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Daily News - Thursday, 08 February 2007

El Catey airport inaugurated
The Professor Juan Bosch International Airport in El Catey, Samana, built at a cost of US$80 million, was inaugurated yesterday at a ceremony attended by President Leonel Fernandez, as reported in the Listin Diario. The airport has been receiving flights since November 2006. President Fernandez announced that an additional US$115 million would be invested to extend the Santo Domingo-Rincon de Molenillo highway in Samana to the town of Nagua. He also reported that a smaller connecting road would be built for traffic from the new airport to the touristic town of Las Terrenas on the northern side of the Samana peninsula.
The airport was built by Aerodom and will serve the country's northeastern tourist area, which currently has 2,400 hotel rooms. A plan is in the works to build 5,400 additional rooms in the next five years. The airport is 35 kilometers from Samana and 18 kilometers from Nagua. Public Works Minister Freddy Perez says that the opening of the airport, along with the completion of the Samana-Santo Domingo highway, which should be completed by December of this year, represents a big step in the development of the whole northeastern tourist zone. When the airport opened in December 2006 only six flights per week were scheduled, but Hoy reports that it has been receiving close to 18 flights per week. There is also the possibility that Delta Airlines could begin a Atlanta-Samana frequency later this year.

The Biometric Initiative signed
The Dominican and US governments signed an agreement yesterday for the implementation of a system aimed at helping to identify criminals, illegal travelers, terrorists and deportees. The system also involves the creation of an information database that could lead to the eventual capture of wanted fugitives. The "Biometric Initiative" system costs US$350,000 and will track travelers through fingerprint, photo and eye scanning. The system, which includes 21 new machines, will determine people's identities, indicating whether a person is considered to be high risk based on the information provided. There is no system of this kind in the Dominican Republic, which has led to weaknesses in tackling drug trafficking.
US Ambassador Hans H. Hertell and Armed Forces Minister Ramon Aquino Garcia signed the agreement. It stipulates that the US government will provide the equipment. Ambassador Hertell says that the Dominican government is at a disadvantage because drug traffickers have all the resources to evade capture. He said that both governments are willing to cooperate to stop drug trafficking.

Talks with Trust Capital of the West
Radhames Segura, in charge of the State Run Electric Companies (CDEEE), says that Trust Capital of the West lawyers have yet to formally sue the government for the US$700 million they claim for operations of the EdeEste power distributor. Segura told the press, as reported in Hoy, that together with Power Superintendent Francisco Mendez and legal advisor to President Fernandez Cesar Pina Toribio he met with lawyers of the firm for talks regarding the claims. If the parties do not reach an agreement, Hoy reported the case would be heard in a New York court. The company is claiming breach of contractual obligations on part of the Dominican government.

Government owes Social Security
Since 31 December sixty public institutions owe the Dominican Social Security System (SDSS) more than RD$1 billion. This debt is in breach of law 87-01 and could jeopardize the Family Health Insurance (SFS) and other programs like pensions. Topping the list is the Ministry of Education which owes RD$510,090,123 followed by the National Institute of Drinking Water (INAPA) with a debt of RD$144,543,561. Other notable public institutions that owe money are the Dominican Postal Service (RD$35,936,672), the Metropolitan Transit Authority (AMET) RD$15,179,022, the Technical Transport Office (OTTT) RD$12,762,572, and the Tax Department (DGII) RD$5,131,509. Hoy explains that article 112 and 113 give the Social Security Treasury (TSS) the right to take action against institutions that owe money and that the sanctions for this debt can amount to a 5% monthly penalty equal to the accumulated debt. For a full list of the institutions click on this link: www.hoy.com.do/article.aspx?id=12561

Customs to adapt to DR-CAFTA
The country's customs department is going through an overhaul and is looking to fix problems in the collection and storage of important statistics. These deficiencies need to be corrected in order for the country to fulfill DR-CAFTA requirements. The weaknesses were pointed out in a 2005 report by Manuel Rodriguez Amiama while DR-CAFTA was being negotiated. The report pointed out that the Dominican statistics on imports/exports to the United States did not tally with US government statistics. Rodriguez Amiama defines the deficiencies at Customs as a "cultural problem" since the department has never had to make changes like those required by DR-CAFTA for other trade agreements. As part of DR-CAFTA, Dominican Customs must have an electronic database which has to be up and running seven days a week, 24 hours a day, must be accessible from anywhere, at any time, must provide security for all information and electronic transactions, along with a host of other requirements. Rodriguez's report says that Customs should aim to reduce the difference in statistics by 1% with that of the National Treasury and 10% with those of the nations that trade with the DR and also the Customs Department should improve its handling of requests for statistics as well as working towards the full incorporation of the Internet into the process of collecting and studying information.

Transport unions make first offer
The transport unions (Fenatrano, Conatra and Mochotran) have presented the Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET) director Diandino Pena with their first proposal. The transport unions are proposing a subsidy on fares for students, the elderly and public workers. At the same time the unions have asked the government to cease their smear campaign and have also asked that from now on all meetings between the government and the transport unions be recorded to assure transparency in the negotiations.
The three transport unions' leaders have stated that recent studies by the government confirm the unions' claims that there has been a decrease in the quality of public transport and an increase in prices, which the unions say they can't sustain. The unions claim that they can't repair their buses because of the low cost of the fares. In January, the transport unions called off a strike in order to negotiate with the government.

Metro affects business
The ongoing work on the Santo Domingo Metro is affecting businesses located on Maximo Gomez Avenue. The street has been closed, making it difficult for shoppers to access the various businesses on the streets. As a result, business managers say they have had to dismiss large number of employees and revenues have also been reduced significantly. Hoy gives the example of a dry cleaner on Maximo Gomez that has had to cut its personnel by half and has lost 70% of its client base. Dry clean owner Miguel Barbero says that he plans to meet with OPRET (Office for the Reorganization of Transport, which is in charge of the Metro project) to see if they are entitled to any compensation for their losses. Among the businesses affected on Maximo Gomez Avenue are three banks, two ice cream parlors, a pizzeria, a gas station, and the Air France offices, among others. A spokesman for the Nacional supermarket, nevertheless, said that they envisioned that business would be better once a metro station opened near their establishment.

Increase in hunger worries UN
The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is expressing concern about the increased levels of malnutrition among the Dominican population, as reported in the Listin Diario. According to the UN the percentage of malnutrition has increased from 6.1% in 2000 to 7.2% in 2006 and more than two million Dominicans, 27% of the population, suffers from hunger. According to Pavel Isa, WFP's representative in the DR, eight out of every 100 children in the DR suffers from irreparable growth retardation due to a lack of quality nutrition. Isa said that statistics show a decrease in malnutrition during the early 90s but there has now been an increase with there being close to 20,000 additional children affected by malnutrition from 2002-2006. Isa warns that the each year 2,500 more children will be affected if action isn't taken soon. Isa also cited data from the polls ENDESA (2002 statistics) and ENHOGAR (2006 statistics), which point out that between 7% and 9% of children up to the age of three suffer from chronic malnutrition, which translates into between 56,000 and 74,000 infants with irreversible growth retardation. Isa reminded the government of its promise to cut hunger in half by 2015, as part of the UN Millennium Goals, and lamented the fact that the US$200 million investment in food programs has been "indirect and ineffective".
Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez attributed the increase to mismanagement of the 2003 banking crisis by the past Mejia government, as reported in Diario Libre.

The new Vicini Group
The Vicini Group has been investing heavily in the Dominican Republic in recent years, reversing a long-term low-profile policy, as reported in an interview in Hoy newspaper. While the Vicinis are known as the country's most wealthy family, as well as a major business group, investments 10 years ago were only a small part of their global portfolio. This is now changing. Company president Felipe Vicini Lluberes and his brother, vice president Juan Vicini Lluberes explained that in today's globalized world, keeping a low profile in investments in the DR was not correct, and that they now want to open up and adapt their business strategies to the changes that are taking place in the DR. "Even if the country is in a fragile or vulnerable situation, there is a definite movement to get ahead. In these type of situations economic flows take place, and I would recommend anyone to do what they like best, because they are likely to do well," said Juan Vicini. In the past, the company was known for its investments in the sugar industry (Cristobal Colon and CAEI mills), the Metaldom ironworks and electricity generators, Fiat dealers and minor investments in tourism and other farm produce, but its financial dealings were mostly abroad. In recent years, a new generation within the family has taken charge and the company is now involved in much higher-profile investments, such as revamping the Port of Santo Domingo/San Souci to become the home port for Carnival Cruises, the Guayacanes financial center, and its majority ownership in the Banco de Progreso. While company spokesmen did not mention names, the Vicini Group also has reached minority participation agreements with more than 20 but less than 100 known Dominican companies.
The company foresees converting their sugar operations into model ones, with the total mechanization of the sugar cane harvest over the next five years, up from 35% at the present time. Felipe Vicini explains that in future, sugar cane cutters would be tractor operators who could make RD$20,000 a month. The sugar cane project also includes the building of model communities with medical services, schools, infrastructure and single-home dwellings in cement houses for the bateyes. They are working with the Instituto Dominicano de Desarrollo Integral (IDDI) on this project and the plan is for the people who live there to work the entire year, and not just during the sugar harvest.

PLD still thrives on patronage
According to PLD pre-presidential candidate Jose Tomas Perez, the PLD has still not moved away from the "clientilism" model. Perez says that the current PLD government has become too comfortable with this traditional concept of government. Perez explains that this form of governing has turned public administration into a machine that usurps public funds at the expense of the business sector and the Dominican public. Perez made his comments during a meeting at the Gran Almirante Hotel in Santiago. During the meeting Perez said that if elected President he would implement the Free Access to Public Information law and would reduce the levels of corruption to zero in every public institution. Perez is a former senator for Santo Domingo.

Caribbean Series
Though the Dominican Republic lost the final game of the Serie del Caribe to Puerto Rico, 1-0, there was still enough cause for celebration as Tony Batista was selected the tournament's most valuable player and eight Dominicans were selected to the All-Caribbean Series Team. Batista batted .231 during the five-day tournament but hit three homeruns and had eight RBI's. Catchers Albert Castillo, Anderson Hernandez, and Miguel Tejada were also selected to the All-Caribbean Series Team.

Independence Cycling Tour
The Government Information Center will be sponsoring the 28th annual Vuelta Ciclistica Independencia Nacional, a nationwide cycling race. Competitors from 14 countries and 14 Dominican cycling clubs will be participating in the traditional race, one of the most important in the Caribbean. Center director Omar Liriano says that he has met with the race's directors in each of the provinces through which the race passes, and assures that preparations are going well. Dominican Cycling Federation president Juan Luis Rodriguez says that the race, which passes through 20 of the country's provinces, has become a symbol of respect and honor for the country's national heroes.
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