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Daily News - Monday, 28 May 2007

Converting public transport to natural gas
The Ministry of Industry and Commerce plans to install 200 workshops to convert 158,000 vehicles to natural gas nationwide over a three-year period, as reported in El Nuevo Diario. Minister Francisco Javier Garcia said this would mean savings of US$275 million of the subsidy that the government applies to propane, which is normally used in the vehicles. He announced the government would donate conversion kits to 22,500 registered public transport vehicles. These are valued at US$700 each.
Last week, President Leonel Fernandez issued Decree 264-08 that calls for the central and city governments to promote the mass use of natural gas as an alternative to propane, diesel and gasoline.
Linea Clave Internacional operates a natural gas plant with capacity for producing 288,000 cubic meters of natural gas per day. Francisco Javier Garcia said that the 158,000 vehicles would consume 6,115 cubic meters per day.
The World Energy Council says that natural gas, as a cleaner burning source of fossil fuel than oil or coal, is now commonly believed to offer part of the solution to climate change and problems associated with poor air quality. Once considered largely a waste product of oil production, natural gas is currently experiencing a huge increase in demand around the world. As a plentiful, economically viable and less polluting fuel, natural gas makes sense for developing economies looking for new sources of power.

Associated Press looks at Metro
The Associated Press (AP) says that the streets of Santo Domingo are changing because President Fernandez, who grew up in New York City, dreams of converting the city into a "Little New York." The subway project, says the AP, the first in the Caribbean, looks like pure New York, with noise, controversy and a budget that has exceeded the original estimate. According to the AP, the President has promised that the first 14 kilometers of the first subterranean subway system in the Caribbean will be built before the elections next 16 May, for which he is seeking re-election. Critics point out that the government is spending a fortune, which would be better spent tackling the problems of poverty, hunger and the lack of electricity in the DR. The article in Listin Diario reviews Fernandez's childhood in New York City, mentions the hundreds of thousands of Dominicans that live there and send back billions of dollars in remittances. It also mentions how many close ties Fernandez has with police departments in New York and New Jersey. At one point the article quotes Fernandez as telling a reporter that Dominicans won't have to immigrate to New York, because "we are going to bring New York here." However, the AP does point out that if the subway is completed on time, and reduces traffic and smog, the President will be a hero. "But if there are problems, he (Fernandez) could be punished with the vote."

Grounded police cars
Diario Libre reports on the US$1 million purchase of Ford Focus vehicles from a Ford supplier in Spain by the Ministry of Interior and Police and how these vehicles have been grounded by the police due to the lack of spare parts for repairs. The local Ford dealer, Viamar, said they had warned the Ministry that this would happen. The vehicles purchased in Spain run on diesel, while the locally sold Ford Focus operate on gasoline, thus the local dealer does not have the necessary spare parts to repair the vehicles and has to import them. Viamar's spokesman said that the Police owed them RD$5 million for past services. Viamar said that the Police do not have an adequate service center for vehicle maintenance. Records show that the vehicles cost US$15,000 each. Of the 79 vehicles, 49 were distributed to the Police and 30 to the Metropolitan Transport Authority (AMET).

Government could lose RD$6 billion
The Minister for Economy, Planning and Development, Temistocles Montas, has defended the government's plan to reduce taxes on selected items such as beer, rum, and cigarettes, as well as on other items subjected to a Selective Luxury Tax. Additional taxes levied in January 2007, had a negative effect on sales, as beer and cigarette companies had warned. According to Montas, if current taxes are maintained, the government could face a loss of up to RD$6 billion in expected tax revenues. As well as the decrease in tax income, Montas also said that the government led by Leonel Fernandez does "not want to create difficulties for the productive sector." The positive effect on reducing smoking aside, the government is concerned for its pocket. As reported in Hoy newspaper, the minister now has admitted that the most recent tax revision went a little bit too far in applying a 100% ad-valorem tax on cigarettes. President Fernandez will address the nation early this week and is expected to announce exactly which measures will be sent to Congress for approval. The decline in beer sales hit home when the Presidente-producing company announced the cancellation of the Presidente Latin Music Festival this year.

Criminalizing billing for energy not served
Deputy Vinicio Castillo Seman writes in today's Listin Diario that Congress should be aware and under no circumstances should pass a bill to criminalize electricity theft such as the one currently under review in Congress and requested by the International Monetary Fund. Castillo writes: "Running its course is what can be described as a vulgar and unacceptable blackmail by IMF technocrats who seek to convert our legislators into submissive sheep who fulfill what is ordered by the all-powerful international finance police."
He explains that the IMF does not have the moral authority to call for energy theft to be penalized in this country because it is the same IMF that allowed the purchase of the power distributors from Union Fenosa for more than US$300 million when these were bankrupt. "Did the IMF call for penalties for those who carried out that true crime against the Republic?" he asks, commenting that instead of being penalized, the Mejia government that negotiated the deal was awarded a new agreement with the IMF in combination with the World Bank so that the Mejia government could have the resources to seek reelection.
However, Castillo's main concern is that the IMF is not calling for the criminalization of all energy fraud. "Is the IMF in agreement that the power the distributors steal from consumers should also be criminalized?" "Can we continue to merely label this power as "bills for energy not served the power," and continue to bill for this along with the billing for energy that is supplied, he wonders. "Is that not robbery?" he asks Economy Minister Temistocles Montas, the main supporter of the passing of the criminalization bill that seeks to increase power distributors' revenue so the government may reduce its subsidy to the sector.
Castillo says that if prison penalties are approved for consumers, they need to be approved for the executives of the companies that do the same to consumers.

Voting system stalls chamber
The newly installed state-of-the-art biometric voting system has apparently befuddled the members of the Chamber of Deputies for more than two months. Ever since the system was installed, deputies have not been able to clear more than five items off their long list of pending legislation during any one session. The biometric system will not permit one deputy to vote for another and is being blamed for the backlog in legislation pending a hearing. According to Diario Libre, the deputies must register by placing their index fingers on a pad, and they have to do the same thing in order to vote on a motion. According to the paper, "placing their finger and voting is too much work for the deputies, who are not used to the new system, which is used in parliaments such as in Spain." The paper continues by saying that in the deputies' defense, they were forced to learn the new system "on the run" because they have not been shown how it works. However, for the system to work, the deputy must occupy his seat, which is practically impossible since between the hallways, the restaurant and chats between colleagues, so much precious time is wasted that the quorum itself has been lost on more than ten occasions.

JCE worried about lack of interest
Much like a jilted bride, the Central Electoral Board (JCE) is starting to get worried by President Leonel Fernandez's apparent lack of interest in meeting with the board. Diario Libre says that the magistrates are interpreting this attitude as a Presidential lack of affection for the board's composition. Already in office for six months, the JCE has not even been able to hold the normal protocol ceremonial meeting with the President, and hasn't received an answer to three formal requests for meetings. The first request came after the announcement of JCE budget cuts for 2007. The request was made on 11 November 2006. The letter reviewed the precarious economic situation the JCE was experiencing and gave dire warnings about possible long-term effects. According to one of the JCE magistrates, only "Julio Cesar Castanos, Leyda Pina and Aura Celeste (Fernandez) have met with the President in work relating to the Commission for the Reformation of the State."
Another magistrate, Eddy Olivares, said that it is "not good for the JCE to ask for 'economic favors' from the Chief Executive because this can affect the JCE's credibility."
The explanation for the lack of planned resources is in the discounts that the Banco de Reservas is carrying out for the loan being disbursed for the SOMO electronic registration and voting systems approved in the past government with the support of Judge Roberto Rosario, who continues in the new JCE board. The SOMO contract is on hold, pending results of a new audit.

Special Force patrols frontier
A Special Frontier Security Force (CESFRONT) is preparing for its duty to take charge of the frontier, and began its first training exercises in the face of a mock mass influx of Haitians fleeing from violence and persecution. The training took place at the four main crossing points along the Dominican frontier with Haiti. The specialized unit, comprised of 500 officers and men, began in Jimani-Malpasse. The joint operation, called Gavion III, simulated a situation where thousands of Haitians were fleeing across the border. The group included people who were wounded, sick, political refugees, undocumented, drug dealers, criminals and smugglers. The rehearsals are based on the realities of Dajabon, Elias Pina, Jimani and Pedernales where most of the trans-frontier activities are concentrated, because these towns have Immigration and Customs offices. The Special Frontier Security Force was set up in 1999 but budget limitations have stalled its activation until now. CESFRONT works with units from Immigration, Customs, Public Health and Civil Defense as well as human rights representatives. Most of the corps' members speak Creole in order to communicate with the immigrants.

Real "tree-huggers"
A small group of protesters lined parts of a major thoroughfare and tied themselves to trees in protest against Santo Domingo Mayor Salcedo's plan to replant different species of trees all over the city. According to Diario Libre, Mayor Salcedo said that the protestors were motivated by politics and not by ecological concerns. The Mayor pointed out that in 2005 the city had invested two years' worth of public hearings and consultations on the city's Strategic Plan. The Mayor also denied that he was running away from a meeting with members of the citizens group Santo Domingo Somos Todos. One of the major complaints of those who protest the city government tree selection is that shade trees are being replaced by trees, such as the palm trees, that while beautiful will only contribute to increase the heat in the city, a major concern in these days of global warming.

I spy #1
The mini-column called "The Spy" that appears on page 4 of Diario Libre is often good fun to read. On Saturday, The Spy reported that on Friday evening at about 7:45pm, many of the vehicles that were using the elevated portions of John F. Kennedy Avenue, going west to east, could witness the spectacle of an AMET SUV with seven officers inside and who were apparently enjoying the ride and a large beer that they were drinking. There were more than a few surprised drivers, but the surprise was greater for the AMET officers when they saw a clearly marked vehicle from Diario Libre right next to them! Then, with great speed, they tried to hide the bottle of beer.
Today's Diario Libre and "The Spy", say that AMET wanted more details of the incident reported, but the newspaper said that if they really intended to punish the offenders, a look at the list of agents assigned to that area should be enough.

Another real estate scandal in Higuey
The process of organizing the land titles for a protected area of the National Park of the East has unearthed a new scandalous affair in the Higuey area. Apparently, according to Diario Libre, well over 35 million square meters (35 square kilometers) were divided into seven lots. According to the paper the total value of this beachfront land is in the neighborhood of RD$100 billion. The Higher Land Court was in the process of adjudicating title to the land when the Attorney General ordered a halt to the proceedings. The State Attorney at the Land Court, Fermin Casilla Minaya, told reporters that the underhand manner in which the land was being given clear title was highly suspicious. Casilla Minaya said that he does not doubt that there are other people acting behind the portended owners, since these "do not have the qualities to initiate the title clearing process." Laws governing the National Park System and the environment are involved in the debate. According to Casilla Minaya the local magistrate on the land court acted with "lightening speed in decreeing the land titles in favor of private individuals."

Good buys at supermarkets
In the face of continuing all-time high prices for gasoline, LPG and new highs for diesel fuel, the Dominican consumer can find some good buys at the supermarket. Savings of up to 40% can be found if you look at the right places. The major chains, Pola-Sirena, Nacional, Bravo and Jumbo have "Specials" days on different products like vegetables, meats or shellfish. Listin Diario says that on tomatoes, for example, listed normally at RD$18.95, you can save RD$3.79 on the specials, or RD$5 on green peppers or RD$2 on carrots. Fruit is another commodity that can bring savings, according to Oscar Valdez, the manager of the Nacional Supermarket on Maximo Gomez Avenue. Housewives are flocking to take advantage of the savings. Floor traffic is up by 15%-20 % and, on exceptional days by as much as 70%. At Plaza Lama's food store, Tuesdays are for vegetables, Wednesdays are for meats, and Fridays are for the most popular items in the family food basket. The only caveat is that, in most cases, quantities are limited to a certain number of pounds of any particular item.

Babies, more babies
With the birth of a set of triplets, the very expensive arrival of multiple births continues in the Dominican Republic. Within a 24-hour period doctors at the Altagracia Maternity Hospital in Santo Domingo, the nation's largest maternity facility, delivered sextuplets and triplets, a truly rare occurrence, given the fact that sextuplets are a once-in-45-million-births event, and a year and a half ago the DR had its first ever sextuplets. The cost of these multiple births is staggering, according to Hoy newspaper. Dr. Luis Rivera, head of Perinatology at the hospital said that in 36 hours the hospital had spent around RD$1.0 million on the five surviving sextuplets and four or five million more will be spent on their care during their stay at the hospital. At 9:40am on Saturday, Madeline Cuesta gave birth to premature triplets. The babies are in critical condition, arriving after just 23 weeks of pregnancy. Unlike the mother of the sextuplets, Cuesta had not received fertility treatment. Dr. Rivera told reporters that the country should establish some sort of rule for assisted pregnancies because they can become national tragedies and not triumphs of medicine. The triplets were all born weighing less than 500 grams, and the doctors do not give them much of a chance. This is the fifth pregnancy that Cuesta has lost, according to Diario Libre.

Cellphone blamed for explosion
A violent explosion in a chemical warehouse in Haina, San Cristobal, is being blamed on the use of a cellphone. According to Listin Diario, the worker, who perished in the blast, was moving a vehicle loaded with highly inflammable material when he used his cellphone. The blast and fire caused panic in the area. According to Celso Marranzini, the president of Multiquimica Dominicana, the worker, Erasmo Medina, violated company policy by using a cellphone inside the company's yard where a great deal of highly inflammable raw materials are stored. The tank truck was loading Toluene, a highly volatile solvent, when the explosion and fire occurred. Medina suffered third degree burns over 80% of his body. Multiquimica Dominicana has been in the area for 20 years without incident.

PGA Champions Tour in DR
The Dominican Republic will be in the limelight of the world's golf community when the PGA Tour's Champions Tour 2008 takes place at Cap Cana in the east of the country next 31 March-6 April. Cap Cana's Board of Directors president Ricardo Hazoury and Champions Tour senior vice president Mike Stevens signed the agreement last week in the presence of Jack Nicklaus at Nicklaus Design headquarters in North Palm Beach, Fla.
The 54-hole stroke-play tournament will feature a 78-player field and official prize money of US$2 million, with the winner collecting US$300,000. Golf Channel will broadcast all three rounds in the United States and coverage of the event will be distributed internationally.
"The Cap Cana will be a prestigious addition to our 2008 schedule," said Champions Tour president Rick George. "The pristine setting combined with the Jack Nicklaus design of the Punta Espada Golf Club and resources and amenities of the Cap Cana Resort will immediately establish The Cap Cana as a premier event on the Champions Tour."
Punta Espada Golf Club, the first of three Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses due to open in Cap Cana, is operated by Troon Golf and opened for play in November 2006. The par-72 course incorporates the surrounding natural beauty of Cap Cana, stretching along a coastline where golfers on each hole look out into the blue expanse of the Caribbean Sea.
Just a few months after opening, Punta Espada debuted at No. 77 in Golf Digest's ranking of the 100 Best Courses Outside the U.S."
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