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Daily News - Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Constitution proposal and Congress
Presidential Minister Temistocles Montas is proposing a Constitutional amendment that would oblige the Dominican Congress to pass the nation's budget within a 75-day period [Congress actually passed the budget in less than a week this year], decide on loan proposals within a 60-day window and a 15-day period for submitting a piece of legislation to the President for his signature. The proposal was made during the discussions on constitutional reform being held at the PUCMM campus in Santo Domingo, and caused quite a stir, according to El Caribe. One of the key points in the proposal was the suggestion that if international loan packages were not approved by Congress within the timeframe, they would be considered automatically valid. Another element of the proposal was that Congress could modify budget assignments with a two-thirds majority in both houses. The Dominican ambassador in Washington, Flavio Dario Espinal, a former dean of the PUCMM law school and constitutional expert, said that it would be prudent to proceed very cautiously with such a proposal since it might force the Congress into a "marginal position."

Navy gets more swiftboats
Two more Dominican Navy vessels have returned to duty after a complete refit at the Swiftships Naval Yard in Morgan City, Louisiana. The refit is part of the Sentinels of the Sea program, in coordination with the United States. The newly refitted boats are the Aldebaran (GC-104) and the Capella (GC-108). A new swiftboat, the Arturo (GC-114) and a refitted Orion (GC-109) are expected to enter service in April. According to the reports in El Caribe and Diario Libre, Armed Forces Minister Ramon Aquino Garcia said that the boats would be used to control illegal immigration to Puerto Rico as well as serving on drug detection missions. The swiftboats were first commissioned during the Vietnam War when they were used to patrol South Vietnamese rivers. They were famous for their powerful engines and efficient patrols, as well as for the weaponry on board. The 10-person crew will enjoy the latest electronic equipment and navigation systems as a result of the US$20 million program.

Parking meters work well in Santiago
The first four months of the use of parking meters in the central part of downtown Santiago de los Caballeros has been deemed a success, far exceeding expectations. There are 157 parking spaces with meters, and they are used for 30,000 minutes per day by an average of 1,500 vehicles. According to many of the drivers interviewed by Listin Diario reporter Pedro Jimenez, the flow of traffic in the area has improved markedly.

Education will not change texts so often
The Dominican Senate has approved a measure that will limit the Ministry of Education's ability to change public school textbooks. The proposal gives the National Education Council the capacity to make rational use of the texts in keeping with the nation's socio-economic conditions. The proposal, authored by Santiago PLD Senator Francisco Dominguez Brito, establishes a four-year term for texts. In the past, texts were changed quite frequently, often on a yearly basis, and this created a huge economic pressure on poor families. The proposal was passed unanimously by the 29 senators present.

Public debt rises to US$13 billion
Another economist, Miguel Ceara Hatton, currently the national director of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), says that every Dominican is born with a personal debt of US$1,400. According to Ceara Hatton, the interest payments are having a great influence on the national debt, and will limit the government's ability to face up to important social issues. The United Nations delegate said that it was a serious mistake to assign US$450 million to subsidize the electricity sector, while only 20% would benefit the poorest barrios. Ceara Hatton expressed his concern that public expenditures be better spent during the coming year. According to the UNDP projections, the current economic situation should continue and education and health should be bettered.

Vega warns on Metro funding
Economist and former Dominican Central Bank governor Bernardo Vega has warned that Metro funding for 2007 will increase the pressure on public spending during the year. At the same time, Vega asked if the Metro would be managed by a foreign firm that is well versed in the management of a rapid transit system or a member of the current political party in power, the PLD. According to Hoy newspaper, the respected economist also asked whether a permanent subsidy would be created for the Metro, and wondered what the fare rates would be. Vega also pointed out that the loan packages for equipping the rail system were not approved during 2006 because the government was already above the borrowing limit established in the IMF stand-by arrangement. The former Dominican ambassador to the US also reminded reporters that the imminent DR-CAFTA agreement would also include the purchase of many items that are still needed to complete the Metro system. DR-CAFTA should have been implemented in 2006, but the government has delayed passing required complementary legislation into 2007. Vega interprets the rush to approve the different loan packages as an attempt to avoid the restriction on public bids required by the free trade agreement. In his general comments, Vega also said that the impact of the trade agreement would be felt this year with "a new culture in the public administration and in the handling of business in the private sector." He warned that 2008 would be a very difficult year when the government will have to address the bulging quasi-fiscal debt. On the positive side he mentioned that there are expectations for dropping US interest rates and international petroleum prices, while export prices continue strong. He also forecast the DR-CAFTA will stimulate new investment.

Trucking natural gas vs. pipeline
Business consultant Federico Martinez writes in today's Hoy that the government should consider following in Argentina and Brazil's footsteps and trucking natural gas instead of building the proposed US$25 million pipeline from Andres, Boca Chica to San Pedro de Macoris, to be paid by Dominican taxpayer money. The pipeline would be part of the plan to convert the Cogentrix power plant to natural gas. At present, its operation with diesel is not cost-effective. Martinez also suggests, as a second option, if the government decides to go ahead with the pipeline, to include pipes that allow residential, commercial and industrial connections along the 50-kilometer stretch. The pipeline would pass in front of all the hotels in Juan Dolio and major industries in San Pedro (sugar mill, rum distillery, other power plants, cement factory, etc).
See www.tomandoencuenta.blogspot.com

Yet another CAFTA stumbling block
The United States Trade Representative has made a new demand that will apparently stall the country's entry into the DR-CAFTA trade agreement. The US Trade Representative has objected to Rule 148 recently issued by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce (SEIC). This ministerial decree concerns fuel transportation within the Dominican Republic, and imposes restrictions on the size of the vehicles used to carry fuels. The USTR objections also deal with the consumer tax on vehicles and just how the tax is to be collected. Yesterday, technical director of the Customs Department urged government departments to previously harmonize new legislation with the international conventions that have been signed by the government.

Supreme Court sets paternity standards
The Dominican Republic Supreme Court has set a new series of criteria relating to paternity suits and the legal recognition of children. The high court now recognizes the use of DNA testing to confirm paternity and accepts the tests as exceptions to those offered to the presumption of non-paternity as contained in Article 312 of the Civil Code. The case proceeded from an appeal relating to a child who was apparently not the son of a woman's husband. The tribunal also acted on the situation of children born out of wedlock. Called "natural" children in Dominican jurisprudence, these children could be the result of adultery, incest or relations between an unmarried couple. According to the court, denial of parental recognition of these children was in violation of the Constitution and the International Convention on the Rights of Children. The court said that all children have the right to be recognized, above and beyond the relationship that procreated them, and therefore the parents may not deny the child the proper last names s/he is entitled to.

A special cell phone court
The Supreme Court has created a special tribunal for dealing with cases involving stolen cell phones. The Attorney General and the Supreme Court have authorized the court to hear complaints 14 hours a day in an attempt to slow the pace of this petty thievery. An assistant district attorney and a judge will be on 24-hour duty to hear cases. Head of the Dominican Institute for Telecommunications (INDOTEL), Jose Rafael Vargas released the news to El Caribe reporters. Vargas said that the Supreme Court had offered INDOTEL the services of the Judicial Offices of Permanent Attention to combat the wave of stolen cell phones. According to the INDOTEL press release, Vargas requested similar assistance from the Attorney General. According to Vargas, the 24/7 judicial service will speed up the process of getting the warrants that are needed to secure important information about the stolen cell phones from the cell phone service provider.

Wheat shortage fears
The use of wheat to generate ethanol fuel may well foretell an increase in prices for local wheat products for human and animal consumption. Recently, wheat prices increased 40% compared to 2005 prices. There are five major wheat importers in the Dominican Republic, and they import approximately 350,000 metric tons per year. According to the United States Department of Agriculture and industry sources, both wheat sales and wheat exports are down by over 20% per week, down from an average of 2.8 million tons of wheat exported each week. For the 2006-2007 period an average weekly export level is set at 2.2 million tons.

Deadly results
Six men died violently in a series of armed robberies and police actions in Santo Domingo, San Francisco de Macoris and Villa Altagracia yesterday. The owner-manager of a currency exchange establishment on Tiradentes Avenue in Santo Domingo was killed by his assailants. The police killed one and arrested two of the thieves, but another escaped. The police also recovered money and arms taken from the exchange house. A truck driver was killed by assailants in Villa Altagracia. In San Francisco de Macoris province, police killed three of the four thieves who tried to rob the Karlen Pawn Shop in the town of Pimentel. The fourth member of the gang managed to escape. Curiously, one of the dead assailants, Gerson Kery, had been convicted and sentenced to 20 years prison for murder, but no explanation was available as to why he was on the streets.

Nine named in Pensions case
The Department for Prevention of Corruption (Depreco), has formally requested that the coordinating magistrate at the Santo Domingo courts of instruction authorize an order to remand Ministry of Finance Pensions Department director Servio Tulio Suncar Liriano, and sub-director Isabel Soto Santana into preventive custody. Both are accused of being part of the ring that collected thousands of pesos each month in fraudulent pension checks. Octavio Lister, the head of Depreco, told Diario Libre reporters that the ring used to contact people, offering them "government assistance" of one or two thousand pesos per month, but retained the beneficiary's check card. According to the case files, the people collecting this "government assistance" were being issued checks for RD$30,000 or RD$55,000 each month. Lister said that his investigators had found 27 different accounts at Banco de Reservas where the money was deposited.

Contraband had a common owner
The 34 containers involved in one of the major contraband scandals of 2006 are part of a group of 284 that the Customs Department has considered "suspicious" since March 2006. Even though customs authorities have not revealed the names and companies involved in the case, Diario Libre newspaper reporters have discovered, through legal sources, that the contraband was seized from three businesses that all belong to one group, operating from one address and that have the same boards of directors. The companies are called Gray Marbel Investment, registered at the Internal Revenue Department in 2004, CGV Comercial and Inversiones Brea Urea, registered in 2006. All three are based at Los Cerezos Street, #7 in the Los Prados section of Santo Domingo. During the investigation, it emerged that Gray Marbel Investment was sold by the firm Asesores Juridicos y Financieros, SA to Plutarco Ernersto Gonzalez on 22 February 2006. Gonzalez is currently in jail facing murder charges for the death of humorist Milton Pelaez. The sale was for RD$150,000. As Diario Libre points out, all three companies had many of their directorships in common.

Fernandez chooses Miguel Vargas?
Writing in today's Hoy newspaper, Raimundo Tirado says that President Leonel Fernandez has chosen PRD pre-candidate Miguel Vargas Maldonado as his contender for the 2008 presidential election because he is a vulnerable candidate. Tirado comments that the PLD knows that former Vice President Milagros Ortiz Bosch could attract the hundreds of thousands of voters that voted for Fernandez (PLD) in 2004 but whose expectations were not met. He also comments she could attract traditional PLD members who feel that the new PLD politicians have distanced themselves from party founder Juan Bosch's teachings. Meanwhile, Vargas Maldonado, a former Minister of Public Works in the Mejia administration and beneficiary of major transactions with the government, has already spent millions on posters nationwide announcing his candidacy for President. Polls show him positioned to win the PRD candidacy in the upcoming PRD primary.

Baseball results
Randy Leek was a maestro last night and held the very strong Aguilas Cibaenas to just four hits and one earned run as the Tigres del Licey defeated the Aguilas 5-1 in Santo Domingo. Leek was the star of the evening as he pitched a complete game that lasted just two hours and 23 minutes. Jose Bautista was the big bat for the Tigres with four runs batted in.
Over in La Romana, the hapless Azucareros fell once again, 8-3, to the league leading Gigantes del Cibao. The game was not even close, with the Gigantes leading 3-1 going into the fourth inning, they exploded for three runs in the top half of the inning and sealed the victory. Pedro Feliz drove in three runs and reached a total of 11 for the round robin series.
Team W-L Avg. Games Behind
Gigantes 9 - 3 .750 --
Aguilas 8 - 4 .667 1.0
Licey 7 - 5 .583 2.0
Azucareros 0 - 12 .000 9.0

Tonight's games
* Santo Domingo: Estadio Quisqueya 7:30pm
Gigantes vs. Licey
* La Romana: Estadio Francisco Micheli 7:30pm
Aguilas vs. Azucareros
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