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Daily News - 02 September 1999

President Fernández returns from Colombia and Panama
President Leonel Fernández returned last night from his three-day official visit to Panama and Colombia. On his way back, he made a stopover in Miami to again spend time with his friend, Director of Customs Miguel Cocco who is interned in a Miami hospital for kidney trouble. Cocco was also found to have pre-cancerous cells.
President Fernández had to cut short his presence at the inaugural of Panama President Mireya Moscoso, the 53-year old widow of three-time President of Panama Arnulfo Arias. Her inaugural was delayed by almost four hours due to discussions over who would preside the two congressional chambers. President Fernández arrived at 10:30 am at the stadium where the event was to take place, and left at 2:10 pm. The ceremony eventually took place an hour and a half after he had left. Mrs. Moscoso's inaugural was attended by the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, the President of Costa Rica Miguel Angel Rodríguez and the heir of the Spanish thrown, Prince Felipe de Borbón.
Upon his return to Santo Domingo, President Fernández explained that the major achievements of his trip was the signing of two loans. A US$25 million credit will be used to build low cost housing as part of the Resure program to rescue the west bank of the Ozama River, where hundreds of families need to be dislodged and relocated. President Fernández said this project will start with the La Ciénaga slum area as soon as the construction of the new bridge parallel to the Duarte Bridge over the Ozama River is completed.
A US$18 million loan, also signed with the government of Colombia, will be used for irrigation projects in central farm areas.
Prior to returning to Santo Domingo, President Fernández told journalists covering his trip that he would lobby so that Congress pass the free trade agreement with Central America, regardless of delays with the passing of the tariffs and income tax bills.

Electricity bill hikes: the leading news story
The privatization of electricity continues to be the talk of the town. After the privatization commission and the general manager of the CDE spent months saying electricity bills would not suffer increases as a result of privatization, the true story is quite different.
The newly created Superintendency of Electricity published advertisements reclassifying rates and setting new charges. The new rate system includes a fixed fee that will be levied on residential and commercial bills based on installed capacity, regardless of whether there is consumption or not.
The Superintendency says that the electricity rates will be indexed every month.
Earlier the Superintendency had admitted that it authorized last October 1998 that bills be indexed based primarily on government import taxes, the price of petroleum, the consumer price index and the US$-RD$ rate. As a result of the indexing, a 5.5% increase was authorized.
Nevertheless, residential consumers and industrial consumers say that the increase represents a 20-40% increase in electricity costs. The Superintendency says that it can do little to penalize the private companies if they increase rates beyond what was authorized. The penalties are contained in the Electricity Bill which has not yet been passed by Congress.
The Superintendency also says that consumers will have to pay for the private companies to check counters when a complaint about high billings is presented. This service was offered free by the CDE in the past. If the error is on behalf of the private company, a credit may be given to the client.
The president of the Association of Industries of Herrera, Ignacio Herrera says that industries will have to pass the increase on to consumers. He criticized that the increase of 20-40%, not the authorized 5.5%, in the already very high cost of electricity paid by Dominican industrial consumers affects competitiveness of Dominican production. He said that in order to get around this, industries located in Herrera are participating in a plan to make themselves self-sufficient in generation and distribution of power.
Press coverage has been especially unfavorable for the Spanish company, Unión Fenosa which won the greater contracts of the two, with responsibility for west of Santo Domingo and north and south central provinces.
The contracts for 50% ownership and the management of the state electricity corporation's distribution and collection areas were won by two companies that were already insiders into the Dominican electrical industry - AES (which already owned and operated the Los Minas power plants) and Unión Fenosa (which during the Balaguer administration had been awarded a contract for administrative organization at the CDE, getting bad reviews for their performance from the Dominican press).
Unión Fenosa has been criticized by employees who say their working conditions are now worse. Reportedly, the Spanish company rehired 2,400 of the CDE's 3,000 employees, but salaries of many were reduced, and employees are complaining that their medical insurance plan was eliminated.
The 600 rehired employees of 1,150 CDE employees now under Empresa AES Distribuidora del Este fared much better. Reportedly, they were given a better medical insurance plan and their salaries were improved.
Political analysts say that the electricity cost affair may have a negative effect on the ruling party's aspirations to remain in power. The PLD candidate, Danilo Medina is basing much of his campaign on the good image of the present government.
Meanwhile, opinions vary. Some say there was a public relations mishandling, and that Dominicans just have to have patience in this transition period. Others jest that what has happened is that the cost of power outages has simply gone up.

CEA privatization could fall through
Antonio Isa Conde, the president of the Commission for the Reform of Public enterprises (CREP), says that the worst enemies of the privatization process are within the government. He said that government officials promoted the takeover of the State Sugar Council (CEA) sugar mill lands which has brought about major obstacles to the privatization of that money-gobbling corruption-ridden government organization. CEA has been losing thousands of millions a year, while the production of sugar has been declining steeply.
Now it appears that the CEA privatization may fall through completely. The CEA privatization is affected by the problem of the invasion of lands, supposedly promoted to benefit PLD followers, military and wealthy persons, primarily during the administration of the previous director of the CEA. The CEA also has not able to make payments on moneys owed its former laborers, and has thousands of debts to suppliers, some real and some fake, but they are on the books.
To make matters worse, the companies that showed an interest in the privatization of the CEA now say that the terms of the contract means they will have to absorb five harvests of losses. Press reports speculate that it is possible none will show for the tender.

City hall promises street signs within three months
Deligne Ascención of the Department of Urban Transit of the Municipality of Santo Domingo announced that the city government will install new computerized traffic lights at key intersections, and sign posts as well as number 5,000 apartment building and houses in the Colonial City and metropolitan zone. The plan will cover 750 intersections and will cost RD$5 million pesos. The new traffic lights will be installed at Abraham Lincoln/George Washington; Abraham Lincoln/José Contreras; Abraham Lincoln/Gustavo Mejía Ricart; José Contreras/Italia; Winston Churchill/José Contreras; Winston Churchill/Sarasota; Winston Churchill/Bolívar. An estimated 250,000 vehicles pass through these intersections every day. The signposts will feature the name of the street and the zip code.

RD$320,000 to save teenager
The Chamber of Deputies approved the granting of US$20,000 to save Ilianov de Leon Albino, a 14-year old Dominican who is interned at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York and needs a bone marrow operation. His family is undertaking a major campaign to come up with the RD$7.2 million (US$450,000) cost of the operation. So far, they have managed to gather more than RD$4.1 million.

Clinics and physicians in north central regions go on strike
Private clinics and their physicians in the north central regions of the DR went on strike today protesting what they consider unfair contractual conditions with medical insurance plans. The Dominican Medical Association has joined the Association of Dominican Clinics (Andeclip) in their plight to get better conditions from medical insurance companies for clinics and physicians serving those on medical insurance plans. The system has worked well for the consumer, but now the medical establishment feels they are not getting a fair share in the business.
In the DR an estimated 1.5 million Dominicans (mostly employees) benefit from the medical plans that provide high cost medical services to Dominicans at very reduced prices. It is estimated that 80% of the patients attending private clinics are on some kind of medical insurance plan. Some 225 clinics are affiliated, and some 8,000 physicians.
Yesterday, 80 member physicians of the Dominican Society of Neurology said they are resigning from their contracts with medical insurance companies in protest for the low fees paid for their services. This was the first association of specialists to cancel their contracts with the medical insurers.
The clinics and physicians gripes:
The medical insurance companies are making a 50% profit. The medical insurance companies delay up to 90 days in making payments for their services, despite getting paid in advance by affiliated companies or individuals (individuals need to pay an entire year in advance).
Physicians are paid RD$60-RD$160 for seeing a patient and RD$100-RD$300/day for seeing a patient that is hospitalized. Physicians charge their private patients five to ten times that amount.
Insurance companies do not differentiate when paying a specialist or a generalist.
Contracts prohibit them from charging insured patients more than minimal difference (about RD$20).
Insurance companies make the same per service payments regardless of the equipment and facilities offered by the clinic.
Medical insurance companies position:
The medical insurance companies gathered under the Cámara Dominicana de Aseguradores (CADOAR) say they have signed contracts individually with the clinics and physicians. They say they will only negotiate on an individual basis with clinics and physicians. They say that they provide volume for the clinics and physicians, and thus the reduced price for the service.
They have said they will cancel the contracts with clinics or physicians that unilaterally do not respect the clauses.

Legal stamps prices go up by 1000%
The government increased legal stamps in some cases from RD$1 to RDR$100 effective 1 September. The increase is to help pay for the salary increase Congress granted public hospital physicians working in state hospitals. The salary increase was the result of several months of pressure by the Dominican Medical Association. The government by way of Law 80-99 modifies Law 2254 dating back to 1950 which established taxes on public documents.

US seeks extradition of 130 Dominicans
The US government wants the DR to proceed with the extradition of 130 Dominicans, most sought to be tried for homicide, drug trafficking, organized crime or money laundering. The individuals have sought refuge in their home land. On the list to be deported is a former DR ambassador to the United Nations, Rafael González Pantaleón, who was sentenced for Medicare fraud. News reports state that most of those who are sought roam free in the DR, have not been located by Dominican security authorities, or have returned clandestinely to the US.

Theater Season starts 3 September
The National Theater's drama season resumes on 3 September with the presentation of the play, "Bachata para María Viveza." This play will last through 26 September.
Radhamés Polanco wrote and directs this play that was chosen "best drama" by Casa de Teatro in 1997.
The action takes place primarily in a brothel. Actors play the role of eight Dominican stereotypes.
The play will be shown 3-5 September, 8-12 September, 15-19 September, 22-26 September at 10 am and 8:30 pm at the Sala Ravelo.
Starring roles are played by Laura Guzmán (María Viveza), Henry Mercedes (Pedro Baile), Ramón Matrille (Deputy Medina Rubirosa), Clara Luz Lozano (Maria Paulino), and Doris Sánchez (Rosa Velorio). The play is produced by Mariela Freundt.
This weekend, the National Theater's main hall is showing a comedy, "Estoy amando a mi suegra," a Roberto Salcedo production.
The National Theater's drama season continues with:
"Creonte" from 1 October to 7 November; "La Trinitaria Blanca," from 12 November to 5 December and "Chicken Cordon Blue," from 14 January to 6 February.

Presidente Beer Summer Games in Boca Chica this weekend
Presidente Beer is sponsoring what is being called its Summer Games. Sumo fights (with contenders inside inflated balloon sumo costumes), races, roulette, beach volleyball and other games are scheduled. There will also be live music with some of the top rock groups, including Al Jadaqui and Toque Profundo, as well as the participation of leading DJs.
The final location for the games is in Boca Chica, this 5 September. The games were held previously in Salinas Baní; and Cabarete, Puerto Plata.

Sammy Sosa is still ahead
Sammy Sosa continues to lead the home run race, with four home runs more than Mark McGwire. Both Sosa and McGwire batted home runs yesterday, placing their marks at 52 McGwire and 56 Sosa. McGwire has 134 games to go, while Sosa has 132 games to go.

Tie in the finals of Basketball Championship
San Lazaro tied the finals of the Santo Domingo Basketball Championship, defeating Mauricio Baez 109-88. The series is now tied 2-2. The fifth game will be played on Friday at 8 pm at the newly remodeled Sports Palace of the Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic Center in Santo Domingo.

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