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Daily News - Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Fernandez turns a valve
President Leonel Fernandez inaugurated the Northwest Aqueduct yesterday, a project that was more than six years in the making and with a cost said to be RD$8.3 billion. The aqueduct will serve the four northwestern provinces of Valverde, Santiago RodrIguez, Dajabon and Montecristi. Bishop Diomedes Espinal of the Mao-Montecristi dioceses blessed the project and the four provincial governors showered praise on the Chief Executive for his efforts to see the project through. This is the 92nd aqueduct that Fernandez has inaugurated. The aqueduct gets its water from the Mao River by means of the Moncion Dam, and is designed to supply nearly a million people.

A big money list
Thanks to the curiosity of television journalists Huchi Lora and Nuria Piera, the country can enjoy a peek at the assets reportedly admitted to by leading public servants. Curiously, the largest fortunes are not in the hands of any of the cabinet ministers, but are claimed by VIctor Diaz Rua, the director of the National Potable Water Institute (INAPA) at RD$158 million and Richard Martinez, the head of the Santo Domingo Water Works (CAASD) at RD$126 million. Alma Fernandez, director of the National Housing Institute (INVI) reported RD$36.9 million. This morning, television commentators had a field day with the reported RD$51 million reported by Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso. Andres Vanderhorst of the Aviation Department reported RD$49.4 million. Felix Jimenez, the Minister of Tourism, reported a personal wealth of RD$43.8 million. Juan Hernandez, the head of the Department of Taxes reported a personal fortune of just RD$42 million. Customs director Miguel Cocco reported RD$35 million. Ministers claiming personal wealth of less than RD$23 million included Jimenez in Agriculture (22.9 M), Lantigua in Culture (20 M), Aquino GarcIa in the Armed Forces (15.5M) Bengoa in Hacienda (13.7M), Max Puig in Environment (13.5). Others are Superior Education Minister Ligia Amada Melo (7.7 M), Economy inister Temistocles Montas (6.1M), Sports Minister Felipe Payano (5.3 M), Education Minister Alejandrina German (2.4M). President Leonel Fernandez is down with RD$16 million.

Aristy gains against Fernandez
A 5 July poll carried out by CIES International shows the PRSC's Amable Aristy gaining against the PLD's Leonel Fernandez. The poll found that Fernandez has 33% of the voters' intent compared to 25% of both PRD's Miguel Vargas Maldonado and 25% of Aristy. 12% of voters are undecided. CIES was the polling company to come closest to the actual outcome of the recent PRSC and PLD primaries.
See www.ciesintl.com/recent_polls

Clinton visit
Former United States President Bill Clinton visited the Dominican capital for a few hours yesterday, meeting with President Fernandez, the First Lady and various public health officials. Clinton was traveling as a representative of his foundation, and, as he said, "The objective of (my) visit is to look at how the children in the hospital (Robert Reid Cabral Children's Hospital) are getting along, to see how the medicines that are being administered are working, and to do a few tests." The former US chief executive told reporters that the Clinton Foundation has been helping "COPRESIDA for years and at this time we are donating US$60 for each child per year." Clinton's visit was aimed at pushing forward a pediatric program that is part of the efforts of the Clinton Foundation, Copresida, USAID and the Ministry of Public Health's program to assist the 33,000 children affected by HIV or AIDS. Newspaper reports have said that Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu has donated US$100,000,000 to the Clinton Foundation to fight HIV and AIDS around the world. Slim recently purchased the largest telecommunications operation in the DR.

CONEP and the Congress
The National Business Council (CONEP) has rejected the changes to the Electricity Law currently making their way through Congress. The council suggested the creation of a series of companies for the transmission and retransmission of electricity as well as focusing the subsidy for the poorest barrios. CONEP president Lisandro Macarrulla was supported by Association of Industries (AIRD) president Manuel Diez Cabral, as well as by Marisol Vicens. According to the statement read by Macarrulla, Conep feels that the legislature has taken the IMF requirement of criminalizing energy theft as an excuse for introducing other changes to the law. The main complaint was that Congress did not consult either CONEP or the AIRD about the issues at hand. Macarrulla said that the energy crisis is not due to the text of the law, but rather to the lack of fulfillment of the law and the politicizing of energy matters by those in government. Another point was the fact that the Electricity Law (125-01) has only been in existence for six years and has not had time "to mature." Manuel Diez warned that the legislature has started to use a method of modifying the law without any public hearings, and this hurts the nation's institutionalism as well as the energy sector.

Foreign investment climbs
Direct foreign investment (DFI) for the 2006 fiscal year amounted to US$1.18 billion, according to Maryse Robert, chief of the Trade Section at the Organization of the American States (OAS). This impressive sum represents a 16% increase over 2005. The tourism and telecommunications sectors received the largest part of this investment. The United States, the Netherlands, Canada and Spain were the principal sources of the money. In 2006 the DFI from Spain decreased a bit, while Canada's increased. According to El Caribe, Robert said that the increased investments were the result of legislative reforms, policies to attract investments and the simplification of the paperwork needed to make the investments. During the seminar organized by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Robert warned that there appeared to have been a slowdown in DFI in the Caribbean region, due in part to a lack of an "efficient frame of reference for competitiveness." The economist said that the signatories of the DR-CAFTA agreement should allow for the free flow of investment monies, taking care to be on the lookout for funds linked with what she called "criminal procedures."

Municipal woes
The struggle between different political parties and their internal factions to place themselves in advantageous positions for the 2010 elections is taking its toll at a number of municipalities across the country. Within the Dominican political system, the major city councils have control over the municipal districts, and can appoint the mayor and his aides as well as the council members. Thus, a PLD city government can appoint PLD members to all of the smaller municipal district towns, assuring patronage and political viability for the elections. The same works for the PRD and PRSC controlled city governments. According to Diario Libre, just a few hours after the three parties agreed to stop the process, two more cases, at La Caleta and La Victoria in Santo Domingo province, brought the total to more than 40 cases. In Constanza and Moca similar manipulations are ongoing, causing public protests that stalled traffic on roadways for hours. Spokespersons from the Federation of Dominican Municipal Districts are calling upon President Fernandez to step in and do something about this. The struggle to make changes comes after Congress passed a bill that would freeze the incumbents until 2010.

Police Chief unhappy with Justice Department
Police chief Bernardo Santana Paez expressed his displeasure for the Justice Department yesterday as he told reporters "it is not possible for people who have committed crimes to go in and out of jail so easily." He urged legislators to take the important issue of recurring crimes by the same individual into consideration. The chief said that the latest spurt in crime was attributable to people who had been charged and brought to justice, but are now "on the streets", and he cited a case in the Santo Domingo barrio of Capotillo where a construction supervisor was killed by people who had just been released from jail. The chief was answering questions from reporters about last Monday's incidents in which five assaults, several deaths and half a dozen arrests took place in the capital. The general attributed the cases to the normal "ebb and flow" of crime, and pointed out that the crime rate is lower today than it was two years ago.

Municipal woes
The struggle between different political parties to place themselves in advantageous positions for the 2010 elections is taking its toll at a number of municipalities across the country. Within the Dominican political system, the major city councils have control over the municipal districts, and can appoint the mayor and his aides as well as the council members. Thus, a PLD city government can appoint PLD members to all of the smaller municipal district towns, assuring patronage and political viability for the elections. The same works for the PRD and PRSC controlled city governments. According to Diario Libre, just a few hours after the three parties agreed to stop the process, two more cases, at La Caleta and La Victoria in Santo Domingo province, brought the total to more than 40 cases. In Constanza and Moca similar manipulations are ongoing, causing public protests that stalled traffic on roadways for hours. Spokespersons from the Federation of Dominican Municipal Districts are calling upon President Fernandez to step in and do something about this.

Canada warns its travelers
The Canadian government has issued a travel warning for its citizens planning to visit to the Dominican Republic. The warning cites the recent increase in crime and concerns with using public transportation. According to Listin Diario, the report began circulating on 9 July, and made specific reference to the insecurity at Puerto Plata International Airport where articles, particularly electronic gear and money seen on the X-ray machines, were stolen either upon entering or leaving the country. Women in particular are being advised to be careful about who they associate with since there were reported cases of robbery, sexual assaults and rapes. The famous "motoconchos" were singled out as dangerous. The report says "public transport is not recommended," and goes on to say that driving is not recommended either due to the risk of extortion by police or people claiming to be police. On health matters, the report points out that malaria and dengue are found along the Haitian border and in the eastern provinces of La Altagracia and La Romana, and recommends the use of insect repellents. The Canadian Public Health Agency also reminds people to have polio, diphtheria and tetanus booster shots, and use mosquito repellent to avoid malaria after one case of a Canadian was reported. Most observers have commented that such travel advisories are necessary in order to preclude any lawsuits from travelers who allege they "were not warned" of possible risks. The United States and Spain have long issued similar advisories. Three million tourists visited last year.
See the Canadian advisories at http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/tmp-pmv/2007/mal_dr070524_e.html#rec
and http://www.voyage.gc.ca/dest/report-en.asp?country=77000

Hurricane supplement
Today's El Caribe includes a very interesting supplement on hurricanes. Besides the normal guidelines about what to have at hand, who is in charge of emergency situations and other very useful information, the supplement also contains a map showing most of the hurricanes that have hit the Dominican Republic over the last one hundred years or so. The map clearly shows the areas most likely to suffer the brunt of a hurricane. This is good information for anyone who is worried about where to build or where to retire in safety. The supplement also provides lists of articles that are good to have at hand in case of a hurricane. For the Dominican Republic, the major hurricane activity has been registered in the months of August and September. However, there have been events in October and November, so attention to weather bulletins is always a good idea.
For more info on hurricanes in the DR, see http://www.dr1.com/weather/hurricanes.shtml
 
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