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Daily News - Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Leonel returns and hits the stump
President Leonel Fernandez returned from his trip to Venezuela and Mexico and went straight back in to campaign mode, inaugurating public works and presenting small-scale farmers with land titles. As one of the President's favorite type of projects, aqueducts were no small part of the ceremonies. According to the press office (www.presidencia.gov.do), Fernandez inaugurated new aqueducts at Villa Sombrero and Sabana Larga. He also gave away three apartments and handed over 224 land titles to small-scale farmers in the region. The aqueducts were constructed at a cost of RD$68.5 million. Of course, during the ceremonies there were cries of "Four more years" from the crowds.

Oops, clinics not on board
Once more, the government's attempt to set up a national family health plan is coming up against opposition. This time from yet another quarter, the Association of Private Clinics, which announced yesterday that its members would not take part in the Family Health Insurance (SFS) plan that is due to start on 1 September. The sticking points are the reimbursement fees to be paid for emergencies and surgical procedures, and hospital room stays. The association's president, Rafael Mena, told reporters from Hoy that nobody has talked to the private clinics about the issues relating to emergency treatments. The clinics are asking for a RD$600 reimbursement fee for treating emergency cases. According to Dr. Mena, it would be very difficult for a medical specialist to treat an emergency patient at 3am for the RD$360 that is being proposed by the SFS management. The clinics also protest a reimbursement fee of RD$1,200 for a private room. In a more conciliatory vein, Dr. Enriquillo Matos, the president of the Dominican Medical Association (CMD), told reporters that, "at worst this is a case of omission, one that can be corrected in the next few hours."
Meanwhile, Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez said that the service would start as planned on 1 September.

Rock ash redux
Once more, the issue of what is technically called "fly ash" is in the news with an announcement by Environment Minister Max Puig that the clean-up operation will be finished within the next two weeks. The minister also announced the completion of other public works totaling RD$90 million. The public works projects include a rebuilt wharf, three kilometers of rural roads, a primary school, a primary health care center and two churches.
The stuff called "rockash" by the local press was removed and the different public works projects were built thanks to a US$6 million fee paid by AES as part of the settlement issued by a US court. In Arroyo Barril, Samana province, some 55,000 tons of fly ash were dumped in 2002.

New license plates begin today
The Tax Office has issued a press release outlining all the facilities on offer to the public in order to facilitate the renewal of their vehicle license plates. Full-page announcements are printed in most of today's newspapers. Fleet owners with more than 10 vehicles will receive special treatment, and should use the Internet services provided at www.dgii.gov.do, or go directly to the DGII offices. All the renewal costs are also available via the Internet. Users just have to type in their 'cedula' number and the current license plate number, click "enter" and the screen will show the cost of the renewal fees. Vehicles made before 1997 will pay just RD$1,500, and those manufactured between 1998 and 2003 will pay RD$3,000. The DGII is distributing a "librito" or little booklet with cost of renewal fees for vehicles with latter years. The DGII offers home delivery of the new stickers, and the process will last until 15 October.

Plans for old factory stir debate
The old chocolate factory in Puerto Plata, called La Chocolatera, has long been coveted by developers because of its location. Now, the Ministry of Culture has held several workshops to develop use plans for the site. Now planned would be a branch of the Las Americas Institute of Technology (ITLA), a branch of the state training institute INFOTEP, a cinematography institute and a school for studies of carnivals and folklore, and major park area. The plans were revealed during the latest meeting with local business groups, neighborhood associations, artists and tourism industry representatives from the area, the Interamerican Development Bank and the World Bank, among others. The cultural focus announced by the Ministry of Culture is gathering more and more support within the community. The plan, first thought up in 1999 by a small group of artists, according to Diario Libre, will now seek the support of President Fernandez.
But Minister of Tourism Felix Jimenez, privately a major realtor himself, has called the plans "nonsensical", and says that it would be better to raze the old buildings and put up apartments. In the Jimenez proposal, nearby slum inhabitants would be relocated to provide for a larger real estate development. Jimenez has the ears of many in Puerto Plata where in the past two years he has gained much popularity for investing a greater share of the airport passenger tax in Puerto Plata.

JCE objects late birth declarations
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) has voiced its objections to the Presidential approval of the law recently passed by Congress that alters the procedures for late birth declarations. According to Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman, the JCE chief magistrate, the JCE legal council has sent a letter to the President's legal advisor stating the reasons why the board feels that such a law would threaten the Dominican Republic's legal framework. The law, drafted by former Attorney General Francisco Dominguez Brito, was designed to reduce the current 30% of Dominicans who lack their "papers", and therefore do not "exist". The law loosens the requirements for a parent to declare the birth of a child as much as 16 years after birth. While Castanos Guzman admits that the law, as written, solves one problem, it creates another. According to the jurist, there is a problem with security.

JCE gets some work done
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) has managed to approve 27 articles of the 79 that are contained in the controversial election rules and regulations. One of the most debated points was approved with a "few changes". This is the clause that says that no media can deny or discriminate against any political party. The JCE met for nine and a half hours yesterday and as well as the 27 articles that were approved, they also approved the restructuring of 33 municipal election boards, bringing the total of approved boards to 114 of the 157 nationwide.

More bureaucrats?
The Supreme Court (SCJ) has submitted a proposal to create a special prosecutor with wide, sweeping powers and status. The proposal includes complete independence and permanence in office, as well as the ability to investigate anyone, including Supreme Court judges and Chamber of Accounts or Central Electoral Board magistrates. According to El Dia newspaper, the fact that the new prosecutor would have jurisdiction over the three most visible government entities is sending a clear message: that there are unseen and unspoken problems inside these three key organizations, which grow each day. These issues also affect other government agencies flow beyond the institutions themselves.
In its editorial today, El Dia comments that the Supreme Court suggestion is just another in a series of commissions, institutions and new positions that are created to fighting corruption in government. "Laws and decrees are drafted, but there is not a clear will to fight corruption. The cancer grows but the solution, to tell from government actions, seems to be to increase the staff entrusted with the fight against corruption," the newspaper points out.

Easier exports
The United States Trade Representative (USTR) has announced the easing of export requirements for textiles entering the US under the DR-CAFTA agreement. The announcement concerns the two-for-one mechanism that will allow a certain proportion of cotton cloth to be imported from any place on earth and used to manufacture pants that enter the US duty-free. The announcement was made by the USTR representatives, in the offices of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce in Santo Domingo. Everett Eissenstatt, the Assistant USTR for the Americas and Scott Quesenberry, the special textile negotiator at the USTR came to the DR in response to calls for a better deal from textile companies in Dominican industrial free zones that were hard hit by China's entry into the US market. As reported in Listin Diario and Diario Libre, the two-for-one option would allow companies to buy one quantity of cloth in the United States and twice that quantity in any other market.
The negotiators also agreed to allowing unlimited amount of cloth to be imported from Mexico, a signatory of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Focus on US-DR relations
The fifteenth Dominican Week in the United States is being held this 17-20 September with activities planned for New York and Washington. Dominican Week in the United States is an initiative dedicated to the promotion of business and cultural relations between the Dominican Republic and the United States.
One of the events planned for this year's event is a panel presentation organized by the Group of Dominican Professionals in Washington, DC (GDP-WASH), a non-profit organization that examines topics of interest to the Dominican and US communities.
This year's panel presentation will focus on the bilateral relations between the Dominican Republic and the United States, with special emphasis on three issues, namely, (1) deportation of Dominican-American inmates to the Dominican Republic; (2) internal adjustments in both countries as a result of DR-CAFTA; and (3) labor and employment concerns for both countries in the context of DR-CAFTA.
The invited panelists are former Dominican Ambassador in Washington Flavio Dario Espinal, former US Ambassador in the DR Hans Hertell, current DR ambassador in the US Roberto Saladin and DR business leader Maribel Gasso. Lorena Perez, president of GDP-WASH, will be the panel moderator. Anyone interested in attending the panel presentation may visit GDP-WASH's webpage at www.gdp-wash.org for more information, or email: [email protected].
Dominican Week organizing committee members are Luis Heredia Bonetti, president; Ellis Perez, vice-president; Ambassador Roberto Saladin; Pedro Diaz Ballester; Frank Moya Pons, Maureen Tejeda, Frederick Emam-Zade and Marcelino San Miguel II. It also includes members William Malamud, Dennis Simo Torres, Muriel Alfonseca, Guillermo Rivera, Ambassador Roberto Alvarez and Rafael Ginebra.

JetBlue flights from Boston
JetBlue Airways is announcing a non-stop service to the DR's second city, Santiago de los Caballeros, this winter. Flights will depart Logan International Airport. The once-daily holiday shuttle will operate between 12 December 2007 and 15 January 15 2008. The airline will then assess whether bookings merit it to add a year round BOS-STI service.
JetBlue will operate the new flights - Boston's only non-stop service to Santiago - flying the Airbus A320 with capacity for 150 passengers. One-way fares start as low as US$109 (plus taxes and charges) each way between Logan and Santiago's Cibao International Airport. "We're thrilled to be adding this new service to Santiago just in time for the holidays", said Marty St. George, JetBlue's vice president of network planning. "Our Boston customers keep asking for more affordable services to the Caribbean, and we're pleased to bring it to them."
The new daily service will depart BOS Terminal C at 11:10 pm arriving at 3:55am +1. It will depart STI at 4:50 am, arriving at BOS's Terminal E at 7:50am.

Natural gas for cars
The use of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) for fuelling cars is just around the corner. According to El Caribe, the Linea Clave Company is working together with gasoline retailers on the preparations needed in the first ten stations that will sell CNG in the near future. Also under way is training and certification for the first ten workshops that will be allowed to install the initial 10,000 CNG conversion kits. The cost of making the switch is estimated at US$700 per vehicle. Natural gas is supposed to cost RD$16.36 per cubic meter. As a measure of comparison, 11 gallons of LPG (propane) represent 27m3 of CNG. At current prices, this represents a saving of over RD$100 for the vehicle owner. The system is protected by two proprietary chips that safeguard the engine and the vehicle owner against improper fuels. According to Linea Clave president, Ricardo Canalda, the use of CNG will allow the government to remove the current subsidy on propane gas.

Diabetes a major issue
According to the National Institute for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Nutrition (Iden) there are 800,000 diabetes sufferers in the Dominican Republic. This figure represents nearly 10% of the total population. The institute says that the incidence of diabetes is closely related to an ever-growing sedentary lifestyle and the consumption of food cooked in saturated fats. The institute says it sees 20 or 25 new cases of diabetes each day, mostly in women. Since August is National Diabetes Month, the institute is especially active in warning people about the disease. According to institute director Victor Perrota, a large percentage of patients develop the condition as a result of overfeeding in childhood.

Hurricane/Tropical Storm Tracks
With the approach of Tropical Storm Dean, the Dominican Republic is getting ready for the most active part of the hurricane season. While the exact track for the storm has not been predicted, the "cone of influence" drawn by most hurricane predictors includes a large part of the island of Hispaniola. The storm is expected in the area by five days. For further, up-to-the-minute information, please read www.dr1.com/forums/weather-beyond/65445-tropical-storm-dean.html
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