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Daily News - Wednesday, 04 July 2007

Pension money for housing
President Leonel Fernandez announced the financing of 4,000 housing units for public school teachers with funds from the nation's pension funds. He favored using a share of the RD$39 billion in accumulated pension funds to finance the Professor Juan Bosch low-income housing development, to be located in Santiago on government property. The governmental National Housing Bank (BNV) would be responsible for developing the project. He said he would authorize the governmental Banco de Reservas to issue mortgage notes to provide access to the pension funds for housing. He also said he has requested that the National Social Security Council (CNSS), which manages the funds, issue a resolution that authorizes that a portion of the funds be placed in Central Bank certificates. President Fernandez also favored that the funds be used to build roads. The announcement was made during a workshop on "How to Access the Pension Funds," held yesterday at the Santo Domingo Hilton Hotel.
In the DR, those employed contribute every month to the retirement fund. Pension Superintendent Persia Alvarez said that as of 30 June there are RD$39 billion in the funds, with an average yield of 9.7%. She explained that four years into the pension system, it now represents 3.2% of the GDP and there are estimates that by year 2012 it can represent 13% of GDP. As of 30 June, the pension plan had 1.7 million affiliates.
The president of the National Council of Business (CONEP) Lisandro Macarrulla called for caution in the use of the pension funds. He pointed to examples in other countries where the funds were misused and the funds were bankrupt.

Conep makes a point
Lisandro Macarrulla, president of the National Business Council (CONEP) addressed an audience of leading economic and political figures yesterday. His speech focused on "Macro-economic policies necessary to promote the development of the productive sector: Fiscal, monetary and exchange." While the Conep spokesperson recognized the country enjoys economic stability, he criticized the weakness of government institutions that have adapted to satisfying current interests rather than attending to public necessities. Macarrulla said that there were some serious issues to think about, such as the slow development of production facilities, the reduction in the flow of tourists and the job losses for skilled factory workers, and the decline of exports. He pointed out that the export value of US$2.94 billion is equivalent to the US$805 million of three decades ago. Dominican exports have averaged US$1.53 billion over the past three years, primarily thanks to the high price of ferro-nickel on the world market. This means that exports have fallen very sharply. Macarrulla continued by saying that the state has not been capable of providing a framework of law and order in the most fundamental aspects. This weakness is seen in the lack of basic services and infrastructure. Among the more serious flaws pointed out by the CONEP leader are the lack of adequate public education, the chaos within the electricity sector, low worker productivity due to health issues, and high costs attributable to the double invoicing of health care programs and the horribly costly and inefficient system of public transport.

Price hikes linked to costs
Lisandro Macarrulla, the head of the National Business Council (CONEP), and Manuel Diez, the head of the DR Industrial Association told the Listin Diario that recent price increases in basic products reflect hikes in energy costs, higher fuel costs and labor costs that have gone up over the past six months. According to these spokespersons, the Dominican marketplace is distorted "because in the DR we do not have an open, competitive market." Also, according to Diez, because of the increase in costs, some items that are duty free because of DR-CAFTA have not decreased much in price.

JCE internal strife
The recent announcements made by the Central Electoral Board (JCE) regarding the rules and regulations that will govern elections and the financing of the political parties have apparently unearthed some serious disagreements within the board itself. Chief magistrate Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman told Hoy newspaper that the magistrates of the board have not, themselves, come to any agreement on several matters that have been submitted to the full board by the administrative section. Castaoos Guzman said the lack of a consensus is because the regulations have not been put on the agenda to be examined by the full board. Castaoos told the reporters that it was not enough for the new rules to fulfill the constitutional mandate (Art. 92) whereby the JCE is entrusted with the direction of presidential, congressional and municipal elections.

Causes for blackouts
EdeSur, the power distribution company covering the largest area in Santo Domingo, reported that recent blackouts are due to works carried out by the Empresa de Transmision that is building a 138,000 volt line to improve the quality of power distribution. Quircio Valdez told Hoy newspaper that this requires that the 69,000 volt line be disconnected in several sectors, which will bring considerable improvement. He said that the company is also installing transformers with higher potency in several substations so these are adequate for the new lines. He mentioned that a modern substation is being installed in the Piantini neighborhood, another is improved in the UASD state university area. Likewise, he mentioned that excavations for the metro are also causing blackouts.

Barrio asks for promises to be kept
Capotillo, one of the target barrios of the government's Safe Barrio Plan, is tired of the constant blackouts, the lack of water, the high cost of living and the lack of official answers to years old demands. They decided to do something about the situation, and took to the streets in a peaceful walk through the narrow streets of the barrio, where the Fernandez's administration's first launched the "Democratic Security Program" and the "Safe Barrio Plan". Now, 21 local associations are joining forces to ask for the fulfillment of the government's promises. The Council for the Development of Capotillo (Condeca) pointed out that while crime is down at the start of the programs, it has returned, because "a program such as this cannot be sustained based solely on police patrols. Crime is controlled by resolving the problems that created it in the first place."
When asked about the famous and costly Harley-Davidson motorcycles that were assigned to patrol the area, the community leaders and the housewives laughed and said that "they were taken out of here a long time ago!"

Strikes and the Armed Forces
In the light of the recent public disturbances in Pedro Brand that blocked off traffic between Santo Domingo and the north of the country, and faced with further disturbances in Santiago and parts of Santo Domingo, Armed Forces Minister RamUn Aquino GarcIa told reporters that the Armed Forces would back the National Police in enforcing the peace. He said, "all who break the law will have to face the Armed forces."
Police chief Bernardo Santana Paez walked part of the Duarte Highway where demonstrators were protesting the lack of water and electricity in Pedro Brand. The chief talked with demonstrators and helped calm the atmosphere. Santo Domingo Water Authority (CAASD) director Richard MartInez promised to send water trucks to the area, and complained that the recent drought had reduced the water available for distribution. The CAASD has 80 tank trucks under contract for this service, at a cost of RD$2500 per day.
With a call for a national work stoppage on 9 July, both the police and the armed forces are on alert. Protesters are demanding that the government focus on the basic needs of the population, and mini projects that would make life more bearable, rather than focusing all attention on mega projects such as the metro.

Dajabun's economic revival
The presence of branch offices of some of the nation's most important banks, plus the opening of savings and loan offices in DajabUn Province, are key factors in the economic revival of the border province. Much of this activity is due to the bi-national market that is celebrated in the city twice a week. Clients from Haiti cross the border to sell their wares and purchase staples and other items at the market. According to the provincial governor Arturo SocIas, each Monday and Friday approximately RD$25 million pesos are transacted at the fair. Another factor in the revival of the province is the presence of the Office of the Controller of European Development Funds that supervises different projects in the province. The governor also pointed out that the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) and the UTESA, have both installed branches in the city.
The area is recovering from recent tornados and storms that have impacted farming in the area, according to the Diario Libre.

Patriots receive proper burial
A little known fact about the Dominican Republic is that the 4th of July is a National Day of Mourning. In 1861, General Pedro Santana ordered a firing squad to kill Founding Father Francisco del Rosario Sanchez and 12 other patriots in San Juan de la Maguana for resisting Santana's decision to annex the Dominican Republic to Spain. Yesterday the remains of the 12 patriots that died with Sanchez were transferred to San Juan de la Maguana under full military escort. Once in San Juan, the 12 will receive proper military burials at their final resting places. President Leonel Fernandez, and the Executive Branch's Permanent Commission for the Celebration of Patriotic Holidays and the Dominican Academy of History coordinated the ceremony. According to a spokesperson, the 12 were common people that sacrificed their lives on July 4, 1861. In 1889, the Senate passed a resolution declaring 4 July as a National Day of Mourning in honor of the heroes of the Restauration.
The 4th of July also marks the anniversary of the death of former President Antonio Guzman in 1982.

Seized planes stripped for parts
Three of the airplanes seized from drug-related persons were dismantled and the parts sold, according to sources at Depreco, the Department for the Prevention of Corruption. The former head of the Air Force, retired General Virgilio Sierra PErez is under investigation. Two generators from the planes and three jet turbines were also sold. According to the Diario Libre, a total of four turbines were sent to Miami under the pretext of being repaired. Reportedly, one of the turbines was sold to Colombia for US$75,000. As Depreco builds its case, questions remain as to the whereabouts of parts supposedly sent to the Dominican Air Force, and other parts from Air Force places that are supposed to be in a museum in New York.

Depreco chief removes prosecutor
Octavio Lister, the head of the Department for the Prevention of Corruption (Depreco) has removed assistant prosecutor Carmen Alardo PeOa from her job, allegedly because the lawyer questioned decisions and positions taken by Lister in the handling of the cases involving banks such as the folded commercial bank Baninter. Alardo PeOa was the special prosecutor for these cases, and she faced up to Lister, questioning what she felt were incorrect accusations in the case. Lister said that the lawyer has committed "disciplinary infractions" that led him to dismiss her from the cases she has been working on for more than a year.

Ambassador Nadal Rincon
Most people have never heard of Ambassador Francisco JosE Nadal Rincon. His low profile was perfect for his job of more than 40 years as Chief Protocol Officer for the Ministry of Foreign Relations. Among ambassadors and government officials, from the President on down, Nadal RincUn was the last word in protocol. His advice was always very succinct, given freely, and always correct. The organizers of the three major games organized in the Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo 1974, Santiago 1986 and the Pan American Games 2003) relied upon his advice regarding protocol, and their success was due in part to his efforts. Every President from Trujillo to Leonel Fernandez listened to his counsel. Yesterday, he was buried with full state honors, including a mass officiated by the Papal Nuncio, a 15-gun salute and a military honor guard. President Fernandez signed Decree 314-07 declaring today a Day of Mourning for the discreet ambassador. Nadal RincUn served the government for more than 50 years, beginning in 1955.

Most of sextuplets go home
There were tears of joy in the eyes of the staff at the Altagracia Maternity Hospital in Santo Domingo, as four of the remaining five sextuplets were sent home. Health Minister Bautista Rojas GUmez and the hospital staff said goodbye to the babies. Only the tiniest one, Ciara Selena, was kept for further treatment at the hospital. She weighs just two and a half pounds, and has some complications with her metabolism. The chief of Perinatology at the hospital, Dr. Luis Rivera, told reporters from the Diario Libre that the babies were doing well and had gained as much as one pound. Rojas GUmez assigned a group of doctors to oversee the progress of the children in the apartment that was rented by the ministry and prepared for the children and their parents.
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