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Daily News - 17 June 1999

"Historic pact" ready to be signed tomorrow
In a two-hour working session held last night at the National Palace, President Leonel Fernández and working groups representing the three major political parties – the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD, which controls Congress), and the Reformist Social Christian Party (PRSC) – finished work on what the President is billing as "an historic pact." The agreement is due to be signed tomorrow in a meeting of the national political dialogue bringing together the President and the national leaders of the three parties. While full details have not yet been released, in a nutshell the pact commits the nation to consider constitutional reforms in the year 2001 (i.e., after the next presidential elections) and the three parties to work together for passage of 16 legislative proposals considered essential for the social and economic development of the country. The 16 bills will all be subjected to a tripartite "diagnostic" to determine which can have relatively quick compromises and win prompt passage are, with the others to be the focus of more complex bargaining. The 16 bills identified are:
  • The Free Trade Agreement with Central America, and its companion piece, the Tariff and Tax Reform bill
  • The Market Order Code (which includes provisions on consumer protection, intellectual property reform)
  • The Stock Market Law
  • The law on bonds for paying internal public debt
  • The General Customs Law
  • The General Energy Law
  • The Monetary and Finance Code
  • The Export Incentive Law
  • The General Law on Natural Resources and the Environment
  • The Government Accountability bill
  • The bill to reform financial administration of the Government
  • The Organic Law on Budgets
  • The reform of the Cámara de Cuentas (Chamber of Accounts)
  • A law declaring a partial tax amnesty
  • The law creating rules on trade safeguards and provisions against unfair trading

Supreme Court rejects appeal of departure tax ruling
The Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) yesterday rejected Fernández Administration efforts to appeal a May 19th court ruling that the US$10 departure tax charged passengers using the DR’s air and maritime ports is unconstitutional. The May 19th ruling struck down presidential Decree 295-94, which created the tax. The SCJ yesterday declared inadmissible the Administration’s efforts, filed by Airport Commission, to challenge the competence of the court to judge the constitutionality of measure. The SCJ pointed out that the Constitution, under Article 67, paragraph 1), clearly states that only the SCJ can decide the constitutionality of laws.

First Santiago bus corridor in August
The Director of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (AMET), Hamlet Hermann, announced yesterday that it will launch the first city bus corridor for Santiago on August 16th. Such reserved bus corridors have transformed public transport in Santo Domingo, where AMET oversees the complete overhaul of traffic and transport patterns. The bus corridors for Santiago would be similar. AMET, however, can only serve as one of several advisors to the city of Santiago. Santiago is also being advised by advisors from Curitiba, Brazil, internationally renown for its innovative and highly successful public bus system.

Ray Guevara to challenge Alburquerque for Senate presidency
Senator Milton Ray Guevara (PRD-Samaná), announced yesterday that he will challenge current Senate President Ramón Alburquerque (PRD-Monte Plata) for his position when the chamber’s next internal elections are held on August 16th. He suggested that his legislative leadership has garnered the respect of the members of the Santo Domingo Agreement coalition (which allies PRD with several small parties) that controls the Senate, and should enable him to win the post from Alburquerque. If elected, Ray Guevara is promising to make the Senate more "cordial," "fruitful" and workmanlike.

Immigration, police refute Amnesty International charges
The head of the Directorate-General of Immigration, Danilo Díaz, and spokesmen for the National Police (PN) strongly contested the just-released human rights status report from Amnesty International (AI). Díaz called the report’s allegations "ridiculous" and unfounded, based on the reports of people and entities who have to justify why they still monitor human rights in the DR. The police likewise ridiculed the AI report, saying that officers usually only detain people undertaking delinquent acts and only shoot when fired upon.
The AI report accused Dominican authorities of mistreating and violating the human rights of illegal Haitian immigrants found and deported to Haiti. Among the charges it cites are the alleged rape of a 14 year old Haitian girl by soldiers and Immigration officials. It also said many Haitians are detained and deported without any regard to their Dominican residency documents. The report further condemned the police’s sweeping use of detention of people participating in strikes and public demonstrations, and the lack of action against police officers that killed student Franklin Fabián during a demonstration last year at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) and those that killed the priest José Tineo Núñez in the Los Prados sector of Santo Domingo last year under as-yet unexplained circumstances.

Tax collection up 14.35% Jan.-May 1999
The Directorate-General of Internal Revenue (DGII) reported yesterday that collection of tax revenues rose 14.35% in the first five months of 1999, when compared to a similar period of 1998. Income tax collection rose 25.6%; collection of taxes on service and merchandise 8.8%; consular fee collection rose 8.1%; collection of the Tax on the Transfer of Goods and Services (ITBIS) grew 19.2%; and collection of fines and fees rose 6.3%

Search for Narcisazo body in Montecristi
Since yesterday morning authorities have been conducting searches and excavations on the Montecristi estate of a former National Department of Investigations (NDI) official for the body of long-missing (and presumed dead) UASD professor Narciso González ("Narcisazo"). The professor, a vocal critic of then-President Joaquín Balaguer who alleged fraud in the May 1994 national elections, disappeared on May 26, 1994 after reportedly being picked up for questioning by Air Force Intelligence agents. Last year a special investigation was launched into case. The search teams now at the estate in the Bella Vista sector of Montecristi are acting on a tip from an unnamed source that the body of Narcisazo was buried on the estate of then-DNI official Henríquez Vanegas just days after his disappearance. The search is being led by the District Attorney for the Federal District, Francisco Domínguez Brito, in cooperation with local judicial authorities and with the aid of PN and Air Force teams.

Bidders for sugar mill privatization to be pre-qualified next week
The Commission for the Reform of Public Enterprise (CREP) announced yesterday that it will "pre-qualify" bidders for the privatization of the State Sugar Council’s (CEA) refineries. CREP head Antonio Isa Conde said that a number of national and international firms have requested the terms of reference (TOR) for the pre-qualification, and he is optimistic that many bidders will make the Tuesday deadline. Those bidders judged by CREP as satisfying the TOR will be allowed to participate in the open bidding scheduled for July 29th. Among the CEA refineries subject to the bidding are those in Amistad, Boca Chica, Barahona, Conseulo, Montellano, Ozama, Porvenir, Quisqueya, Río Haina and Santa Fe. Several of these have not been utilized for several years.

CORDE to sell its minority stakes in private firms
The Executive Director of the Dominican Corporation of State Enterprises (CORDE), Eduardo Selman, announced yesterday that the state entity will sell its remaining minority shares in private firms. These include the mining firm Falconbridge, the Banco de Desarrollo, cement firm Cementos Colón, finance company Financiera Fimaca and Industrias Nigua, among others. In most cases, he explained, the shareholdings amount only to 3-5% of the total capitalization of the firm in question; the exceptions are Falconbridge, where CORDE has held 9%, and Cementos Colón, where it has held 30%. Prior to the sell, a fair market value for the holdings will be determined. The companies in question will be given right of first refusal, as required under present law. If they do not buy the shares at the set price, the shares will be up for bidding by third parties.

Rosario to partially close operations
Officials of the state-owned Rosario Dominicana mining company announced yesterday that the company will partially close its production operations on June 30th for an unspecified period of time. The measure is in response to a May request from the Monetary Board to temporarily close production at Rosario, properly assess the environmental damages it has caused, formulate an environmental rescue plan and seek international financing to implement it. In early May press reports about severe pollution in rivers and streams near Rosario’s Pueblo Viejo, Cotuí mine led to calls from all quarters for the company’s closure. At the time, it was revealed that Rosario’s water treatment plants had not been operating since 1992. Yesterday Rosario’s Superintendent of Planning, Raúl Díaz, announced that one of the plants will be brought back on-line next week, while the second plant is expected to be working again in three or so months. He assured the public that the dams holding contaminated waters awaiting treatment are structurally safe and should pose no danger during this period of heavy rains. However, a member of the technical team inspecting the holding dams, José Then, Director of the Chemical Institute of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD), warned that the structure integrity of the dams should be watched carefully, because current unusually high levels of cyanide and acidic waters in the holding area could weaken them.

Six stowaways killed on Philippine ship
Six of 31 Dominican stowaways were killed aboard a ship with Philippine registry after it set sail from Haina for New Orleans on Monday. Details on the exact circumstances of how the men died are not being provided by the ship Aurora Jade or Dominican authorities, but reports say all six died of poisoning from a fumigant. [Many ships fumigate after weighing anchor to kill off animals and insects that may have boarded while the ship was docked and cannot be carried into U.S. ports.] Besides the six dead, nine were hospitalized, 14 detained and two reportedly escaped custody. The ship evidently discovered the stowaways after leaving the DR for New Orleans, and returned to Haina to turn them in.

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