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Daily News - Thursday, 01 February 2007

Spotlight on Aura Celeste
The fact that magistrate Aura Celeste Fernandez (no relation to President Leonel Fernandez) has four government jobs is apparently supplying grist to the nasty rumor mill. Last Friday the magistrate, who is in charge of the disputes chamber at the JCE criticized the fact that entire families held jobs in certain Central Electoral Board (JCE) departments. She was also critical of the RD$66,000 "incentive" that is added to judges' salaries. Lawyer Fernandez was appointed to a seat on the Central Electoral Board in November, and apparently, according to Listin Diario, her multiple functions are being used to get back at her. Fernandez is currently the director of the National School for Prosecutors, the president of the Health Bioethics Commission and a member of the select team of jurists overseeing the constitutional reform program. Her critics are saying that all these functions are unethical and violate the law. When reporters from the newspaper approached Fernandez, she informed them that the other three jobs were indeed hers, but she was no longer drawing salaries for them and would be resigning in February in order to devote all her time to the JCE. The eminent jurist told the reporters that her recent appointment to the JCE did not give her enough time to finish some important work at the other three institutions, and she did "not want to leave things half-finished."
Attorney General Radhames Jimenez Pena said that Fernandez had resigned from her post at the prosecutors' school but was staying on to tie up loose ends at his request. He praised her work at the school, saying that she had raised students' professional levels to the highest standards of efficiency.
Former JCE judge Sully Bonelly explained that the RD$66,000 incentive for JCE judges was added on through a resolution during the administration that was appointed in 1998, which replaced the board of judges on which he and Aura Celeste Fernandez first served. The members of that board were Manuel Ramon Morel Cerda, Luis Arias, Ana Teresa Perez, Luis Ramon Cordero and Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman (the current JCE president).
Fernandez on last Friday explained that she declined the incentive because she understands it to be against the law, as it was created to compensate the judges for income tax and pension fund deductions. The JCE wages amount to RD$225,000 a month, plus the RD$66,000 incentive, RD$35,000 in per diem, plus other benefits such as a vehicle.
JCE president Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman said that he would ask the Chamber of Accounts, the government auditing office, for their expert opinion on the legality of the incentive.
In an editorial column, Diario Libre comments today that while Aura Celeste may be "impulsive, direct and to the point, it is because she is honest, a quality that is very rare among the men and women serving in office, and she is a woman of proven moral convictions." The newspaper further describes her as a "pure woman, decent, sweet, respectful and with integrity, for the good of the country, like it or not. If only everyone in every government office was like Aura Celeste."

No consensus for Electricity Law changes
Members of the business sector and the government's energy cabinet met for three hours yesterday but were not able to come to an agreement about the renegotiations of the General Electricity Law 125-01. State Run Electricity Company (CDEEE) head Radhames Segura is still optimistic that a consensus will be met. Business sector representatives agree on stipulations that would make electricity fraud a crime, but do not agree with changes that would affect the non-regulated power user provisions contained in the Electricity Law. Large industries have benefited from being able to disconnect from the electricity distribution companies and connect directly to the transmission lines. The power price reductions are crucial to the survival of several of the companies that have adhered to the program, and to others that have requested adhesion under the terms of the present law.
As reported, the government has made a commitment to incorporate the provision to criminalize electricity fraud and thus reduce the needed government electricity subsidy in its talks with the International Monetary Fund before the 14 February review of the current IMF Stand-by arrangement letter of intent. Since Congress breaks until 27 February, the government may now need to ask the IMF for a special dispensation.

100 public works projects to be finished
The government announced yesterday that by the end of this year 100 public works projects will be completed with a total spend of RD$7.5 billion. Public Works Minister Freddy Perez said that President Leonel Fernandez had promised the public these important works during the first year of his second presidential term. Perez said that the goal is to finish 273 projects in all, 100 this year. Perez said that at least two works in every province would be completed. Perez said that 150 projects would be finished next year. The minister added that of the total investment to finish the projects, RD$6 billion will come from the national budget and RD$1.5 billion will come from a Banco Reservas credit line. The government did not list the works in question.

Salary Committee meets today
The National Salaries Committee (CNS) is meeting today to discuss salary increases for private sector workers. The meeting is scheduled for 10am. A consensus is being sought but Diario Libre reports that labor unions and employers are not willing to budge from their positions. The private sector is offering a 12% wage increase on minimum salaries, taking into account inflation over the last two years. Labor representatives, however, are pushing for a 50% wage increase for employees who make up to RD$30,000 per month. Diario Libre points out that the CNS only has the legal capacity to revise the minimum salaries, but doesn't have the power to enforce any changes.

Delays in diplomatic wages
An unnamed Dominican diplomat is claiming that diplomats in international postings have not received their paychecks since November and that this is making life extremely difficult, because life in the countries they are posted to is very expensive. The diplomat, who is quoted in Diario Libre, says that this situation reflects the fact that the Ministry of Foreign Relations is not supportive of its foreign service. The diplomat also expressed concerns about President Leonel Fernandez's proposal to reduce salaries of the diplomatic corps abroad. The diplomat said that it is worrisome because some diplomats can barely get by on what they currently earn.
The Ministry denied the diplomat's allegations, as did Presidential Administrative Secretary Luis Manuel Bonetti. Bonetti says that if checks haven't arrived, it's because they get sent by courier.
The press frequently carries reports on the excess number of jobs at most diplomatic missions. Embassy personnel stationed abroad are often political appointees without any significant work functions at the missions. These extra appointees often become an inconvenience for staff members who are actually doing the work.

Warning AMET about breathalyzers
Julio Demorizi, a doctor specializing in infectious diseases, is warning Metropolitan Transit Authority officers (AMET) that repeat use of the tips on the new breathalyzers may be dangerous as it would be a conduit for transmitting disease and infections. Demorizy says that the tips on the machines should be disposable, as is the case in the United States. He said that AMET officers should break open the plastic for a new tip in front of the driver before testing and the tip should not be stored in the trunk of the police vehicle for re-use. If this is not done, the driver should have the right to refuse the breath test, in Dr. Demorizi's opinion.

Unions want debt cancellation
During yesterday's first meeting between OPRET (Office for the Reorganization of Transport) and the transportation unions, the subject at hand was money. As they seek to solve a range issues in order to prevent a public transport strike in the coming months, the unions presented the idea of offsetting debts that the government and the unions have with each other. According to the unions, the government owes them RD$245 million in compensation for the OMSA buses on certain routes that the unionized bus owners claim as theirs and the unions acknowledge that they owe the government RD$800 million for vehicles purchased under the Plan Renove, implemented by the previous administration to help drivers obtain new vehicles under very advantageous conditions. Juan Hubieres, head of the Fenatrano transport union, said that a new transportation policy plan that they are working on after meeting with the President last week would be presented to the President, probably by next Tuesday.

Villa Juana to get 24-hour power
Santo Domingo's Villa Juana area will now get 24 hours of power. EdeEste guaranteed the 24-hour service after 30,000 Villa Juana residents signed a social contract promising to pay their electricity bills in full and on time. The agreement is part of a plan by EdeEste to provide power to communities that pledge to pay their bills. EdeEste has successfully implemented this plan in several towns in the east of the country, but Villa Juana is the first Santo Domingo neighborhood to officially become a "24-hour power community".
Jesus Bolinaga from EdeEste, Santo Domingo Mayor Roberto Salcedo, Electricity Superintendent Francisco Mendez and Kevin Manning from the American Chamber of Commerce were at the signing ceremony. Representatives of Villa Juana church groups, schools, sports clubs and community centers also attended the event.

DR becomes BCIE member
Belize, Panama and the Dominican Republic have become strategic members of the Central American Economic Integration Bank (BCIE). BCIE president Harry Brautigam commended the three countries, describing their joining the Bank as an unprecedented event. The BCIE is the largest financial institution in Central America. The DR imported US$366 million from and exported US$47 million to Central America in 2005 and has a free trade agreement in place. For more information about the BCIE click here: http://www.bcie.org/english/index.php

Quirino money handed over
The sums of RD$11.3 million and US$53,000 have been handed over to the National Committee for Laundered Assets by the National District prosecutors office. The money came from interests accrued on properties that were confiscated from former military captain Quirino Ernesto Paulino Castillo. Quirino (as he is known) is in jail in the United States awaiting trial on drug charges. The money will be distributed among organizations that help people recover from drug addiction. Law 72-02 on laundered money stipulates that assets seized from illegal activities will be distributed among various government organizations. Fifty per cent will be given to the Drug Control Department (DNCD), 35% to the National Drugs Council (CND), and the remaining 15% will be given to the organizations that fight drug use.

US proposes increase in costs
The United States government is proposing to increase the costs of obtaining citizenship and becoming a permanent resident. If accepted, the proposal would double citizenship costs and almost triple permanent residence costs. US Citizenship Immigration Services (CIS) announced that citizenship services would increase from US$330 to US$595 and permanent residence services would increase from US$325 to US$905. This would represent an 80% increase. A spokesperson for the CIS said that the increase in costs would speed up the process and that the government hopes to collect US$2 billion in two years, if the measure is passed.

DJ Tiesto at the kartodromo
World famous Dutch DJ Tiesto will be performing at the Don Julian Barcelo Go-Kart track near the Feria Ganadera on Santo Domingo's Malecon this weekend. Tiesto, who is making his third appearance in the Dominican Republic, is ranked as the No. 1 electronic music DJ in the world. Tickets are on sale at Tickets Express and through the Presidente beer website. The show takes place on Saturday 3 February.

Sanky Panky in theaters today
The long-awaited comedy "Sanky Panky" premieres in Dominican theaters tonight. The movie stars Fausto Mata (Boca de Piano), Tony Pascual (Pachuli) and Cassandra Award winner Aquiles Correa in a comedy based around the male sex workers known as Sankie Pankies in the DR. Jose Enrique Pintor is the executive producer of this RD$10 million movie.

Juan Luis premieres new video
Dominican singer/composer Juan Luis Guerra's music video for his latest song "La llave de mi corazon," has its first screening on Dominican television this evening. The premiere will be at 8pm and the video will be shown on channels 2, 5, 7, 9, 11 and channel 10 on Telecable.

Baseball update
DR baseball champions the Aguilas Cibaenas are about to embark on a quest to bring back the Caribbean Series championship to the Dominican Republic. They will be competing against current champions Venezuela and archrivals Puerto Rico, as well as Mexico in the series that starts in San Juan, Puerto Rico tomorrow. Big leaguers Miguel Tejada and Luis Polonia are on the team. This year's backups are pitchers Jose Capellan, Joel Peralta and Julio de Paula, outfielder Nelson Cruz and second base Anderson Hernandez. Each team is allowed to choose five players from any other team in the league as backups in the Serie del Caribe.
For more current events, see www.dr1.com/calendar
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