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Daily News - Thursday, 11 January 2007

Leonel attends Nicaragua inaugural
President Leonel Fernandez arrived in Nicaragua at noon local time (2pm in the DR) yesterday and was received by Nicaraguan Foreign Minister William Stale at Managua's airport. Fernandez was in Nicaragua to attend President Daniel Ortega's inauguration. Once in Nicaragua, Fernandez attended a luncheon held by outgoing President Enrique Bolanos and his wife Lila de Bolanos. During the ceremonies held in the Non-Alligned States Square, Fernandez and the 15 other attending Presidents received the "Nicaragua Libre" medal celebrating Latin American Unity. Daniel Ortega himself presented Fernandez with his medal. The President is scheduled to return to the DR today.

Energy law approved
Yesterday the Senate approved a modification to the General Energy Law in two consecutive readings. The project will now be sent to the Chamber of Deputies for review and final congressional approval. The legislation, through clause 125-1, also includes penalties and fines for individuals and companies consuming more than 1,000 kWh who are found stealing or defrauding the electric companies. The legislation also specifies that the energy distributors cannot deny anyone a new contract, even if the property in question has an outstanding debt.
In case the energy distributors make an error in energy consumption or billing, the consumer will be compensated with 10 times the value of the kilowatts per hour that was erroneously billed. When energy stolen equals less than 1,000 kilowatts per hour, the penalty will be between three and five minimum salaries and five to 10 days in jail. Theft of more than 1,000 kilowatts per hour will be subject to a fine of 10 minimum salaries. If energy stolen equals more than 2,000 kilowatts per hours, the punishment will be between 10 to 20 minimum salaries and 10 to 20 days in jail. And finally, anyone caught stealing between 20 and 100 kilojoules will be punished with between three months and three years of jail and between 40 and 320 minimum salaries in fines. The bill leaves the lifting of the fraud or theft charge against an individual or company to the discretion of the Electricity Superintendent.

Resolving birth certificate problem
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) is to work together with UNICEF, the Catholic Church, the Evangelical community and NGOs to provide legal documentation to all Dominicans who have no birth certificates, and by default cedula identity cards. The plan, which according to the JCE will take 10 years, seeks to issue birth certificates to 42% of the population. It is estimated that 26% of Dominicans do not have cedula identity cards. Diario Libre writes that the plan will create a late birth registration office, and that social workers and lawyers will be contracted to work with the program. In parallel, bills will be submitted to Congress to ease the issue of the late declarations. JCE president Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman says that it is shameful that so many Dominicans don't exist officially and expressed the JCE's commitment to the program.

UASD goes digital
The UASD University has registered 57,000 students through its online registration program. Using this system, students can sign up for classes, change courses and check their grades, all with a click of a button. As for re-registration payments, school officials have decided to postpone payment until they come up with a debit card system that also serves as a student identification card. Dean Roberto Reyna says that the process should be completed by 21 January and that the university is examining the possibility of applying measures to reduce the number of subjects that are dropped by students, which last semester was around 50%. Reyna assures that the new digital system would also reduce the amount of clashes when selecting classes, which leads to some classes being dropped.

Fast pace for Metro construction
Amidst increasing criticism, Metro construction is progressing at a fast pace. El Caribe newspaper reports that many of the 16 stations on the first Metro line are now at the finishing stages. Yesterday workers at the Hermanas Mirabal station erected three 25-ton beams that will support the Metro. Stations at the Mirador del Norte are proceeding quickly and the one at Villa Mella reportedly has windows and has been painted. The government aims to complete the Metro in 2008.

Speeding up budget approvals
Presidency Technical Minister Temistocles Montas is proposing a measure aimed at speeding up the country's annual budget approval process. Montas is proposing that the Executive Branch submit the yearly budget proposal by 1 October at the latest each year, giving legislators 75 days or until 15 December to approve the project. United Nations Development Program national representative Miguel Ceara Hatton says that this is a good move because it would prevent the situation where the country enters the year without an approved budget, which in the past has allowed the government to use the previous year's budget and surplus funds at its discretion.

Government aids Central Bank
The Dominican government plans to issue 50-year bonds in order to cover the deficit accumulated by the Central Bank, which according to Listin Diario was at RD$202 billion in 2005. These figures were provided by accounting firm Waterhouse Coopers. Waterhouse points out that article 82 of the monetary law 183-02 on 21 November of 2002 establishes that the government will cover the accumulated Central Bank deficit beginning one year after the legislation went into effect.

It looks like the Dominican Republic might finally be ready to enter DR-CAFTA after all. Industry and Commerce Minister Francisco Javier Garcia says that the DR has done its part to fulfill all the requirements set forth by the United States for the implementation of the agreement that was signed in 2004. The most recent delay to the country's entry into the free trade agreement was resolution 148-06 on the transport of fuels, but Garcia said that the US Trade Representative's Office does not object to the resolution. Garcia explained that the resolution has nothing to do with DR-CAFTA and that the US Trade Representative's Office had only inquired about the resolution.

Flyash case going to trial
Lawyers for the Dominican government and the AES Corporation did not reach a last minute agreement yesterday, meaning that the case will go to trial on 5 March. The case will be heard in the state of Virginia by Judge Gerald Bruce Lee. According to a press release by the Ministry of Environment, the government tried its hardest to reach an agreement with AES whereby AES would accept responsibility, preventing a lengthy trial, but unfortunately, they explained that AES didn't make the same efforts. The Dominican government wants AES to remove the more than 80,000 tons of flyash (rockash) dumped in Samana and Montecristi provinces, and repair the damage caused to the environment. The Dominican government is suing AES and Robert Charles Fina for US$80 million.

Big increase for freight
The cost of transported goods will increase by 35%, announced the National Federation of Dominican Transport (Fenatrado), the association of truck owners that has a practical monopoly on goods transportation in the DR. Business representatives warned that this would increase retail prices by between 10 to 20%. Both transporters and traders blame the recently passed fiscal reform for the imminent price increases. Miguel Sang Ben, executive director of the Dominican Traders Federation, said that Fenatrado's increase in domestic freight costs would be paid for by the consumer. Fenatrado leader Blas Peralta says that the freight shipping price rises are the result of a 40% increase in the new taxes affecting Fenatrado truckers' operations.
The January 2007 tax revision included increases in taxes on diesel, gasoline, insurance, and vehicle licenses, among other new charges. The 35% increase will go into effect on 25 January.

Government aids Central Bank
The Dominican government plans to issue 50-year bonds to cover the deficit accumulated by the Central Bank, which according to Listin Diario was at RD$202 billion in 2005. These figures were provided by accounting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers. Price Waterhouse points out that article 82 of Monetary Law 183-02 on 21 November of 2002 establishes that the government would cover the accumulated Central Bank deficit beginning one year after the legislation went into effect.
On the date that the Monetary Law was applied, 3 December 2002, this was valued at RD$39.1 million and Listin Diario writes that the accumulated deficit is for losses dating back to the foundation of the bank in 1947 and through the banking crisis of 2003.

Maternity ward reports abortion numbers
The Nuestra Senora de La Altagracia Hospital, the largest maternity facility in the country, registered 6,000 abortions in 2006, 80% of which were performed on girls between the ages of 15 and 19. The hospital reported the births of 27,000 babies in 2006. Also in 2006, the ward registered 21 maternal deaths in childbirth, as reported in Hoy. Hospital director Dr. Cid Troncoso said that abortions make up a third of pregnancy cases treated at the hospital. He said that abortions are a serious problem that needs to be addressed by families, educators and the health sector. The doctor added that the health issues surrounding abortion are compounded because many women try to abort and end up with infections and complications as a result. Seven percent of the women treated at the hospital are illegal Haitian immigrants, he explained. Dr. Troncoso mentioned the case of one illegal Haitian woman that cost the hospital RD$360,000. He said that patients are treated regardless of nationality, and that difficult cases are referred from hospitals along the border, where women with birthing difficulties come from Haiti seek attendance. He specified that cases of Haitian women with hypertension, acute renal deficiency, anemia and diabetic problems are commonly referred from border hospitals.
The overall maternal mortality rate in 2004 decreased from 170 to 150 deaths per 100,000 and decreased even further in 2005 to 130 deaths per 100,000 live births. In 2006 the figure dropped to 110 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Meanwhile, Hoy newspaper quotes Tad Palac, UNICEF's representative in the DR, as saying that the country has not made any progress in reducing child mortality. He said that most recent reports have the DR down as registering 35 deaths of children under the age of five per 1,000 births. He said that child mortality and primary education indicators for the DR are below those of countries with similar economic levels.

Tremor shakes up DR
A tremor, registered at 4.8 on the Richter scale, was felt in the northeastern part of the country yesterday. No injuries were reported. The tremor was registered at 5:34am at latitude north, 60 kilometers northeast of Samana. The National Seismological Institute said that the slight earthquake was felt in La Romana, El Seybo, Hato Mayor, Santo Domingo, Salcedo, La Vega, Duarte and other parts of the Cibao region. The depth of the quake, which lasted three seconds, was 135 kilometers, and according to reports, the tremor was felt strongest near the center of Samana province in the northeast.

108 repatriated from US
The United States Immigration Department has sent 108 Dominicans who have completed sentences for various crimes in US jails back to the Dominican Republic. Diario Libre reports that close to 6,000 Dominicans who are serving sentences in the US for crimes are due to be repatriated back to the DR this year.

Police catches kidnappers
National Police has apprehended Gabriel Felipe Espinal, the 38-year old alleged ringleader of a band that on 25 November 2006 kidnapped Swiss national Heinz Andre Eicherberbady and his partner Leyda Altagracia Batista. The couple was kidnapped outside their home in the Palomas section of Santiago. The police also reports having arrested a 22-year old suspect in connection with the case. The pair was taken as hostage to Puerto Plata where the police found and rescued them.

Lovewrecked on ABC
Lovewrecked, a movie filmed almost entirely at the Sun Village Resort and Spa in Puerto Plata, will be shown through ABC affiliate channels in the DR and United States on 21 January at 9pm. Amanda Bytes, Chris Carmack (The O.C) Jonathan Bennet, Jaime-Lynn DiScala (The Sopranos), Fred Willard, Kathy Griffin and Lance Bass all appear in the film. The film is about a young girl who finds herself on a deserted island with her musical idol. The movie was filmed in 2004 and released in 2005. Derek Elliot, who is the CEO and President of the Elliot Group is also the organizer of the Dominican Film Festival held in Puerto Plata each November.

Gigantes still in the lead
After losing to the Gigantes last night, Licey now faces an uphill battle for the rest of the post-season. As things are developing, Licey must play near perfect ball the rest of the way if they are to make it to the finals. Last night Licey faced up against the powerful Gigantes and lost 4-1. The Gigantes sustained their winning streak and are in first place with the win, while the Aguilas slipped all the way back to three games from the first place spot. In last night's other game, the Aguilas remained in the hunt as they beat up on the Azucareros 3-0 and are now only one game back from the Gigantes. The Azucareros, the weakest of the four teams in the semi-finals, are now out of the contest. The Azucareros lost all 10 games they played this post-season.
Tonight's games
* Estadio Julian Javier 7:30pm
Licey vs Gigantes
* Estadio Cibao 8pm
Azucareros vs. Aguilas
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