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Daily News - Monday, 02 April 2007

Fernandez hits campaign trail
With the announcement of a long, long list of public works, President Leonel Fernandez led a government cabinet meeting in Santiago. The announcement of an estimated RD$5.75 billion in projects was met with a combination of skepticism and joy since Santiago has long been accustomed to such speeches. Among the projects to be completed are highways, schools, aqueducts and bridges. Also included in the list of projects is the remodeling of prized institutions such as the Ateneo Cibaeno, the first public library in the Cibao, and the Cultural Center. At long last the Regional Theater will get its new air conditioning system and the Cibao Baseball Stadium will be once again remodeled for the Caribbean World Series next year. In an attempt to mitigate the loss of jobs in the industrial free zones, the President announced a RD$150 million investment package in PROMIPYME, the agency responsible for stimulating micro-, small-and medium-sized businesses.
In his travels to Puerto Plata, the President also ordered the repair of the Puerto Plata-Navarette highway, and the completion of works at the Avenida Manolo Tavarez Justo.

Safety precautions for Easter Week
With AMET troops and their breathalyzers, Civil Defense volunteers and their flags, the meteorological office and their predictions of good weather and the National Emergency Commission's closure of 117 beaches and swimming areas, preparations for a safer Easter Week are under way. Even the First Lady and her office are assisting in the efforts to keep the death toll down. PROMESE, the government's pharmacy, has provided RD$4.0 million in first aid medicines to the different aid stations set up along the highways. The National Emergency Commission has 125 ambulances, three mobile hospitals and three helicopters ready for action. Last year's toll was fifty deaths and more than 200 injured in holiday-related incidents. AMET said that it would have 1,200 officers and its entire fleet of tow trucks and ambulances ready for action. The Dominican Red Cross has 5,000 volunteers stationed at 410 posts, 70 vehicles, including 40 ambulances available for service the whole week.

Bank loan for Samana aqueduct
The government is requesting approval for a loan with commercial bank ABN Amro Bank to cover works for the Samana Aqueduct. The aqueduct is said to cost US$115 million and the Executive Branch is requesting that the Senate approve a US$71.2 million loan. Brazilian export development agency BNDES will guarantee the financing of construction that is to be carried out by Brazilian company Norberto Odebrecht.

Highway renewal plan gets funding
Supervisor of Public Works for the Presidency, Felix Bautista has announced the opening of bids for the construction or re-construction of the nation's principal highways. He told reporters from El Caribe that 920 kilometers of highway will be under repair or remodeling, and the cost is estimated at US$700 million. Many of the roadways will be rebuilt under a concession that will allow the construction company to collect tolls for up to thirty years. Among the highways mentioned is the one linking Navarrete with Puerto Plata, which apparently met with Presidential displeasure during a recent visit by the Chief Executive to the tourist center. Also mentioned by Bautista is the highway that joins San Francisco de Macoris and Nagua, the gateway city to the Samana Peninsula.

No information on websites
Of the 44 government institutions with websites, only four contain any financial information. The remaining forty sites only publish vague data and the legal regulations they are supposed to operate under. This is in clear violation of the Free Public Information Access Law. In a very long article in Hoy, reporters show that a review of the different sites revealed that the ministries or offices that handle a large part of the budget publish little or no information about their payrolls, or how the money is spent. Not even the Presidential IT Office (OPTIC), the instigator of state-sponsored transparency via electronic websites has listed its personnel. INDOTEL, the UASD, the Ministry of Labor and the Attorney General's office are the exceptions. Nevertheless, ministries such as Education and Public Health that handle huge sums of money have no information about their payrolls, purchases, suppliers, debts or budget execution for 2007. Neither do most of the other government dependencies.

Drivers make big bucks
Perhaps one of the reasons nobody is feeling much sympathy for the public transport drivers and even less for their leaders is the fact that the unions are making huge amounts of cash from their transport route monopolies, many of which were gained through violence in past years. According to Listin Diario, millions of pesos (the newspaper estimates between three and five million) enter union coffers each and every day. A normal "publico" driver is obliged to pay RD$30 per day to go to work. Buses and minibuses have to pay RD$400 a day to operate. Just getting on the "approved" list of vehicles can cost the owners between RD$5,000 and RD$200,000, depending on which route is chosen. Drivers consulted by the newspaper say that there are never any elections and the president is the same person who was there when the organization was founded. The Office of Land Transportation and Traffic (OTTT) limits the transportation of passengers, and allocates specific routes to the unions who, in turn, subdivide the routes, leading to higher costs for passengers. Another moneymaker for the unions is the closure of vehicle registrations for a specific route. This opens a ready market for drivers who have already registered their vehicles and can generate, according to the newspaper, earnings of 40%-50% over the original costs.

Hotels want a clean up
Representatives of the major hotels along the Dominican Riviera, Bavaro, Punta Cana and Cap Cana, met privately with Punta Cana Group president Frank Rainieri and President Leonel Fernandez, and the main issues were the increasingly large slums that are growing up around the resort areas, and the slow pace of construction of roadways and aqueducts serving the area. The creation of the new Air Dominicana airline, scheduled for 2008, was greeted with approval and enthusiasm as the hoteliers passed review of the 2006-2007 high season. While no reporters, photographers or media were allowed into the strictly private meeting, a presidential spokesperson told Hoy reporters that the President was receptive to the opinions expressed by the leaders of the tourist trade in the eastern part of the Dominican Republic.

Broglio asks some tough questions
Papal Nuncio Timothy Broglio has asked the country's political candidates to reveal where they are getting the money to finance their extravagant campaigns. At the same time he defended the right of the bishops and of the general public to support or reject a re-election process. The Papal representative to the Dominican Republic seemed to be worried, according to Hoy newspaper, about the increase in the cost of living in the country, and supported demands for a wage increase. One of his criticisms of the political process in the DR was the year-long campaigns that distract politicians from their real jobs. During his interview with noted television journalist Guillermo Gomez, Broglio asked people to observe Holy Week in a safe and healthy manner, by staying in their homes and in churches across the nation. After saying that God wants the millions that politicians spend on their campaigns to be spent on something else, the prelate said that the politicians should explain the origin and destination of the funds. He said: "It is important that the people know where these millions came from."

Pie-Pierre ready to defend herself
Sonia Pierre, aka Solain Pie, the human rights activist whose Dominican citizenship is being questioned, told reporters from Diario Libre that she is happy to go to court in order to settle the issue. The nationality question was raised during an investigation into her birth certificate, which apparently revealed that her father, an undocumented immigrant, had used a false Dominican cedula. Constitutional law expert Adriano Miguel Tejada, writing in Diario Libre's A.M. column on Saturday, says that there is no doubt that Pierre is a Dominican citizen because the Constitution in effect at the time of her birth in 1963 allowed for such cases. Tejada also points out that that Sonia Pierre/Solain Pie is a Dominican of Haitian extraction who feels hurt by the treatment given to her brethren in the same circumstances. According to the editorialist, the question is whether the treatment she and her brethren received was any different from that received by poor Dominicans. He answers, "surely not." Therefore she should not be talking about discrimination but rather of the dire conditions faced by all poor people in the Dominican sugar fields. For Tejada, the Dominican government has behaved shamefully in this case. The government has not been capable of defending its position, according to the jurist, because it has been complicit in the conditions that exist in the cane fields, as well as in human trafficking across the frontier in complicity with the Dominican army. For this reason, Tejada says it is a mistake to take on Solain Pie in this way. Such a decision tarnishes any arguments in this case.

Fuel hits new high
As most people now know, fuel prices rose to a 2007 high over the weekend, with significant increases in the prices of premium, regular and diesel fuels. Premium gasoline went up by RD$4.20 per gallon, now reaching RD$147.60. Regular gasoline was increased by RD$2.10, and the new price for a gallon of regular is set at RD$134.90. Normal diesel fuel was increased by RD$2.40, and the gallon now costs RD$102.80. LPG (propane gas) was increased by RD$1.43 and is now pegged at RD$46.25 for subsidized propane and RD$68.01 for non-subsidized gas. According to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, the principal reason for the 3% increase in fuel prices was the increasing tensions in the Persian Gulf between Great Britain and Iran.

European remittances grow
Four years ago, remittances from Europe constituted 9% of the total remittances received from overseas. Today, according to an article in El Caribe, they make up 20% of the total. Freddy Ortiz, the president of the Dominican Association of Remittance Couriers (Aderedi), says that the increase is due to two factors: the first is the fact that there are more Dominicans living in Europe and the second is that they are achieving better living standards. Ortiz also pointed out that the Dominican remittance companies offer door-to-door services, which no other country in Latin America enjoys.

Tragic weekend on the highways
With the death of the fifth victim of the weekend's worst single accident, the death toll for the weekend has now reached eighteen. The death of the woman identified as Antigua Campos occurred at the Juan Bosch Traumatology Hospital in La Vega. The accident between a pickup truck and a small Daihatsu truck took place at the Controbas Crossing on the Duarte Highway. The other thirteen victims of highway fatalities happened at different parts of the country.

Baseball supplement
El Caribe carries a Baseball Supplement with some very interesting features, including a listing of all Dominican baseball players to play in the big leagues. The lists include both position players and pitchers, along with all of their stats. Currently there are 85 Dominican baseball players on the Major League rosters.
 
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