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Daily News - Monday, 09 April 2007

28 dead and 460 injured
The Holy Week long weekend ended with at least 28 persons reported dead in tragic accidents, according to the Emergency Operations Center (COE). Holy Week is the peak domestic vacation time in the DR. This is a significant decrease in holiday fatalities over previous years. Last year there were 37 reported deaths. According to reports in all of the newspapers, about 80% of the injuries were alcohol-related. There were 13 reported traffic deaths, six drownings and four persons hit by vehicles. Between Thursday and Sunday, 220 traffic accidents were reported, according to Luis Luna Paulino, the director for the National Emergency Commission (CNE). These accidents involved 148 motorcycles and 72 cars and trucks. In only one accident, which occurred in Samana, 23 were injured, although there were no fatalities. Major urban hospitals such as the Dario Contreras in Santo Domingo reported that most of their emergency work was alcohol-related with many cases of young persons being intoxicated.
As the hundreds of thousands of persons returned to the deserted streets of the big cities, the Civil Defense and AMET forces imposed strict behavior on the highways. The Duarte, Sanchez and Las Americas highways were heavily patrolled and AMET and Police units enforced strict 80 kilometer per hour speed limits by having two and three patrol cars blocking the highway, forming kilometer long blocks of vehicles and leading the way into the capital at reduced speeds.

Priests lash out in Sunday's sermon
In Santo Domingo the priests conducting the services of the Seven Words lashed out at government's spending policies and waste. The Santo Domingo Metro and low salaries for government workers were two of the targets, and the waste in government spending and the transporter unions were two more. During the Sermon of the Seven Words, delivered on Good Friday in the Cathedral in Santo Domingo, the priests called for an awakening from the sound sleep that is keeping the nation illiterate, hungry, corrupt and poor. The rich were also targeted as the priests asked them to avoid ostentation and to live a more austere live style.
Father Mario de la Cruz Campusano said that it was not justifiable that a legislator should earn RD$200,000 per month and a construction worker just RD$3,900. The sermon demanded to know "where are our taxes going?" De la Cruz Campusano also questioned the RD$55 billion being spent on the Metro when there are so many evident deficiencies in the educational and health sectors. The priests
Speaking alongside Father de la Cruz Campusano, fathers Jose Pastor Ramirez Fernandez, Guillermo Rosario, Jose Arismendy de Leon Helena, Javier Vidal, Ramon Suero Serrano, and Juan Gonzalez gave the sermon.
The parish priest for Santo Domingo Savio, Javier Vidal, read the Fifth Word, and revealed that 47% of the population lives on less than RD$3,398 per month, and 24.6% live on less than RD$1,649 per month. In the southwestern provinces, 68.5% of the population lives in poverty. Vidal urged that government funds spent on propaganda instead be used in programs that benefit the poor. Commenting the lecture, father Paul Vidal of Guachupita specifically mentioned government official perks that are paid for by taxpayer money. "The yipetas of government officers are where our taxes are going, lamented father Vidal. Vidal told the faithful, "If we are really a Christian country, we cannot remain indifferent to the poverty...in the Dominican Republic."
Different sectors of the Dominican society said that they supported the priest's remarks. Politicians, civilian watchdog groups and emerging political entities felt that the priests were correct in their assessments. A spokesperson for the CNTU, one of the transport unions, denied that they operate on a for-profit basis.

Public health launches new campaign
The Minister for Public Health, Bautista Rojas Gomez, has announced a renewed effort to combat the current recent spike in cases of dengue fever. According to the minister, the entire population will be covered during the rest of 2007 and the goals are to reduce the number of cases and death attributed to the mosquito-borne plague.
In 2006, the Public Health Ministry certified 52 victims of dengue fever, and so far this year there have been ten deaths attribute to the illness. The new campaign will concentrate its efforts on public announcements and teams at work in schools across the land. Municipalities and the Armed Forces will assist in the campaign.

Children giving birth to children
Once more the issue of children giving birth to children is in the headlines. Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez has denounced the situation as "critical". As an indicator of the escalating problem, he mentioned that over the past three months, 325 minors, ages 12 to 17, have given birth in the public hospitals of just two, small, provinces, Barahona and Bonao. According to Rojas Gomez, these underage births are 23% of the total births in the country during that period. On the positive side, in Bonao, Dr. Riru Hodai told the Listin Diario that the program that attends adolescents in the local schools has brought about a 35% decrease in teen pregnancies and no teen deaths during birthing.

EU FTA without DRTR
The wonderful world of "alphabet soup" allows headline writers to say that the free trade talks with the European Union, due for a major session in Jamaica this week, will be attended by the Foreign Minister Carlos Morales, since the Dominican Republic Trade Representative, Julio Ortega Tous has been sent to Colombia as the new ambassador there. According to the Diario Libre, the Coordinating Office of Trade Negotiations, formerly headed by Ortega Tous, is charged with working out the free trade agreement with the EU before year's end. To that end, the team, now without its leader, will meet with Caricom representatives this Thursday in preparation for the next round of talks that will start on 17 April in Santo Domingo. At this meeting the Caricom nations have to come to an agreement that will allow the fulfillment of the "free circulation of goods" clause required by the EU in order for the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) to begin in January of 2008. For the Dominican Republic, the discussions of the milk and sugar protocols are of vital importance. "Free circulation" implies that EU goods would pay import duties in the first country of entry and then circulate duty free amongst the participating nations.
A major sticking point is the fact that the best ports are in the DR, which means that most of the merchandise would be imported here, but this will require some sort of deal whereby the other nations can receive some income from the imports.

EU makes an offer
The European Union has made an offer to free up the access to goods produced in the ACP nations of the Caribbean beginning 1 January 2008. The offer does not include sugar or rice exports. According to Hoy, the offer does not come with the possibility that the Dominican Republic gain access to t he European sugar market in the future. The ACP nations are part of the African, Caribbean and Pacific nations that are favored by the European Union as trading partners through the Cotonou accord. The European proposal looks at a transition period extending to 2015 for sugar, and includes access to a limited market or one with quotas for the countries that do not form part of the protocol (such as is the case of the Dominican Republic) and that do not now receive any benefits. Only the poorest nations have free access to the European market at this time. According to the proposal, the first phase will be from 1 January 2008 until 30 September 2009, during which the sugar protocol will continue to be enforced, but there will be an initial access to the EU sugar market for those ACP nations that are not a part of the protocol (the DR). The second phase will begin in October 2009 and go until 30 September of 2015, and will allow free access to the EU sugar market subject to automatic controls for volume from the Caribbean.

GAO finds mess in city accounts
According to the Chamber of Accounts, the government's accounting office (GAO), the majority of the cities in the Dominican Republic show financial disorder and a lack of compliance with the legal procedures that apply to their use of funds, particularly when contracting public works. According to the report in the Listin Diario, fully 90% of the municipalities do not hold public bids for contracts, and a serious lack of internal controls on cash flows prevails. Henry Mejia, the vice-president of the GAO, released a report that the majority of the cities do not follow the accounting procedures required and have highly irregular situations in detriment to their communities. Mejia urged the mayors to oblige their accountants to comply with Article 34 of Law 3455 so that their accounts are in order. The GAO audits showed the municipality are not collecting taxes on public works contracts, there is a lack of proper accreditation for the contracting engineers, a lack of their National Tax Number (RNC) and the lack of payment of income taxes on these contracts. Mejia urged the director of the Tax Department, Juan Hernandez to look in to things at the municipal level.

Concern about PEME case discharge
Porfirio Rodriguez, coordinator of Participacion Ciudadana, the civic movement, said that the discharge of three government officers involved in the Programa de Eventual Minimo de Empleo (PEME) from the accusation of fraud against the state for RD$1.43 billion during the first Leonel Fernandez administration is a matter of concern. He said that decision serves reinforces the generalized perception of impunity regarding corruption in government. The case was closed when the state prosecutors desisted from placing charges. He commented in Hoy newspaper that he has no doubt that the others in the case will be discharged from responsibility, as is usual in administrative corruption cases. "If we judge by the cases that have made it to court and the results of these, one would be lead to believe this is one of the most honest and least corrupt countries in the world," he commented.

Cibao Valley flooded by more rains
At least two persons perished in new flood waters and more than 1,200 persons had to be evacuated from their homes as waters rose and the rains kept coming. In Santiago, seven more houses fell in to the arroyos and the stonewall shoring up the back side of the Fortaleza San Luis collapsed, forcing the municipality to declare it a public danger. One drowning death occurred at the intersection of two of the major avenues of the city, 27 de Febrero and Estrella Sadhala, when a man tried to keep his motorcycle from being swept away by the current and drowned in the attempt. Because of the flooding, the COE was forced to close 14 swimming holes in the area.
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