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Daily News - 16 June 1999

SESPAS reports on "Kosovo" flu virus
As promised, the Public Health Minister, Dr. Altagracia Guzmán de Marcelino, reported to the press about the situation regarding the type of influenza flu virus now hitting the Dominican Republic, which Dominicans have nicknamed "Kosovo." While exact numbers of flu cases are difficult to specify because hospitals and clinics do not record simple flu cases, they are believed to have numbered in the thousands since the beginning of the year, with a sharp spike beginning in some Dominican provinces in April. There is sufficient evidence of large numbers to consider it an influenza flu epidemic. Dr. Guzmán reported that the DR is not the only country hit by this particular virus: the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says that Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Jamaica, Martinique, Paraguay and the United States have all been similarly hit. In the case of Canada and the U.S., the flu epidemic is largely over; in Chile it is just starting; in the DR it is somewhere in-between. There are two different strains of the virus, designated A and B, the latter usually more rare. Dominican health officials are still not certain which one is hitting the DR, and have sent samples for testing and identification to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta.
Neither strain has a vaccine available, but one is not necessarily needed. Dr. Guzmán explained that no one has died from the flu virus per se, but rather from complications that have accompanied it. For example, the five elderly people who died in Puerto Plata died from respiratory ailments that hit them when they were weakened by the flu virus. None of them, ages 84-104, had been receiving the annual update of the normal influenza vaccine. Likewise, six that have died in Santiago were older patients that died of acute bronchial-respiratory complications, not the flu virus. Besides the unvaccinated and more fragile among the very old, Dr. Guzmán also cautioned those with asthma, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular problems and cirrhosis of the liver to seek early treatment if they demonstrate signs of the flu, since these groups are more vulnerable to complications than most.
Those getting the flu should drink plenty of fluids (particularly fruit juices with vitamins A and C), rest and use acetaminophen instead of aspirin. Self-medication with antibiotics is not advised; antibiotics do not affect the flu virus itself, and not any and all antibiotics would work against the respiratory infections that might accompany it, so a doctor’s advice is called for. Dr. Guzmán urged Dominicans to be extra careful about personal hygiene, washing hands frequently, etc., since the flu is communicable by touch or persons not covering their mouths when coughing.
Dr. Guzmán also renewed her call for municipalities to clean up trash in the streets, which she asserted contribute to the spread of the disease. The Technical Director for the National District, Roberto Castillo Tió, publicly challenged the Minister to prove that trash has any connection whatsoever with the transmission of the virus, but announced that the City of Santo Domingo will initiated a special clean-up campaign just in case. The Mayor of Puerto Plata, Ramón Ortiz, also questioned the Minister’s linkage of garbage collection with the flu. While PP has had many flu cases, its streets, especially in the tourist zones, have been cleaned of their past trash accumulations.

CDE & Smith-Enron work out their differences
Yesterday the Dominican Electricity Corporation (CDE) and the energy firm Smith-Enron announced that they had finally worked out a resolution to their long-standing dispute over contractual terms regarding Smith-Enron’s provision of electricity to CDE. As part of the deal, Smith-Enron agreed to change the contract to be paid by CDE on the basis of electricity actually delivered rather than on installed capacity (utilized or not). In return, CDE agreed to pay US$27 million of the US$60 million Smith-Enron had claimed in unpaid debt based on the old contract. Both sides agreed to withdraw the arbitration case on the issue which had been submitted to a Mexican tribunal in 1996.

CREP asks entities to monitor privatization process
In the interest of full transparency in the process of "capitalizing" state-owned firms (officially not considered privatization by the Government), the President of the Commission for the Reform of Public Enterprise (CREP), Antonio Isa Conde, invited several entities to appoint one or two of its members to monitor the process to satisfy all parties and the public that the process is fair and transparent. The six entities invited to monitor the process directly were the Senate, the Chamber of Deputies, the National Council of Private Enterprise (CONEP), the Attorney-General’s Office and the Controller-General’s Office. The invitation was issued June 11th. The step comes in response to questions raised publicly from several quarters – most notably PRD presidential candidate Hipólito Mejía, that the capitalization process is being conducted in such a manner that it favors certain business interests.

López Valdés: Dominicans banks will be ready for Y2K
The President of the Association of Commercial Banks in the Dominican Republic (ABCRD), José Manuel López Valdés, asserted to reporters yesterday that all commercial banks in the DR should not be affected by the Year 2000 computer problem because they have taken all the steps necessary to be prepared. Clients at Dominican commercial banks should not worry about any operations involving their money, he said. He claimed that the DR is far ahead of most nations in its preparations. He explained that the Dominican commercial banks began planning for the problem in cooperation with monetary officials as early as the beginning of 1998. All commercial banks completed their technical changes by March 1999, followed by verifications by internal audits, who in turn where checked by external auditors, who in turn have been monitored by a data specialist firm hired by the Superintendent of Banks. A full run-through test of the bank clearing system will be conducted this coming August to identify any remaining bugs in the system in time for them to be fixed and retested before the arrival of the new millennium.

DGII & business agree tax amnesty would be useful
In the context of their participation yesterday in a symposium hosted by the Institute of Licensed Public Accountants in the Dominican Republic (ICPARD), the top tax official and leaders of three major business groups agreed on the utility of a tax amnesty. Juan Hernández, head of the Directorate-General of Internal Revenue (DGII), Celso Marranzini, President of the National Council of Private Enterprise (CONEP), Andrés Dauhajre, President of the National Union of Employers (UNE), and Ignacio Méndez, of the Federation of Industry Associations (FAI) and outgoing head of the Association of Industries of Herrera (AIHA) agreed that a tax amnesty would help encourage many businesses to "come clean" about past evasion and enable DGII to find out exactly what these businesses should be paying in taxes in the future. They agreed, however, that the amnesty should be a one-time event of limited duration, so as to signal businesses that the confession and forgiveness comes "now or never." It should also apply only to certain types of cases. The difficulty, it was agreed, would be in designing and implementing the amnesty to ensure that it is equitable and legally sound.

President addresses seminar to combat money laundering
President Leonel Fernández opened a national seminar regarding the fight against money laundering being held at the Hamaca Hotel in Boca Chica June 15-20. Also speaking were Attorney-General Mariano Germán Mejía and officials from the United Nations’ Inter-regional Program to Combat Money Laundering. All warned that money laundering is a serious danger for the Dominican Republic, which has been targeted for nearly 15 years by South American drug cartels as a possible bridge between them and their U.S. and European markets. The President and Attorney-General reaffirmed this Administration’s determination and political will to combat both narcotics trafficking and money laundering utilizing the full array of tools offered under the law.

Two new JCE members sworn in
The President of the Senate, Ramón Alburquerque [Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) – Monte Plata], yesterday delivered the oaths of office to the two new members of the Central Elections Board (JCE) designated by the Senate. The expansion of the JCE had been negotiated in the context of the national political dialogue initiated by President Fernández, and was recently implemented into law by the Congress. The new members are Doctors Julio César Castaños Guzmán and Roberto Leonel Rodríguez Estrella. The former had been proposed for the position by the Reformist Social Christian Party (PRSC), the latter by the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD). The other five JCE members had been appointed by a PRD-controlled Senate in August 1998 without consulting the PRSC and PLD, and the latter two parties had accused PRD of appointing its own party activists to run the JCE.

Senate moves on direct fund delivery to cities
The Senate approved in first reading a bill that would allow the President to deliver directly national budget funds to municipalities. The bill now goes to committee for study and discussion before returning for a final floor debate and vote in second reading. Under the bill, in "special circumstances" the President can hand out checks directly to municipalities for the 4% of the national budget allocated to them, rather than channel it through the Dominican Municipal League (LMD) as Law 17-97 currently requires.

INDRHI says dam problem is one of drainage
A spokesman for the National Water Resources Institute (INDRHI), engineer Fernando Luciano, explained to reporters yesterday that the worry about heavy rains and the nation’s dams stems from the fact that most of the dams do not have high-capacity drainage systems to handle rapid build-up of water. Most of the hydroelectric dams were constructed to handle lower flows than now needed to handle torrential rains. The only one with high-capacity drainage is Sabana Yegua, with a discharge capacity of 600 cubic meters per second. Luciano also pointed out that several of the nation’s dams are earthen dams. If these build to overflow levels, the integrity of the dam itself will suffer. The earthen dams include Bao, Chacuey, Hatillo, Sabana Yegua, Sabaneta and Tavera. Aguacate, Jaguey, Rincón, Río Blanco and Valdesia dams are all concrete. The dam whose low capacity most concerns officials is Tavera, which has been placed under watch by INDRHI.

San Cristóbal bans heavy vehicles from city center
In an unusual step for a Dominican city, the city council of San Cristóbal yesterday adopted a resolution banning the passage of heavy vehicles through the city center and asking the national government to allow a derogation to a 1995 national decree banning such vehicles from passing San Cristóbal via the Seis de Noviembre expressway. The council took the action because of several highly publicized traffic accidents and deaths involving large trucks and other heavy vehicles and citizen complaints about atmospheric contamination, damage to city streets and noise.

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