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Daily News - Wednesday, 01 August 2007

Subero fires at Justice Department
The Chief Justice of the Dominican Supreme Court fired a broadside at the Justice Department bureaucracy yesterday. He warned the Attorney General that if the Justice Department continued making public statements about opinions expressed by judges, he would start doing the same about prosecutors and their performance. Jorge Subero Isa said that the Attorney General has a "fairly large file" of issues submitted by the Supreme Court concerning prosecutors' activities that have had no repercussions. Subero told reporters from Hoy and other media that he had promised President Fernandez that he would handle issues concerning the Justice Department directly with Radhames Jimenez Pena, the AG. Subero also reminded the reporters, "you have never seen any statements from the Supreme Court directed at the Attorney General". He went as far as to accuse the Justice Department of failing in its attempts to convict public officials accused of corruption.

Chamber approves social security changes
In its first reading, the Chamber of Deputies has approved the modifications to the Social Security Law, as requested by the government. However, the deputies did send the bill to a committee for study, but they only gave the committee one day to turn in its report. The legislation that comes from the Executive Branch contains proposals for different uses of Social Security funds and at the same time raises the individual contributions to the Family Health Plan and the Retirement Fund. Many observers have said that this is an acknowledgement of the need to fund a very large deficit in the Family Health Plan (SFS) and which is, by law, prohibited. Jose Ramon Fadul, the Minister of Labor, met with Julio Cesar Valentin, the president of the Chamber of Deputies to explain the need to modify Law 87-01. According to Fadul, "we need to capitalize the health funds a little more for the first of September (when the plan is supposed to begin)..."
At the same time the Chamber also sent bills for financing the Santo Domingo Metro to committee. The decision to approve and send the Social Security bill to committee was taken after three hours of debate, with the opposition parties expressing their negative opinions on the bill.

Court breaks monopoly
A court in Santo Domingo has broken the National Health Insurance (SENASA) monopoly over all government employees. The Tax and Administrative Contentious Court ruled that SENASA's privilege was an illegal monopoly that reduced public servants to second-class citizens and deprived them of freedom of choice. The court ruled to dissolve Resolution #00112-2007 issued on 11 April 2007 by the Superintendent of Health and Labor Risks (SISALRIL). The court said that the SISALRIL resolution violated the principle of non-discrimination when it prevented the members of the University Employees Association from choosing their own health provider. The decision will have far-reaching repercussions since it will allow all government employees to choose their health providers, and the Dominican government is by far the nation's largest employer.

JCE gets more, lots more.
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) has been complaining about budget cutbacks for several months now. Last Friday the entire board had a luncheon meeting with the President and everyone was smiles after that. Over the weekend the chief magistrate of the JCE met with the Minister of the Treasury (Hacienda), Vicente Bengoa and again, smiles were seen all around. Bengoa announced that the JCE would receive an additional RD$414 million in order to supervise the overseas vote for next year's elections. Diario Libre reports JCE chief magistrate Julio Cesar Castanos as saying that the time had come "to be quiet and get to work." Roberto Rosario, another magistrate, said that the President had good intentions regarding the overseas vote, "but we are going to wait until the pesos and centavos arrive to see just what the impact will be." Castanos Guzman said that the "problem is no longer economic; the problem is to get to work."

UASD applauds top cop
What might be a truly historic moment in the long life of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, the authorities paid a tribute to the Chief of Police, Bernardo Santana Paez. The historic decision, a unanimous vote of confidence from the University Council, recognized the chief for his efforts to assist the university in its reform and modernization process. The dean of the Judicial and Political Science Faculty praised Santana for his academic achievements and "his example of passion for study that is an example to all young people with limited resources who want to get out of poverty and achieve higher goals." University Rector Roberto Reyna presented Santana Paez with a plaque, and praised his humility and the help he has given Dominican youth.

Law might become a dead letter
The Caribbean Center for Economic Research (CIECA) is warning that the recent municipal law might become a dead letter if some sort of monitoring mechanism is not put into place. CIECA said that the municipal authorities, community leaders and political activists should form part of this watchdog group. At the same time, the study group wants the government to develop a strong socialization and training plan that will prepare the municipal authorities for the new responsibilities that the law entails. The center says that the law will strengthen municipalities and improve their capacity to assist the communities they serve, but they can only do this if they are trained and aware of their new roles. As a final warning, the center said that when the new law comes into effect on 16 August, the municipalities must be forced to undergo constant supervision and audits in order to reach optimum performance levels. Otherwise, according to the center, the law is a dead letter. Cieca pointed out that the law would allow the municipalities to design four-year development plans, and this means that they need training in this area.

Venezuela could get paid with services
If the Dominican Republic does not or is not able to pay for the petroleum products it is purchasing from Venezuela under the Petrocaribe Accords, the country can pay Venezuela back in goods and services. According to the Venezuelan ambassador in the DR Francisco Belisario Landis, this has already been agreed, and Venezuela has studies pointing to the areas of service it is interested in. So far the Dominican Republic has been paying its oil bills on time. Research carried out by Venezuela points to the poultry industry and other agro-businesses as a starting point, especially lands dedicated to cultivating black beans, a Venezuelan favorite. Two other areas of major interest are service-based, and tourism is the most important area, followed by sports administration. The Petrocaribe Accord allows the DR to purchase Venezuelan oil, and when the price of oil is above US$40 a barrel the payments can be extended to 25 years, with two years' grace and the interest reduced to 1%. As payment Venezuela could accept goods and services for which it would offer preferential prices.
An editorial in El Dia today points out that PetroCaribe is not a grant, nor kindness on behalf of Venezuela and its controversial President Hugo Chavez. "...in reality Petrocaribe is a Venezuelan marketing strategy to ensure that its petroleum is purchased at high market prices," writes the editorialist. With the scheme, it has enticed governments to buy from them instead of from Mexico. The editorialist explains that the DR is taking on at least US$350 million in debt every year with Venezuela. "One would have to ask if it is convenient to consume a product now and leave it up to future generations to pay?" comments the editorial writer. The writer concludes that since it is but trade, Venezuela cannot blackmail the DR.

Manzanillo falling apart
The northwestern port of Manzanillo is falling apart according to its users, and the slightest accident could render it unusable for banana exports. Ninety percent of all bananas leaving the DR use this port facility. According to the members of the Northwest Line Association of Banana Producers, there is a possibility that some shippers will stop allowing their vessels to use the port. If they were to send their vessels to either Puerto Plata or Santo Domingo, there would be serious economic consequences for banana producers. Each week between 180,000 and 200,000 boxes of bananas leave Manzanillo for markets in Europe and the United States. In 2007, bananas could generate between US$50 and US$60 million. Sources have told DR1 that the dock at Manzanillo was built for much smaller vessels than the ones that are currently using the facility, and that the dock itself is in urgent need of refurbishing and possible reconstruction to meet the new standards. Osmar Benitez, spokesperson for the Agro-business Board (JAD), said that important contracts could be lost if the port facility is not upgraded. Benitez recalled that last year the Minister of Public Works, Freddy Perez and officials from the Dominican Port Authority visited the docks at Manzanillo but work has still not been completed. Listin Diario reminds its readers that several boats refused to dock at the wharf in 2006 and the crisis led the authorities to promise that they would hasten the repairs.

Jose Leon optimistic
Fifty years of experience have given Jose Leon, the youngest member of the Leon clan a unique view of the Dominican business scene. Interviewed by El Caribe editors as part of the newspaper's 60th anniversary celebrations, Leon said that the human element was the most important aspect of his family's success as well as the success of the different businesses owned by the family (Marlboro and Aurora tobacco products, and Presidente beer). Leon told the editors that exports were a major part of the future for his family's businesses, and the family's optimism is, according to the head of Grupo Leon Jimenes, reflected most clearly in the family's Leon cultural center in Santiago.

Prosecutor shoots accused
A furious suspected thief, faced with the assistant prosecutor's call for a 20-year sentence for a robbery committed on a "public thoroughfare", attacked the prosecutor with his fists. As reported in El Caribe, the prosecutor for Montecristi, noting the blood on his face, took out his gun and shot the man in the leg. The man had already attacked other people in the courtroom with a piece of steel that he had ripped out of the courthouse bathroom. The prosecutor criticized the police guards for their lack of supervision of the prisoner during his trip to the bathroom.

Illegal meds block quality control
The increase in the market for illegal medicines, supplied mostly by contraband medicines, keeps the country from providing guarantees that medicines that have been discontinued by the United States Food and Drug Administration are not on local shelves. Local producers, importers and public health authorities are in agreement in pointing out the different controls that are in place within the legal framework, where no discontinued medicine or medical product banned in its country of origin or by the FDA is allowed to obtain a legal registry in this country. In a statement to reporters from Listin Diario, the Association of Dominican Pharmacological Industries (INFADOMI) said that its 34 pharmacological laboratories only used ingredients that carry national or international approvals.

Twelve-car wreck on Duarte Hwy
A massive accident involving twelve cars on the Duarte Highway just past Piedra Blanca resulted in four injured and tied up traffic for hours. The accident occurred at the "Arroyo Vuelta Curve", about two kilometers south of the Piedra Blanca crossroads. According to witnesses, the whole thing happened because a large group of curious onlookers were gathered round a minor accident that had occurred when a pickup truck lost a wheel and slid across the highway. At that moment a large semi tractor-trailer coming from San Pedro de Macoris came around the curve and found itself hard upon the curious drivers who had either stopped or were crawling along the highway. The semi tried to brake but ended up plowing into the line of vehicles, causing a chain reaction. The trailer tipped over, spewing cement bags across the roadway. Many of the vehicles were totaled and had to be towed to the Highway Patrol compound at La Cumbre.
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