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Daily News - Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Fernandez cuts more ribbons
President Leonel Fernandez went to San Francisco de Macoris and inaugurated more than RD$700 million worth of public works projects, including streets, an aqueduct and a remodeled schoolhouse. A major part of the inauguration was the 9.59-kilometer stretch of the Manolo Tavarez Justo Highway that cost over RD$600 million.

Aura Celeste wants changes
The Central Electoral Board's judge Aura Celeste Fernandez wants to change the internal regulations so that neither of the JCE's two chambers can independently make a decision that overrides the complete board. This position is just one more piece of the puzzle that is currently troubling the JCE. Recent comments in the press show diverse criteria for how the JCE should operate. One magistrate is proposing rules that will regulate and limit political campaigning, the use of political propaganda and the use of the mass media. Then another magistrate comes out and publicly questions the proposed new rules.
These diverse opinions are the central issues that will be dealt with during a meeting this morning that will discuss suggestions from magistrate Roberto Rosario. Yesterday's meeting of the board was postponed due to magistrate Jose Angel Aquino's absence. Today's session will try and reach a consensus on the suggested regulations to govern the political parties' behavior during election campaigns. The new rules include a ban on campaigning until 90 days before the elections, according to Diario Libre, as well as the requirement for publication of the sources of funds and a prohibition on publishing polls 10 days before the elections. Aura Celeste Fernandez told reporters that her position was not a "trifle" as described by chief magistrate Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman. In the less than one year since being installed, the JCE has had several high profile internal differences of opinion.

More, much more for the Metro
Last night, after the opposition parties had left the floor, the Dominican Republic Senate approved a total of RD$11.0 billion more for the Santo Domingo Metro. The approvals were for four contracts that covered rails, electricity and equipment for the Metro system. When the Metro project was first announced, the total cost was put at RD$900 million, a sum far, far below what has been spent and perhaps less than 10% of the final cost of the project. Opposition senators tore into the proposals, calling the contracts "absurd", "bankrupting" and "impoverishing". The approval of the contracts allows the loans to go into effect.

Interest rates might go up
The Superintendent of Banks, Rafael Camilo has revealed that he feels that interest rates might well increase in the future. He told El Caribe reporters that "the current situation cannot continue forever." He said that the current interest rates are only transitory while the economy makes adjustments. He pointed out that the commercial banks are holding liquidity levels of up to 50% of assets, and this has to provoke a move to put this money to work. However, Camilo did not attempt to put a timeframe on his predictions, and limited himself to saying that the situation is fluid and will have to be resolved by the marketplace. He talked to reporters after a luncheon hosted by the Association of Industries of the DR (AIRD), where president Manuel Diez Cabral, expressed his worries about financing for new industries.

Border attracting new attention
The executive director of the Border Development Council has praised the approval of the Border Development Law and told reporters that 15 new businesses have been authorized to operate in one of the seven provinces covered by the law that border with Haiti. According to Pedro Ortiz, some 10,500 new jobs have been created and the range of businesses goes from tourism to metalworking.

"Buscones" still at work
The term "buscones" means something like 'searchers', as in searching for something to do. These rather folkloric figures are common near government offices where normal citizens seek to renew documents of almost any kind or obtain new license plates or register a birth or a death. Despite the Central Electoral Board and the Santo Domingo Prosecutor's Office's best efforts to eliminate the need for this special breed of service providers, they still abound near any Civil Registry Office. According to Diario Libre, they are like "buzzards after carrion", and any new arrival is asked, "How may we serve you?" or "What are you looking for today?" Of course, any fears are quickly allayed with a "Not to worry, we are here to serve you." The offer is then presented: either you stand in line and wait your turn or you pay the 'buscon" and let him do it for you. It's your choice. With the heat, the thirst and the time involved, most people will shell out a couple of hundred pesos and resolve their issues the easy way.
Even for the free birth certificate issued for school children, it is worth it. While some persons will endure the standing in line, a significant percentage does not, and this provides fertile ground for the 'buscones'. According to Martin Montilla Luciano, an official at the Santo Domingo Second District Civil Registry, "while we have put a lot of effort into making things easier for citizens, one of the greatest problems is people's reluctance to stand in line. He said, however, that part of the problem was the inadequate facilities currently available, but promised that the new building at the corner of 27 de Febrero and Dr. Delgado would serve the public much more effectively.

More street patrols
Dominican Police Chief Bernardo Santana Paez has announced more foot patrols for 20 different barrios in Santo Domingo. These new patrols will include the 528 new graduates of the Citizen Safety Academy. The reinforcement of the foot patrols comes in response to the flood of requests made by the citizens from many barrios that have seen a marked increase in crime over the past few weeks. Of the recent graduates, Santana Paez said that 100 had been sent to the Colonial Zone, 100 to the Los Prados neighborhood and another 100 to the Mirador Sur area. The general gave a stern warning to the new officers to stay away from corrupting influences.

The truth about Depreco
Former National District prosecutor Guillermo Moreno, interviewed on Matinal 5 TV program, speculated that the governmental Department for the Prevention of Corruption (Depreco) was not created to prevent and prosecute corruption in government, but rather to prevent and control any efforts against corruption. Moreno said that 10 years ago, when the department was created during President Leonel Fernandez's first administration, its aim was to relieve the district prosecutor of his role of prosecuting corruption and make this a political decision.
He explained that prior to the department's creation, the district prosecutor was free to investigate and prosecute corruption, which could be interpreted as risky in case a government was not willing to pursue a case, and a party gave priority to its political alliances above morality. Moreno described Depreco as a mechanism to control any efforts to fight corruption. "The best proof of this is the results," he commented. "Has Depreco been of any use in its 10 years?" he wondered.
"What we have seen is that the department is a bottleneck where traditionally hundreds of stagnant cases are waiting for a signal from the President to follow their course.
El Caribe newspaper comments that Moreno's statements have come at a time when Depreco, now known as the Department for Prosecution of Administrative Corruption, is accused of not prosecuting corruption, and the judicial system is accused of complacency because of the way in which corruption suspects are constantly discharged.

Erosion threatens Boca Chica
The Caribbean Sea is advancing towards high ground in Boca Chica, and the beach is getting smaller and smaller. According to Listin Diario, where there was once deep sandy beach there is only some black mud about one inch below the sand, and sand bags are being used to limit the erosion. What was formerly known as one of the most beautiful beach areas in the world, with white sand, gentle wave action, and protected swimming areas bordered by mangrove barriers is now so degraded that worldwide attention is being focused on the beach. According to Boca Chica traders' association president Raul Valette, part of the problem is related to long sand traps that have been placed along the beach, dividing areas, but which were placed without proper studies of the wave action. Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez told reporters that the reason that Boca Chica had not been among the first beaches to be rebuilt was the fact that the local business community had not come up with the US$500,000 matching fund for the Ministry of Tourism proposed beach enhancement plan. The Puerto Plata private sector paid US$4 million in matching funds, as part of the US$18-million beach reconstruction program along the north shore.

Taiwan donates US$9 million
The government of Taiwan has donated nine million dollars to the Santo Domingo Cybernetic Park. The donation completes the US$10 million agreed upon at the beginning of this year. The development of the high tech park is part of the government's efforts to improve the economy and diversify production. Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso led the government's delegation at the ceremony.

Informal workers are the norm
A recently released World Bank report, "Informality: Exit and Exclusion" focuses on informality as an obstacle to development in Latin America and the Caribbean. The reports findings show that 54% of the region's urban workforce is informally employed. The high levels of informality in Latin America and the Caribbean are seen as a sign of institutional flaws and, at the same time, they restrict opportunities for growth and social welfare and undermine the integrity of the region's societies, according to the new World Bank report.
This 'informality' is attributed to the precarious situation within the labor market, and the low educational level of the workers themselves.
The Dominican Republic part of the WB study, carried out in collaboration with the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic, shows that of the 2.2 million urban workers in the country, 1.2 million are working under informal conditions. That is to say that they are not registered with the social services and do not receive the proper package of workers' benefits, such as old age pensions or social security. Half of the informal group work in small establishments or are on their own in low paying or low quality jobs. The study was presented by the World Bank's Guillermo Perry, chief economist for Latin America and the Caribbean. "A better investment climate would help formal businesses to grow and increase their wages, thus reducing the attractiveness of staying informal," said Perry. The World Bank recommends the use of a combination of sticks (improved enforcement) and carrots (perceived benefits) to create the incentives that induce more workers and companies to become formal. For instance, through actions to facilitate new business registration, the simplification of tax laws, expansion of the benefits of formality (credit and market access, legal security, business development schemes), removal or reduction of labor market inflexibilities, improvement in the design and coverage of social security and social protection programs, with an even-handed and determined law enforcement.

A cure for AIDS?
A government medical commission plans to visit Dr. Jose Ramon Baez Acosta, a very well known medical figure, who claims to have cured 52 people of AIDS. The psychiatrist showed El Caribe reporters the names and personal I.D. numbers (cedulas) of the 52 patients, and said that 15 people were currently undergoing treatment. Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez said that the commission should apply true scientific rigor to the evaluation of Dr. Baez Acosta's claims. Dr. Enriquillo Matos, the president of the Dominican Medical Association (CMD) told reporters that the process to follow is to impose medical protocols and follow the results. While Dr. Baez Acosta has a long history of service to the country, this is the first report of such a momentous medical discovery.

Pan Am Games Rio 2007 update
The Dominican Republic continues to harvest medals at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Angelo Mota Brea won the silver medal for wrestling, only losing in the final to the USA's Henry Lester. This is Mota's second Pan Am silver. Hansel Ramirez and Jose Antonio Arias won bronze medals in their weight class. Ramirez was in the 55 kg division of the Greco-Roman style wrestling, where he defeated Brazilian Fabio Cunha for the bronze. In the 84 kg class, Arias defeated Rafael Aguiar 5-0 to win his bronze. In boxing, Claudio Marrero is assured of at least a silver medal, and Wilton Mendez had to be satisfied with the bronze. In bowling, Rolando Antonio Sebelen and Victor Richards won the bronze medal in the men's doubles competition. In track and field Juana Castillo is currently in fourth place after four events in the women's heptathlon. As predicted, the Dominican Republic should come away from these games with at least 18 medals, one of their best showings.
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