogue headed by Public Health Minister Altagracia Guzmán Marcelino. For her part, the Minister yesterday released to the press, without waiting for Finance Minister Daniel Toribio to sign off on it first, draft legislation that envisions a 40% pay hike financed by raising taxes and fees on motor vehicles. Under the proposal, all motor vehicles (except those for public transport, ambulances and funeral vehicles) 10 years or older would start paying RD$750 per year in taxes (about double current rates), and those under 10 years of age would pay RD$1,500. The cost of first-time registration of a vehicle and getting its plates would soar to RD$1,800 under the bill.

Book Fair continues
The International Book Fair continues in Santo Domingo through 2 May. The event, described as the most important cultural event of the year, is held on the grounds of the National Music Conservatory, at Alma Mater and Cesar Nicolas Penson streets. The fair is dedicated to Dominican national poet, Pedro Mir and to Mexico. This year 466 exhibitors, including 203 foreign publishing houses from 26 countries, are participating. Some 93 bookstores, 38 individual authors, 28 governmental organizations, 15 cultural foundations, 12 universities, local publishing houses, professional associations, newspapers, magazines, painters, educational videos, computer and religious groups have booths. Those attending agree that the fair is better organized this year.

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