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Daily News - Wednesday, 27 June 2007

VIADOM means more tollbooths
If the government accepts a set of recommendations from the consultants of the VIADOM 2007 program, there will be ten new tollbooths around the country's major roadways. Tolls will be increased by at least 100%, with the money going towards highway repairs and construction. Anyone who uses the highways soon realizes that they are in need of major repairs. According to a study carried out by Auding & Technoamerica, part of the Audi Tec consortium, the best solution would be to lease the 990 kilometers of highway in the VIADOM study to three concessionaires that can finance the repairs with income from the tolls. The consultants consider a 30-year lease to be adequate for the purpose, and the total investment would exceed US$200 million. The report also says that all construction should be finished within five years and the shareholders should get 15% on their investments. Plans call for the first concession to be let in November of this year and the final concession in February 2008. Overall, the VIADOM program is looking at a US$700 million investment, according to Diario Libre, and forms part of the government's program to extend and improve the highway system. Public bids will be held for each of the three main stretches of highways. One is the highway going from the entrance of San Francisco de Macoris to Montecristi, including the Santiago Beltway, and the Montecristi Ring of Guayacanes-Mao-Sabaneta-Dajabon-Montecristi. The central portion includes the Duarte Highway from Santo Domingo to the entrance to SFM, and the continuation of this highway to Nagua. Another section will include the highway from Navarrete to Nagua, via Puerto Plata, Sosua, Cabarete, Gaspar Hernandez and Rio San Juan.

Time is running out for EPA
Ambassador Federico Cuello Camilo, the DR's representative at the European Union offices in Brussels, is warning that the "potential for failure is real" in the bilateral trade negotiations with the European Union, as reported in the 24 June edition of Hoy newspaper. DR-EU trade preferences expire in January 2008, and exports such as tobacco products (cigars), rum, bananas and sugar will be subject to tariffs when entering Europe from then on, reducing the DR's competitiveness as well as that of the CARICOM countries.
"Certain countries still believe there is time left. But time has run out and if the European Union does not present the World Trade Organization (WTO) with an agreement compatible with its rules, as of December this year, the legal framework supporting our banana, cigar and rum exports will collapse", explains Ambassador Cuello.
Meanwhile, he said that, "certain Caribbean countries (which he refused to name for diplomatic reasons) keep resisting taking on the minimum compromises that are required to evolve from preferences to reciprocal free trade to be agreed upon within the EPA." Ambassador Cuello concludes that to get things moving forward a common liberalization list is required for market access, to which countries have not agreed on, as well as a substantially revised list for liberalization commitments on services and investment."
The Europeans point to the "multilateralism clause" that is included in the draft text of the EPA. This means that under the EPA, ice cream made in the DR and exported to Jamaica will receive the same customs treatment in Kingston as ice cream exported by Holland. Therefore, the main obstacle to finalizing tariff liberalization talks is that some Caricom countries sustain an exaggerated exclusion list.
Ambassador Cuello is pessimistic about what could happen at the end of the negotiating process: "Let's hope that there is no need for another Caribbean crisis on sugar, banana and rum in order to convince the authorities that the time for action has arrived and that there is no more time to keep thinking about it."

More money for LPG subsidy
Deputies from all the main political parties are in agreement that the government should find the RD$2.4 billion needed to continue the subsidy on propane (LPG) for the rest of 2007. PRD deputy Alberto Atallah and PRSC deputy Marino Collante said that this was not the right time for the government to remove the subsidy. The legislators said that the economic situation that most citizens are in could not withstand such a blow. They said that the subsidy is a "social issue", which should be focused on the poorest. According to Atallah, the government should channel any request for these funds through Congress, and it would be approved. Collante said that while the subsidy needed to be abolished, this was not the right time to do this. Treasury (Hacienda) Minister Vicente Bengoa revealed that the subsidy was costing the government RD$400 million per month. Since propane prices were placed on the same level as gasoline and diesel fuel, the price of a gallon of propane has gone from RD$25 per gallon to RD$50 per gallon for 'household' use. Bengoa told reporters that the funds allocated for the subsidy had been used up by the end of the first week in June, and that the Executive would send a request to Congress for the additional RD$2.4 billion. Bengoa blamed the early consumption of the subsidy budget, in part, on the fact that thousands of vehicles have been converted from gasoline to run on Liquid Petroleum Gas.
News reports indicate that the subsidy will be maintained, with a budget amendment sent to Congress.

FINJUS and freedom of information
The executive vice-president of the Foundation for Institutionalism and Justice (FINJUS) Servio Tulio Castanos has told reporters that at three years and counting since the government launched its Freedom of Information project under Law 200-04, free access to government information is seriously limited. Castanos told El Caribe reporters that progress has been slow regarding the application of Law 200-04, especially with regards to the information the people want to know about. He added that the organization of the Offices of Public Access (OAI) and the positioning of the Managers of Access to Information (RAI) have been practically null. Castanos said, "one of the greatest challenges is in the wide range of state activity, going from completely opaque operations transitioning all the way to transparent operations, and then putting this information at the public's disposal." Castanos made these comments at a seminar-workshop organized by the civic group Participacion Ciudadana (Citizen Participation).

HMOs oppose plan
The nation's HMOs, called "administrators of health risks" (ARS) in Spanish, have come out publicly against a government proposal for the start up of the Family Health Plan (SFS). The HMOs said that the proposal was not a viable fiscal proposition and was contrary to the judicial principles set forth in Law 87-01 that deals with Social Security. In a communique released by the Dominican Association of Medical Contractors, ARS and the Dominican ARS Association, the administrators said that the system proposed by Vice President Rafael Alburquerque would produce a deficit of RD$7.0 billion and stymie the whole SFS process. Their opinion, according to Diario Libre, is based on 40 year's worth of statistics involving over two million participants in different health care packages.

Passengers not covered
Most passengers who use the well-known "voladoras" - those often- ramshackle minivans that serve as public transportation - ignore the fact that they are not covered by any insurance in the event of an accident. A total of 38,416 of these vehicles are currently on the roads, according to 2006 figures. According to a report in Listin Diario, one million passengers travel on public transport each day. A Spanish consultant says that the nation spends RD$4 billion on insurance payments and hospital treatment for accident victims. Raymundo Garcia Cuesta told the newspaper that indications are that the 2007 death toll will reach 2,200. Thousands are injured but receive no compensation from insurance, in violation of Law 241. Anyone who takes their case to court finds out that in most cases neither the driver nor the vehicle owner have sufficient coverage to compensate accident victims. The minimum required insurance is not sufficient to cover multiple accident victims, according to transport union leader Ramon Perez Figuereo.

Shell admits errors
Shell's general manager in Santo Domingo, Rafael Maradiaga has released a report that had been kept secret and that revealed that there were "deficiencies in the process" of invoicing cargo costs. The report, written in March 2007, said that there had been errors, but these were not systematic. Maradiaga sent the report to Dominican Refinery president Ruben Montas in response to a report from board members who were questioning the alteration of cargo invoices. Maradiago told reporters that when petroleum is purchased on the "spot" market, the price included transport, and therefore, there was no reason why the invoices should show separate charges for transport. He attributed the mistakes to "an inadequate control structure for something so important."

Shootout near Police HQ
Barely 200 yards away from the National Police central headquarters, three suspected thieves shot it out with police after they were caught committing a robbery at the Elegant Sports Bar on Ciriaco Ramirez Street, near the intersection with Leopoldo Navarro Avenue. The three accused thieves were wounded and two policemen were also shot during the gun battle. The thieves, two men and a woman, were armed with pistols. They had entered the Sports Bar and had a beer, and then they took over the place, removing jewelry, cell phones and money from customers as well as the employees. They were caught as they tried to leave the scene and then the shooting started.

Dragnets found guns and drugs
Armed Forces Minister Ramon Aquino Garcia has told reporters that the "Quiet City" operations had hauled in 24 handguns and a large quantity of drugs. The operation took place throughout Santiago de los Caballeros, at several different locations. The highest-ranking Dominican military officer said that operations of this sort were not designed to replace the Safe Barrio Program. The minister attended Mass at the Santiago Cathedral and placed a floral wreath at the statue of Juan Pablo Duarte as part of the ceremonies marking International Drug Awareness Day.

Judge denies Florian bail
The magistrate responsible for overseeing jail sentences in San Cristobal has turned down a request made by Rolando Florian Feliz to be released for time served. Florian was sentenced to 20 years jail time for transporting 953 kilos of cocaine in 1997. Magistrate Francisco Mejia Angomas accepted the Court prosecutor general's request that the request should be denied. Florian is currently serving his sentence at the Najayo Prison. The prosecutor told the judge that while it was true that Florian has served half of his sentence, his behavior in prison has been aggressive, nasty, reckless, and he has conducted criminal activities from his prison cell. His prison record, as recorded by the Department of Prisons confirmed these charges.

Eat bananas, be happy
A study released in the Philippines says that eating bananas every day is a good way to reduce depression. Chiquita Banana knew this many years ago. According to Diario Libre, the study was conducted by the Philippines Food and Nutrition Research Institute. Eating bananas maintains good serotonin levels in the brain and helps people feel better. The research institute recommends eating two or three bananas a day. Bananas contain vitamins A, C, K and B6 as well as tryptophans that stimulate serotonin. Bananas also reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems and strengthen muscles. The Dominican Republic is a leading producer of organic and conventional bananas.

The Le Scipion lies in Samana Bay
The French man-of-war Le Scipion, a 74-gunship-of-the-line sank in Samana Bay on 18 October 1782. The ship had taken part in the French blockade of the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, stalling Lord Howe's fleet from assisting General Cornwallis's troops at Yorktown, and thereby effectively ending British control of the American colonies. The Scipion was sailing in waters off Hispaniola when it met the 98-gun three-deck London and the 74-gun Torbay. The Scipion and its escort, the 40 gun frigate La Sybille were heavily outgunned and during the chase, the Scipion ran aground on a coral reef in about ten meters of water. Deep Blue Marine Inc. announced the discovery of the remains of the French vessel. Deep Blue Marine spokesperson Terry Leonard said that he had more than a thousand pages of vital information on the Scipion, including blueprints, cargo manifests and crew. Cannons and wine bottles have been recovered along with other artifacts needed to establish the vessel's identity. Deep Blue Marine president Wilf Blum said that the discovery was of great interest to the United States because of its history and that its recovery would soon get underway.

Cabarete kiteboard event
Sailing world eyes are on Cabarete as it prepares to kick off the third stop of six on the Professional Kiteboard Riders Association 2007 World Tour, 26 June to 1 July. The event began with the qualifying competition to choose the four men and two women that will represent the DR, in the competitions that will bring together the best kite boarders from 30 countries. The event will be held in front of Kite Beach Hotel on Kite Beach.
The Professional Kiteboard Riders Association 2007 World Tour competitions have US$40,000 in prize money.
Cabarete is known as a prime kiteboarding destination for its warm waters, protected bay and consistent winds. It is one of the oldest PKRA World Tour events and has been held every year since the start of the tour in 2001. Organizers point out that remarkably in the men's division there has never being a repeating champion in is competition history, demonstrating the competitiveness of the event.
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