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Daily News - Monday, 14 May 2007

Docs and clinics confuse SFS start
On Friday, the Dominican Medical Association (CMD) and the Association of Private Clinics (ANDECLIP) withdrew from the Family Health Insurance Plan (SFS) and thoroughly confused the entire issue. This development forces the Superintendent of Health to withdraw from his former position and renounce his intention to set fixed doctor's fees at the clinics. CMD president Dr. Enriquillo Matos told Diario Libre reporters that the population could not be guaranteed adequate health care through the plan since the doctors themselves had not been included in the discussions. Matos reminded reporters that President Fernandez had announced a meeting with the CMD for last week, but the meeting never took place. On the other hand, contracts have been sent to public and private medical facilities stating that the fee for medical consultations will be RD$186. The doctors are asking for RD$400.
On Saturday, the Minister of Public Health announced that the Family Health Plan would begin on 1 June and that any difficulties encountered would be taken care of as things progressed. Bautista Rojas Gomez said that there "were a lot of things that needed to be looked at in order to provide patients with adequate care". Sunday's El Caribe newspaper reported that private health insurance programs would try to stop the government from collecting quotas for the SFS, which is yet to begin functioning.
According to ANDECLIP president Rafael Mena "it is not fair to deduct money from paychecks for services that are not even being offered and which are not yet defined." Most employees reject the 2.7% deductions from their salaries, beginning this fortnight, supposedly destined to fund the SFS system.
Today's Diario Libre reports that uncertainty about the SFS reigns, and tomorrow employers are supposed to begin making deductions. The newspaper points out that primary care centers will be obliged to treat patients as from tomorrow, despite the fact that the SFS has not yet established which health centers are taking part. Vice-President Rafael Alburquerque is holding a meeting today to mediate the stalled talks between the public health officials and the National Council for Social Security. Meanwhile, ANDECLIP and the CMD have pulled out of the program.

Dajabon, days later
President Leonel Fernandez visited the devastated areas of Dajabon on Friday and promised to rebuild the area. He was briefed by the government work teams that are cleaning up the mess left by the violent storm. Recent aerial views seem to indicate that the term "tornado" might well be applied to the phenomenon since there is a clear path of destruction, too similar to what is seen in the United States to be dismissed. President Fernandez met with hundreds of residents and promised to return in three weeks. Brigades of CDEEE workers are working to restore electricity and teams of carpenters from the Nation Housing Institute (INVI) were busy rebuilding some of the many homes that suffered damage. A report from the National Emergency Commission (CNE) stated that over 600 houses were affected, and that damage to the electricity system was estimated at RD$45 million. The bridge across the Masacre River was also damaged, delaying the traditional market day activities. On Friday evening some 45% of the area's electricity supply had been restored, and by Sunday, most services had returned to normal and schools were expected to re-open today. Electricity, according to Diario Libre, has now been restored to about 85% and potable water to about 95%. Telephone services to most of the city have also been restored. The paper says that the Public Health Ministry has begun a program of vaccinations against a possible outbreak of influenza.

More funds for OPRET
President Leonel Fernandez has created the Fund for Development and Financing of the Transport Sector. Once again taxpayer money will be used to fund the purchase of new vehicles for city transport. The new fund will be overseen by OPRET, the new government agency in charge of building the Santo Domingo metro, and which recently announced plans to build trains for the transport of goods and cargo nationwide over a 50- to 100-year period.
The decree, reported in Diario Libre, establishes that the fund will start using Plan Renove money. Plan Renove was a notorious transport renovation plan undertaken during the Mejia administration in which major beneficiaries and leading transport companies were sentenced for corruption. The decree also establishes that the fund will receive allotments from the National Budget and credit from domestic and international commercial banks. Its board members will include representatives of Conatra, Fenatrano and Fenatrado, leading transport unions that have frequently been cynically referred to as "the owners of the country," for their constant success in securing millions of dollars worth of benefits from successive Dominican governments while maintaining a transport monopoly.

Metro studies "do not exist"
According to a report in Monday's El Dia, Office for the Reorganization of Tranport (OPRET) head Diandino Pena admits that the studies requested by journalist Huchi Lora do not exist. Pena is quoted as saying "we handle the technical part, and when they want to see all the documents, they are here; we will adhere to the court ruling. Now they are asking for documents that they know do not exist and there are reasons why, and they insist on that. Then we do not know what is behind that," stated Pena. He insisted, though that the law of access to public documents had been applied incorrectly and has yet to comply. Lora requested the documents and took OPRET to court when these were refused, after geologist Osiris de Leon said that the builders are improvising as they go along, increasing the cost of the project, because the required studies were not carried out.
OPRET was served a court ruling on 27 April ordering Pena to provide the documentation requested by Lora.

A government official above the law?
Diario Libre's page two A.M. column pointed out over the weekend how the Public Information Access Law applies to everyone, not just to ordinary citizens. Writer Ines Aizpun explains that the law was drafted so that all citizens could have access to information that public officials frequently consider to be for their own use. She expressed her hopes that the case of journalist Huchi Lora and the OPRET office responsible for building the metro is resolved satisfactorily and that director Diandino Pena complies with the court ruling that orders him to answer the journalist's questions about the studies and plans. She comments on how for now, what the OPRET has done is to show other studies to another media.
"Thus, with childish delay tactics (with the backing of the President himself), they try to muddy the waters. Instead they have succeeded in exacerbating the problem even further. Now it is not just about the metro, but about whether a top government official believes that the law does not apply to him," she writes.
"Curiously they are convincing us that truly, there are no approved plans, and that the exhaustive ground studies do not exist, and that they don't know how to disguise these facts. Long live progress and modernity!"

A look at power company figures
Power distribution companies post a 66.6% increase in collections over the last two years. Diario Libre explains that this does not reflect an increase in the number of paying customers, but comes as a result of the increase in the cost of the service that is passed on to customers. The Electricity Sector Rescue Plan prepared by state-run power sectors indicates that in 2004, distributors EdeNorte, EdeSur and EdeEste collected US$45 million on average, while the average rate was 12 cents to the dollar per kilowatt/hour. Three years later, monthly collections averaged US$75 million, that is, 66.6% more than in 2004. But the average rate is currently 20 cents (US$). "This means that the collections have increased in the same proportion as the rate, so the increase is not the result of better collection efficiency, but rather because of price increases," reports Diario Libre, going on to say that this contradicts the government's claim that the increases are the result of loss reduction, improved collections and less fraud.
In an editorial comment, the same newspaper indicates that so far the present government cannot show an increase in efficiency in the sector, despite a substantial increase in the payroll of the distribution companies (two under government tutelage). Furthermore, the commentary highlights what it calls the "fiasco of the coal-fred power plants, that were announced with great fanfare." "It is evident that the achievements in the sector are due to the major subsidies that taxpayers have to pay, and not to the efficiency of the sector," concludes the editorial.
The report is available at www.ede.gov.do

Salary scandal grows
Both Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez and the Institutionalism and Justice Foundation (FINJUS) have called for the magistrates of the Chamber of Accounts to renounce the huge salary increase they recently awarded themselves. The magistrates voted for a RD$260,088 monthly increase, and when the news came out it became a cause celebre. The Cardinal said, "It appears to me to be a disproportionate salary. I think that with ridiculous salaries in many, many areas, it is not possible for us to go around exhibiting salaries at these levels that cannot be justified under any circumstance." Magistrates Juan Lora and Andres Terrero were not in agreement with the salary increase and have sent a letter expressing their rejection to the accounting office's secretary. FINJUS executive vice-president, Servio Tulio Castanos also questioned the move, saying it was in direct violation of the government's announced austerity policy. Several months ago, the Supreme Court asked the Chamber of Accounts to emit an opinion on a salary "extra" that was being criticized by judge Aura Celeste Fernandez. The Chamber said that it was not the competent organization to issue such an opinion. According to El Caribe, the magistrates had been in office for less than one month before they awarded themselves this juicy salary increase. The salary scandal also spilled over to the magistrates' own security. El Caribe reports that the Chamber is spending RD$535,000 per month on security for the nine magistrates. They also have a RD$385,000 monthly per diem allowance for drivers and assistants. Chief magistrate Andres Terrero said that these huge payments "incur extraordinary expenses for the Chamber of Accounts and are beyond what is reasonable."

Dominicans reach Puerto Rico
This weekend 29 illegal immigrants were arrested in Puerto Rico after United States Coast Guard aircraft intercepted their small boat. Today's Diario Libre on-line version reports that a group of approximately 60 Dominicans landed in the area of Rincon, Puerto Rico on Sunday. According to police reports the group arrived around midnight in a 30-foot open boat that was left on the beach while the undocumented immigrants scrambled ashore. The police press officer in Aguadilla told Diario Libre reporters that Border Patrol units are searching for the Dominicans but no arrests have been made in the case so far.

Huge death toll on the roads
A total of 29 people perished on the Dominican roads this past weekend. There is no confirmed count as to how many were injured, but just one accident involving a truck full of soldiers reportedly injured more than 50 when its brakes failed. Listin Diario reports that traffic fatalities are the second cause of tragic deaths in the Dominican Republic, and that most accidents are caused by aggressive driving. In just one case, three cousins were killed as they raced each other near San Francisco de Macoris. The newspaper also reports that several of the deceased were victims of hit and run accidents. The accidents occurred near Santo Domingo, in Hato Mayor, in Herrera and in Bavaro. The army truck that overturned was traveling the stretch of road between Barahona and Paraiso. Some of the injured were flown by helicopter to the Armed Forces Hospital in Santo Domingo and others were treated at the Jaime Mota Hospital in Barahona.

Volleyball readies for Pan Ams
The Dominican women's volleyball team, gold medal winner at the 2003 Pan Am Games held in Santo Domingo, will be defending their medal at the Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro on 15-29 July. To win the medal, they defeated Cuba in a tight five-set finish. The Dominican team will also be taking part in the Continental Olympic Qualifier Tournament due to be held in Monterrey, Mexico on 14-22 December, in the run up to the summer 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
One team member, Annerys Vargas, was part of the Grupo Murcia 2002 team that won the Spanish Volleyball Women's Super League in Spain last week.
 
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