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Daily News - Monday, 05 February 2007

Public hearings on reform are over
President Leonel Fernandez formally closed the process of public hearings on the constitutional reform proposals during a ceremony at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) late on Friday. The coordinator of the Constitutional Reform Commission, Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado, said "the reformed Constitution and the suggestions that are accepted will constitute an important contribution to the resolution of problems by institutional means."
One result of the hearings was that most people supported presidential re-election and rejected the proposal to allow voting by members of the military or the police. Over 80% of the people wanted more requirements for obtaining Dominican citizenship. An almost unanimous suggestion was to reduce the time between elections and the swearing-in of the new authorities.

Saudi investments imminent?
Minister of Foreign Relations Carlos Morales Troncoso has held a meeting with Saudi Arabian ambassador in the US Turki al-Faisal in Washington, D.C to complete the protocol for his visit to Saudi Arabia on 12-16 February. Morales will initiate final talks for the establishment of diplomatic relations between both countries as well as meeting with King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz during his visit.
Reportedly, Ambassador Al-Faisal, who is nephew to the Saudi Arabian King, has indicated that his country is interested in carrying out important investments in the DR.
Morales Troncoso will visit Saudi Arabia at the invitation of his colleague Saud al Faisal, brother of the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington. Al Faisal visited the DR last year and was received by President Leonel Fernandez.
Petroleum consultant H. Delano Roosevelt, grandson of the late US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and electricity investor, Rolando Gonzalez Bunster also took part in the meeting.

Getting to know the breathalyzers
Jose Jaquez of the Metropolitan Transport Authority (AMET) has explained the workings of the breathalyzers purchased by the state in an effort to reduce drunk driving. He told press reporters that the level of alcohol would be shown by the colors of the apparatus in a range of 0.075 mg/L to 0.75 mg/L. Drivers with a level of 0.075 mg/L or less will test green, and there will be no numerical reading, meaning that the driver is fit to continue driving. When the screen shows orange and green, it will indicate 0.15 to 0.24, which is a pre-warning level. The next numerical level of 0.25 to 0.75 is the warning level, and orange and red colors will appear in the screen. Anyone with 0.75 mg/L in the breath will not show the digits and instead a reading of "no drive" or a sound alarm will activate, meaning that the driver can no longer drive.
Jaquez said that the officers would use pepper spray to tranquilize any driver who refuses to desist from driving. "When anyone is surprised while driving drunk, they will be asked to stop driving, and will have the choice of calling a relative or friend to pick up the vehicle, while they are being fined," he explained.

Grant Thornton on the DR
The consultants at Grant Thornton have analyzed the Dominican Republic's economic perspectives for 2007 and are predicting a growth rate of 5.35%. Together with this economic growth, the experts indicated that inflation would be higher than last year's 5%, and they foresee an inflation rate of 7.64% for the year 2007. The Grant Thornton report, which was prepared in December last year and is studied by Listin Diario's Candida Acosta, sees increases in most of the country's economic indicators, including the exchange rate, debt payments and monetary emissions. The report also says that interest rates of 11.34% prime and 22% to clients will increase loan activity due to the higher rates. Grant Thornton also points out the downward trend in interest rates for dollar Certificates of Deposit in the Dominican Republic.

The Millennium Challenge Account
Adolfo Franco, the US Agency for International Development's assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean believes that the DR has made progress but still needs to reduce corruption levels and improve social spending to secure improvements in the quality of life of its people, and work towards the goals of the Millennium Challenge Account, as reported in Hoy newspaper. The Millennium Challenge Account was created to reward "sound policy decisions that support economic growth and reduce poverty". For the DR this could mean a US$250 million donation. Franco was in the DR on the occasion of USAID's 45th anniversary in the DR.
Franco said that in order to meet the challenges of globalization and the 21st century, the DR needs to improve its levels of competitiveness and transparency. The program promotes development through a model based on accountability. He said the USAID would continue to support competitiveness programs in the DR.
Franco commented that the DR has very strong ties with the US, given the large number of Dominicans who have migrated to the US. For more on the Millennium Challenge Acount, see
www.usaid.gov/press/releases/2002/fs_mca.html

Official confirms "diverted" checks
The Armed Forces pension checks saga, which was first brought to light by Diario Libre, continued over the weekend. The national treasurer, Ruben Pena, confirms in an article in Saturday's Diario Libre that millions of pesos worth of paychecks and pension checks were "diverted". The official told Diario Libre reporters that he had discussed this case with President Leonel Fernandez, in the presence of Armed Forces Minister Ramon Aquino Garcia, during the government's last cabinet meeting. Aquino Garcia said that he does not know of any reports sent to the President about this alleged mafia that dealt with paychecks. The General announced that he would be launching an investigation into the case. At the same time, officials from the Treasury and Controllers offices reached an agreement with the military and police that will identify all the pensioners within 60 days. Ruben Pena told Diario Libre reporter Esteban Delgado that the creation of a computerized system of payment by checks was one of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) requirements, and although he did not confirm the RD$90 million sum cited by the original Diario Libre report, he admitted that millions of pesos were involved in the case. In the past, the Treasury would write a check for the total amount of the monthly National Police and the Armed Forces payrolls. These institutions would, in turn, issue checks to individual payees, both active and pensioners. With the new computerized system, the Treasury will send the funds directly to each person's account at the Banco de Reservas. The problem arose when the system was cross checking the accounts and found problems with 9,000 pensioners on the Armed Forces list and 3,000 pensioners on the National Police list. These people did not have proper identification ("cedulas") and, therefore, could not have opened accounts at the bank.
The Armed Forces, through a note from the Retirement Board signed by Major General Andres Apolinario Disla, rejected the idea of a "diversion" of the pension money. The note said that there were 8,824 retirees who did not have proper "cedulas", and that the treasurer knows this.

DNI uncovers JCE complicity
The National Investigations Division (DNI) has uncovered links between a band of document forgers and employees at the Central Electoral Board (JCE). According to Hoy newspaper, the investigators described the gang's modus operandi and its tie-in to the JCE employees. Basically, according to Hoy, the existence of thousands of deceased voters on the electoral rolls is what permitted the link between the forgers and JCE staff. The gangs that obtained false personal data from the JCE then used the information to create new identities for Haitians, drug traffickers of different nationalities, fugitives from justice and deportees from the United States. According to the report obtained by Hoy, a JCE official in New York City worked in conjunction with another official in Santo Domingo, and together "they changed the identities of Dominican and foreign (Colombian) drug dealers." The report also identifies two JCE magistrates as having ordered illegal documents from their subordinates, as well as another employee who sold two CDs with the electoral roll records to someone "in the deep south". In San Juan de la Maguana, "a prestigious lawyer from Santo Domingo, economically supported by funds from overseas contributed by three local NGOs, works at getting birth certificates for illegal people." The report goes on to point out issues with late birth declarations, as well as Cuban and Chinese immigrants. The report, dated 27 January and with the number KL-0107-4, focuses on the workings of the New York JCE office and its ties to drug traffickers, and names Nelson Vargas, a former secretary of the JCE Disputes Chamber as one of the major figures involved.

JCE salaries go down
Perhaps prodded by recent declarations from magistrate Aura Celeste Fernandez, the entire Central Electoral Board has approved staff salary reductions of as much as 15%. The Board also suspended the purchase of new vehicles, first class travel, and accepted the government's restrictions on weekend and holiday travel in government vehicles.

Corruption cases fail in court
A number of attempts to put officials accused of corruption behind bars is hitting serious difficulties. According to El Caribe, five of the eight most publicized cases have failed to progress in the court system in the National District, some of which were under appeal. The Attorney General, Radhames Jimenez, promised to give his opinion on the latest Supreme Court decision to send the Renove case to a different tribunal, and begin the process all over again. The Fourth Chamber of Investigation also discharged criminal accusations against the former president of the Commission to Reform Public Enterprises (CREP), Feliz Alberto Alcantara Lugo and his assistants. The First Chamber of Investigation freed Cesar Sanchez, the former administrator of the CDEEE of all penal responsibility regarding his handling of the sovereign bonds that were supposed to be used for the construction of the Electricity Superhighway. The judge determined that there was insufficient proof presented by the prosecutors.
In the First Court of the National District, all counts against 37 National Police officers accused of fraudulent use of recovered stolen vehicles were dismissed. In addition, former Minister of Agriculture Eligio Jaquez and nine of his assistants and associates were discharged of malfeasance regarding the greenhouses they distributed among their cronies and families.

Supreme Court on Plan Renove
The Supreme Court has ordered a retrial of the case involving transport unions, former government officials and fraud against the state. Known as the Plan Renove trial, the court ordered that the National District Court of Appeals First Chamber retry the RD$1 billion fraud case from scratch. The decision was taken on appeal after the Santo Domingo Province Court of Appeals Penal Chamber ratified a sentence of 4 to 10 years in prison for several of the accused in the case issued by Judge Esther Agelan Casasnovas on 17 October 2005, which was revoked by the Appeals Court on 6 May 2006. Judges Hugo Alvarez Valencia, Dulce Maria Rodriguez de Goris, Edgar Hernandez Mena and Victor Jose Castellanos Estrella opposed the decision. Supreme Court president Jorge Subero Isa said that the decision is not a discharge, but rather a "eminently technical one, it is about procedures." The accused in the case are Antonio Marte, Blas Peralta, Pedro Franco Badia, Fabio Ruiz, Milciades Amaro Guzman, Gervasio de la Rosa, Francisco Perez, Antonio Reynoso, Freddy Williams Mendez and Alfredo Culinario Linares. The decision comes on the heels of a meeting held between transport union leaders and President Leonel Fernandez after which the unions called off a national transport strike.

US DEA looks at Haitian frontier
The United States Drug Enforcement Agency and the Assistant Defense Secretary have announced a Caribbean-wide plan to stem the flow of drugs into the United States. According to Listin Diario, Assistant Secretary Eric Edelman and the DEA's Michael Braun visited the Dominican Republic to discuss the problem with local officials. Both US officials were clear about the fact that the problem of drug trafficking in the Dominican Republic had to be looked at in combination with issues in Haiti. As part of the program, the DEA will contribute funds to improve the Dominican Navy.

The dangerous profession of journalism
The broadcast of a documentary with details of the DR drug trafficking business by journalist Alicia Ortega of Noticiero SIN of Antena Latina, Channel 7, resulted in an attack against the station while the report was being aired. The police is investigating the incident, during which a series of shots were fired.

Self-defense brigades in barrios
In the areas around San Jose la Mina, Hato Mayor and Barrio Lindo in Santiago, neighborhood associations are forming self-defense brigades to thwart the rising criminality they perceive as a threat to their barrios. One community leader, Jose Francisco Consuegra, told Listin Diario reporters that "not one day goes by without a report of some robbery committed by thieves in houses, betting parlors or small businesses in these barrios." He dismissed the accusation that the brigades were taking the law into their own hands. Former Santiago Bishop Juan Antonio Flores supported the move. In the headline article in today's Listin Diario, the Bishop said that he would support the self-defense brigades as long as they respect human life. Civic groups like Citizen Participation and FINJUS (Foundation for Institutionalism and Justice) issued statements saying that it is a serious matter when the barrios have to form their own watch groups to protect themselves.

Several hurt in Jimani
Several government officials and Melba Segura de Grullon, the president of the Sur Futuro Foundation were injured in Jimani on Friday when a ceremonial tent was destroyed by a very strong gust of wind. The officials, including Minister of Culture Jose Rafael Lantigua, were celebrating the inauguration of a reservoir tank with a mural dedicated to the victims of the Rio Blanco disaster of 2004. First aid was administered on the spot and several of the victims were transferred to Santo Domingo's Abel Gonzalez Clinic for Advanced Medicine.

Puerto Plata hotel pioneer passes away
One of the first major hotel investors in Puerto Plata, Don Isidro Garcia passed away yesterday. He was the head of the family that built the only major Puerto Plata hotel chain, the Victoria Resort & Hotels that operates the Casa Colonial, Victoria Resort and Gran Ventana in Playa Dorada. He was 85 years old.

DR leads in Caribbean Series
The Aguilas Cibaenas, the Dominican standard bearers for the Caribbean Series currently under way in Puerto Rico, have had a wondrous weekend, making history and winning all three of their games. In the first game, Jose Lima and a long list of relief pitchers managed to contain a strong Venezuelan team. After 18 innings, a series record, and six hours and 14 minutes, another series record, the Dominican team came out ahead, 4-3. Tony Batista had the "golden hit" to bring in the winning run. It wasn't really a hit, but rather a sacrifice fly, but it did the job and the Aguilas won. Miguel Tejada hit a monstrous homerun to tie for the all-time series record with Venezuela's Tony Armas.
On Saturday, the Dominicans played Mexico and had a field day. Once again the big bats did their job and Tony Batista hit two homeruns and Anderson Hernandez and Luis Polonia had three hits apiece. But the star of the show was Jose Acevedo who pitched eight scoreless innings, giving pitching staff a welcome respite from the previous day's 18-inning marathon. The game lasted half as long as its predecessor, and when it was over the Dominican team (Aguilas Cibaenas) had won 9-0.
Yesterday, the Aguilas played host Puerto Rico. Pitcher Fabio Castro limited Puerto Rico to just two scattered hits in five innings and the big bats responded with a 12-run attack as the Dominican team finished the first half of the tournament by defeating Puerto Rico 12-0.
Standings
Team W-L Avg. Games Behind
AGUILAS 3 - 0 1.000 --
PTO. RICO 2 - 1 .666 1.0
VEN. 1 - 2 .333 2.0
MEXICO 0 - 3 .000 3.0
 
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