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Daily News - Thursday, 01 March 2007

Bush clears FTA with DR
On 28 February, United States President George Bush cleared the way for the implementation of the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement with respect to the DR and for other purposes. A White House press release dated 1 March 2007 carries the decision. US Ambassador in the DR Hans Hertell is scheduled to make the announcement locally today.
The American Chamber of Commerce in the DR issued a statement calling the proclamation "a new start, a start with clearly defined rules of the game that will enable businesses to compete more effectively in a global economy; a start when investors will have more certainty and confidence when making long-term investments; a start in which Dominican consumers will have more options and lower prices; a start where increased transparency will contribute to the strengthening of institutions and the rule of law."
www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/03/20070301.html

AES and DR government settle
The Ministry of Environment has settled a suit with AES that was being heard in the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia. The DR government had accused the US company of dumping 80,000 tons of coal ash waste from an AES power plant in Puerto Rico in coastal areas in Montecristi and Samana provinces. The Ministry of Environment had indicated that it would settle for US$80 million in damages from the power company. The case would have gone to court on 5 March. US lawyer Susan Burke of Burke Pyle LLC says that the DR would release the terms of the settlement pursuant to the government-in-the-sunshine rules. Those rules were conceived and passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal in the mid 1970s, when US public mistrust of government was running very high.
For background on the case, see www.dr1.com/news/2007/020607_AESsuit.pdf and www.dr1.com/news/2006/032706_AESsuit.pdf

LF to Guyana
President Leonel Fernandez travels to Georgetown, Guyana tomorrow to attend the XX Rio Group Presidential Summit. Fernandez will be receiving, on behalf of the DR, the pro tempore presidency of this organization. Fernandez departs from San Isidro airport at midday on Friday, 2 March.

A few cabinet changes
President Leonel Fernandez has made some minor cabinet changes by announcing the appointment of Angel Lockward to the position of minister without portfolio via decree 99-07. Lockward's appointment comes after a public clash with Interior and Police Minister Franklin Almeyda Rancier whose department refused to renew Lockward's gun-holding permit on grounds that he had cases pending in the judiciary. Lockward sued Almeyda for RD$50 million. Lockward is a former minister of Industry & Commerce, against which a case for irregularities in a propane gas program during his term made headlines in the press.
Fernandez also appointed Paino Abreu Collado to head the Banco Agricola. According to the same presidential decree, 98-07, Juan Rodriguez was made head of PROMIPYME, the state agency that promotes and advises small and medium-sized business enterprises.
Most of the changes announced so far, nevertheless, were related to the diplomatic corps.
For a list of the changes, go to: http://www.presidencia.gov.do/webpage/articulo.php?idPress=5314

CEI-RD projects increased investment
The Center for Export and Investment (CEI-RD) is projecting US$1.5 billion in foreign investments for the DR in 2007. Acelis Angeles of CEI-RD attributes this increase to the country's increased judicial security and economic development under President Fernandez. In a speech at the Ministry of Foreign Relations, she explained that the DR is set to become a regional leader in foreign investment and that the country's goal is to have an accumulated foreign investment of US$5 million between 2005 and 2008.
Angeles also spoke about the country's plan of creating a brand to help market the DR. The DR has hired the British firm Acanchi for this purpose. Angeles says that under the slogan "reaching the future," CEI-RD is developing an aggressive campaign strategy in order to increase investment in the DR, targeting countries that are considered to have the most potential.

Electric highway
Construction of an electric highway to connect the south and Santo Domingo with the Cibao region is now under way. The project will increase the energy transmission capacity from 200MW to 800MW. The government secured financing for US$157 million for the construction.
State-Run Electricity Companies vice-president Radhames Segura has announced that Spanish company ELECNOR has been contracted to install 70 kilometers (Bonao to El Naranjo) of the 150-kilometer long project. Other contractors are SAE (Bonao and Palamara in Santo Domingo) and Siemens (El Naranjo, and Julio Sauri substation in Santo Domingo). Works are expected to be completed within a year and a half to two years.
The towers will stand about 50 - 60 meters tall, the highest in the region. The towers will also be able to withstand winds of up to 275 kilometers per hour. The energy highway will cost US$1 million per kilometer to build but will guarantee a 25% reduction in energy lost during transmission from the south to the northern regions. This project is seen as the solution to the problem of supplying energy to the Cibao. Segura says that some of the land for the towers still needs to be bought.

Scholarship students receive debit cards
The Ministry of Higher Education (SEESCYT) handed out 1,131 debit cards to scholarship students from the state university UASD yesterday to help with the payment of the RD$3,000 they receive each month. Higher Education Minister Ligia Amada Melo said that the cards, which are issued by the Banco de Reservas, are to help students receive their funds. Students must maintain a "B" average in order to keep their scholarships.

Medicine cheaper beginning today
As from today 98 types of medicines that are sold at the Farmacias del Pueblo (People's Pharmacies), and which are part of the Essential Drugs Program (PROMESE), will be sold at a reduced price. Some products will be about 90% cheaper as a result. The prices for 74 other products will remain the same.

Metro won't be ready
Engineer Hamlet Hermann is quoted in Diario Libre as saying that the Santo Domingo Metro will not be ready for operations in February 2008 as has been announced. Hermann based his opinion on his 50 years of experience and said that he doesn't believe that the public works project would be ready in one year, as was announced by President Leonel Fernandez in his year's review speech on Tuesday. He says that the tunnel at the Correa y Cidron Avenue, the installation of the electro-mechanical wiring and the training of personnel to run the metro are among the major tasks that still need to be accomplished. Hermann says that once the drilling of the Metro reaches the university zone, new and unexpected problems will arise, which could create more setbacks and delays.

JCE seeks to dismantle mafia
Thirty government officials and employees at the Central Electoral Board (JCE) have been fired as part of a drive to break up a mafia, responsible for issuing fraudulent "cedulas" or identity cards. The firings have cleaned out the civil registry department and new personnel were put in charge. This is one of the first moves by JCE officials to dismantle the so-called mafia. Officials have also handed over more than 500 cedulas and hundreds of birth certificates that have been deemed illegitimate to the judicial authorities. Diario Libre writes that these documents belong to Colombians, Haitians, Cubans and repatriated Dominicans who are wanted by the law. Roberto Rosario, president of the Board's Administrative Chamber, says that money is the reason for the corruption at the JCE.

Salary committee meets today
The ongoing discussion between labor representatives and employers continues at the National Salary Commission today, but labor spokesmen say they won't be taking part in today's discussions. The wage increase negotiations have ended in an impasse, with neither side willing to budge. Labor representatives want a 25% wage increase for all employees earning under RD$30,000 while employers are only willing to grant a 9.30% increase on the minimum wage. Employers say that the 9.30% increase is equal to the Consumer Price Index changes between 2005 and 2006.

Auxiliary police receives criticisms
The creation of an auxiliary police is causing a stir among critics who view this entity as something that will cost millions of pesos with no end result. Critics say that there is no need for this new group since the National Police is already responsible for public safety. Lawyer Joaquin Benezario says that the auxiliary police force is just another example of the things that happen in this country and that it is only a matter of time before there are auxiliary sailors, soldiers and criminals. Lawyer Andres Batista asked a rhetorical question, "who would the auxiliary police help, since the Army and the Navy are in place to help the police". Batista added that the government has created a parallel police unit that is the equivalent of paramilitaries. The auxiliary police was created by Presidential decree 62-07 in order to strengthen the National Police's working capacity.

Don't drink and drive
Diario Libre points out that many citizens are not aware that a passenger in a vehicle could be fined, jailed and have the car towed away if they are caught drinking alcoholic beverages while in the vehicle. This detail is part of resolution 03-06 passed 27 December 2006. Diario Libre questioned some citizens who feel that the resolution goes too far and say that it needs to be reviewed. The report in Diario Libre comes as police and transport authorities are getting ready to hit the streets with the new breathalyzer machines next week, to enforce Article 93 of the Traffic Code (Law 241) which prohibits drivers from driving while under the influence of alcohol. In the past it was very common for people in the DR to consume alcoholic beverages while driving, but this is slowly changing.

Emissions affect tourism
In an interview with Hoy, the president of the Puerto Plata Tourism & Culture Cluster, Dr. Jose Natalio Redondo Galan, says that tourism in the western part of Puerto Plata city is affected by pollution from the power generating stations that operate around the bay. Redondo praised the Ministry of Environment's decision to stop Cementos Cibao from importing coal through the local port. The Cluster is behind major planning efforts for urban renewal in Puerto Plata.

Brazil will cover PanAm costs
The Dominican delegation that will be traveling to the XV Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil will have the costs of their airfares and accommodation at the Olympic village covered by the Brazilian government. Hoy newspaper explains that in their bid to win the Pan Am games, the Brazilian government made a host of promises, one of which was the payment of each Pan-American athlete's costs. This will save the Dominican Republic between RD$12 and $15 million. One hundred and sixty journalists will be traveling to Brazil with the Dominican delegation for the Pan-American games, which are being held between 13 and 30 of July.
 
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