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Daily News - Monday, 16 July 2007

LF blasts bureaucrats
President Leonel Fernandez told a university audience that public service in the Dominican Republic was "questionable" at best. The President blamed the lack of quality among government officials on what he called "Particracy" or democracy based on party affiliations. As the keynote speaker at the inauguration of the "First Postgraduate Program in Public Management" at the PUCMM in Santo Domingo, the President said that one of the pending issues in the country is the need to professionalize the officials who serve the public, including how to retain public servants during changes in administration. The President said that from time to time the political will to make the changes needed might occur, but there is a lack of qualified technicians to coordinate and execute such a program. The government's National Personnel Office is one of the sponsors of the one-year program.

LMD cutbacks receive support
When Congress passed a bill that took away much of the political/financial power from the Dominican Municipal League (LMD), there was an instant reaction from LMD director Amable Aristy Castro's supporters, who called it "politically motivated". However, citizen watch groups such as Participacion Ciudadana, and the Federation of Dominican Municipalities have thrown their weight behind the measure, although with some reservations. Created in 1938, the LMD was designed to oversee all of the finances of the cities and towns in the DR. As a political tool, the "Liga" was a powerful weapon for garnering support, punishing the recalcitrant and humble and the most proud; after all, the entire budget for any city depended on the LMD president's approval. The post is so attractive that Aristy Castro, elected senator from the La Altagracia province, opted to remain in the "Liga" and has given up his senate seat on two occasions. Both the PRSC and the PRD have voiced their displeasure over the legislative measure.

Be careful with your plastic
With the ever-increasing use of credit cards and debit cards, the Dominican consumer is also a target for hackers and other information pirates. According to Listin Diario, as in many countries around the world, the local population is the object of international networks of identity thieves who are on the lookout for the opportunity to steal whatever resources are available on a person's credit card. In the Dominican Republic, according to the Superintendent of Banks, there are close to a million credit card holders and hundreds of millions of electronic transactions each year. The Superintendent of Banks User Protection Department reports that the number of fraud cases reported in the DR is relatively small, and the Dominican Banking Association says that the level of credit card fraud has dropped during the last quarter. But there are still some cases, and some of them are staggering. The newspaper reported one incident that happened a month ago as the cardholder was settling into his seat on an airplane. His cellphone rang and he was asked if he would approve a US$34,000 purchase for some diamonds! The negative answer prevented major fraud from taking place far away from Santo Domingo, but with the correct credit card numbers.

Up, up, up
Once again, for the twenty-fifth time, the prices of gasoline and diesel have risen. The latest prices are blamed on the higher cost of a barrel of oil, which easily topped US$70 dollars last week. Premium gasoline is now RD$163.60, regular is RD$151.40, and diesel is now RD$117.40. Subsidized liquid petroleum gas (LPG) is now RD$52.09 for domestic and vehicular use.

Energy issues still on top
According to the report filed by US-based company Latin Insights, most electricity sector clients consider the energy situation to be the second most important problem facing the country, surpassed only by the economy. Most of those questioned said they believed that the energy problem would be solved in the long term. And, somewhat surprisingly, 48% said that there had been some improvement over the past year, and 21% said that it had stayed the same. The rest said that it had gotten worse. Electricity distributor Ede-Este got the highest marks for improved service, followed by Ede-Norte. More than 1,300 people were interviewed in the survey.

Tourism and health
Nearly every entity tied to the tourism sector has voiced a reaction to the health warnings posted in some European countries. Minister of Public Health, Dr. Bautista Rojas Gomez, said that the warning was part of an "insidious campaign" against the Dominican Republic's tourist industry. Arturo Villanueva, executive vice president of the National Hotel & Restaurant Association, told reporters that the tourist areas are well protected from malaria and dengue. Frank Rainieri, the president of the Punta Cana Group, said that there was an international campaign to discredit the country as a tourist destination.

Prices have climbed
According to recent reports from the Central Bank, prices of basic foodstuffs have climbed, but they are still below 2004 levels. The bank studied the 33 items that make up the food that is traditionally consumed by the poorest families in the Dominican Republic; items such as rice and beans, chicken, pasta, garlic, onions, sardines and staples that have risen in price this last year. The report prepared by ENCOVI and the Central Bank shows that the basic daily food bill for an individual was placed at RD$36.51 in 2004, and today it is RD$34.48. It fails to mention that in 2004 the peso was at 48:1 and today it is at about 33:1.

A group of small businesses have joined forces to export mangoes. Called the Mango Cluster, the group has sold ten container loads to Europe over the last month. Most of the fruit is of the Keith variety. The group contracted the packing services of the Ocoa Agro-Industrial Company, which normally packages avocados for export, but, since this is not the avocado-exporting season, the facility was ready and willing to package the mango crop. According to spokespersons from the cluster, the group is packaging 15-20,000 mangos a day, but they are far below their maximum capacity of 50,000 per day. The spokesperson told Listin Diario reporters that this was mainly due to the poor quality of roads in the mango-growing region that prevented the harvest from reaching the packing plant in perfect condition. During the current harvest, the cluster plans to ship a total of 20 containers to Europe. In the future, the target is four containers a week, reaching a total of 40 containers for the cluster's export goal.

DEA looking at remittances
The United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is looking at individuals and companies that send remittances to the Dominican Republic. Apparently, they are convinced that some of this money is part of schemes to launder drug money. According to Hoy newspaper, reliable sources say that investigations went deeper last Thursday after DR customs officials stopped Diana Marte Jerez who was carrying the tidy sum of US$738,000 hidden away in packages of rice and other products. The source says that the DEA is tracking large sums of money from the United States to Puerto Rico that are then shipped to the Dominican Republic. People carrying the money are paid between US$10,000 and US$15,000 per trip. The DEA is currently looking at some of the remittance companies, but the informant said that no names were available at this time.

AMET needs more troops
The director general of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (AMET) told reporters that he needs 4,000 people in order to do the job. General Jose Sigfrido Fernandez Fadul said that for example, Samana has no AMET presence in spite of the huge surge in tourism in the area. According to Hoy, there are currently 1,200 men and women wearing the AMET green uniforms. Fernandez Fadul said that as soon as the Metropolitan Bus Service (OMSA) takes over the routes in Santo Domingo and Santiago, he would need a minimum of 800 more officers. He pointed out the fact that when the National Police was responsible for traffic control, 4,000 men and women were assigned to the task.

Insiders in identity fraud
The current scandal taking place with the discovery of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of irregular and illegal identity switches is being placed at the feet of insiders, and more precisely at the feet of people who work at the Investigative Unit of the Electoral Registry and the Center for Identification at the Central Electoral Board (JCE). At issue is the Dominican "cedula" or national identification card and voter registration card all in one. The two departments are the only ones that work with voter registrations and they are the only ones that know just who does not have a photograph on file. According to a hard working source, Hoy reports that as part of the fraudulent process the people at the Investigative Unit have both the original card holder as well as the false owner sign waivers that supposedly release the JCE personnel from responsibility. According to the latest numbers from the congressional and municipal election of May 2006, over 75,000 people do not have a photograph in the JCE's databanks.

A good start at Rio 2007
The Dominican Republic got off to a good start at the XV Pan American Games currently under way in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In fact, it got off to the best start ever, when Gabriel Mercedes won the gold medal in the 58kg division of the Tae Kwon Do competition. The Dominican national anthem was the first to be played at the games. Jahaira Peguero took the silver medal in her category, losing to Mexican Alejandra Gaal in the final. Weightlifter Guillermina Candelario took a bronze medal in her category.
On Monday, the nation awoke to another smiling face on the front page of all the newspapers, that of Yudelkis Contreras. Contreras was the flag-bearer during the games opening ceremonies and she came through with a record-breaking performance. Weighing just 53kgs herself, the weightlifter lifted 95kgs in the snatch and 112 in the clean & jerk for a total of 207kgs. All three weights were Pan American records. In other developments, Yacomo Garcia won a bronze medal in Tae Kwon Do. The DR now has five medals after just two days of competition.
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