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Daily News - Tuesday, 16 October 2007

And the winner is...
Today's the day for the decision on whether the DR or Costa Rica will take the seat on the UN Security Council that will be vacated by Peru. According to Diario Libre, although no one really knows how many countries will vote for the DR, the country is counting on the vote of 62 countries. Getting a seat on the Security Council has been a Dominican foreign policy priority and President Leonel Fernandez asked for international support during his attendance at the 62nd United Nations General Assembly.

OPRET defends Metro purchases
The Office for the Reorganization of Transit (OPRET) is challenging the assertion made by geologist Osiris De Leon that the subway cars being purchased for the Santo Domingo metro cost double what they cost the Shanghai Metro project in China. OPRET sub director Leonel Carrasco justified the much higher cost saying that the comparison is not valid because Chinese cars are being built by the Puzhen Company in China with the help of Alston, while the Santo Domingo cars are being completely built by the Alston Company. Carrasco said that de Leon is making political, not technical comments. For the Santo Domingo metro project 57 cars and 7 engines have been purchased. Carrasco said that the metro, despite all criticisms, had passed its first test after surviving Hurricane Dean and promised that it would be ready by 25 February 2008.

CDEEE looks for answer
State-run Electricity Company (CDEEE) administrator Radhames Segura has announced the signing of an agreement with AES Dominicana for the construction of a 40km natural gas line from Andres, Boca Chica to San Pedro de Macoris. Speaking yesterday, Segura said that the gas line would feed the plants at Cogentrix that are due to be converted to run on natural gas. Once the transformation is complete, Segura said the CDEEE would save RD$7.9 million per month. Diario Libre reports that if Cogentrix switches from diesel number 6 to natural gas, savings could reach US$95 million in the first year. The gas line will cost US$40 million and AES Dominicana will foot the cost in advance. The project will be completed in 10 months. Meanwhile Cogentrix will invest US$15 million over the next four months to convert the plants into natural gas plants.
Listin Diario reports that since signing a contract with Cogentrix in 1998 the government has lost a total of US$837.9 million, or the equivalent of US$100 million per year. The losses are the result of the bad contract negotiated during the first PLD administration by the CDEEE that was also headed by Radhames Segura. At present, the government is contractually obliged to purchase energy from Cogentrix at 15.4 US cents and then resell it to the power distributors at 10.09 US cents, resulting in the losses. Segura says the new deal is expected to bring the cost of energy produced down to 10.1 US cents, or US$95 million in losses.

FTZ subsidy could be high
Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa is working on ways for the government to apply the announced governmental incentives for job creation in the free trade manufacturing zones (FTZ). The incentives are based on the amount of jobs created. Bengoa has said that each company will receive RD$2,000 for each job created. Free zone employment has declined considerably in the past two years, with around 60,000 jobs lost due to competition from China and local cost factors. At the moment there are 132,000 jobs in free trade zones. Diario Libre reports that if each company were to meet the requirements set out in the action plan, government subsidies could reach RD$264 million a month. The program will run for a nine-month period, and total subsidies could reach RD$2.4 billion.
The current subsidy system is a quick fix for the problems that have plagued the FTZs. Over two years ago President Leonel Fernandez said that the current model for the FTZs was not sustainable and that there needed to be a dynamic change in the system's structure and model. Nevertheless, two years later there have been no significant changes in the model and jobs have continued to be cut.
Economist Pavel Isa said that free trade zones grew, not because of competitive forces, but because of protectionist policies implemented by the US. He added that as a result, when the sector was opened to competition as has happened in recent years, it hasn't done particularly well.

Search for new rector begins
The search for a new rector for the state-funded Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) is under way. Franklin Garcia Fermin, Mateo Aquino Febrillet, Emma Polanco, Alejandro Pichardo, Amado Reyes, Clara Benedicto, Ivan Grullon and Ramon Valerio are all seeking election to the post. Current rector Roberto Reyna says that a total of 3,000 people will vote and that students will vote through their representative bodies. The new rector and the other positions at the state university are for the 2009-2011 period.

Seven kidney transplants at HOMS
Santiago's brand new Metropolitan Hospital (HOMS) has announced that it has performed seven successful kidney transplants. The 50,000 square meter hospital is the leading medical center for the north and central parts of the country. It promotes itself as the most advanced medical facility in the country.
The kidneys were donated as part of the "Donate to be Remembered" Foundation's work. Last Friday, seven donors were operated on, and seven beneficiary children received the organs. Nephrologist Eliana Dina and specialist Alvaro Velasquez, head of the transplant unit at the San Vicente de Paul Hospital in Medellin, Colombia led the operations. "I believe what is most important for the DR is not the fact that seven transplants were carried out, but rather that the option is now there, the infrastructure, the technology and trained staff," says Velasquez, who has carried out over 4,200 organ transplants during his medical career. He said that now that the initiative has started, the DR could leap over the 20 to 30 years of medical experience in Colombia and be at the same level of procedures.
"You are moving from family medicine practice where doctors could only dispense aspirins and cough medicine, to a hi-tech medicine, with high complexity, because the transplants are a highly complex surgery," he told the press during the announcement.
Velasquez said that the set-up at HOMS is superior to that at the hospital where he works. "What is now needed is a network of donors," said Velasquez.
Santiago free zone businessman, Jose Clase, who presides over the new donors foundation and is on the board of HOMS, highlighted the need to create awareness about the importance of donating organs and that this initiative should not just be taken by living donors but also so that many who know they will die may decide to donate.
Velasquez was named a distinguished visitor of Santiago by the municipal authorities.
While the HOMS is a private facility, the Fernandez administration contributed millions of taxpayer money to rescue builders from financial problems, and thus also services the general public that could normally not afford its services.

ASODEFE to import
The Hardware Association (ASODEFE) plans to officially submit a written application to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce requesting the green light for the importation of 300,000 bags of gray cement (equivalent to 5% of the country's total cement production) as a way of combating the increase in cement prices. Industry and Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes said he would meet with ADODEFE representatives to answer questions about the importation process. ASODEFE head Luis Mejia said that the written request is not asking for taxes to be lowered or removed but urging for an elimination of red tape at Customs, where the process is currently experiencing bottlenecks. Mejia added that if cement is imported, the price of the local cement should drop by 20% or 30%.

Could the DR be left behind?
The country's industrial sector is voicing its concern about the possibility that the country could be left behind by its competitors because of the lack of action on behalf of Congress in passing the law on competitiveness and industrial innovation agreed upon by government departments and industry representatives. Manuel Diez, president of the Dominican Republic Association of Industries, says that the approval of the law is urgent for business.

Hewlett-Packard interested in DR
Computer giant Hewlett-Packard wants to operate in the DR but says that the infrastructure and energy problems are obstacles against investment in the country, according to a report in Listin Diario. HP business in the DR is over US$100 million per year, and had a 100% growth rate last year, one of the highest rates in the region. This has made the DR an interesting prospect for becoming a distribution point for HP in the region. At present the DR is one of HP's most important markets in the region after Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Panama. Martin Castillo, GM and HP's Technology Solutions Group director, says that infrastructure and energy are key issues in seeing that project through. Castillo says that he has spoken with President Leonel Fernandez on many occasions about the project and about solving the DR's energy problem and that the President has expressed an interest in fixing the issues at hand.

ASF presents recourse
The Alternative Social Forum has submitted a recourse of unconstitutionality to the Supreme Court against promissory notes signed between the Sun Land Corporation and the Office of Supervising Engineers of Public Works of the Presidency (OISOE). In the recourse, the group argues that the country is being driven further into debt with the borrowing that it claims violates paragraphs 10 and 13 of Articles 35 and 37 of the Constitution. The Forum feels that OISOE head Felix Bautista signed the promissory notes with special powers granted by President Leonel Fernandez, in violation of the Constitution, according to the Forum.

The dunes scandal
Listin Diario reports today that the Bani municipal authorities has actually collected on the RD$10 million payment for the authorization of construction within an area that is being claimed as part of a protected area, even before receiving authorization from President Leonel Fernandez to go ahead with the deal. As reported today, the municipality has already received the lucrative payment.
The shipbuilding company, Ciramar International Trading, claims that it needed the extra territory for security purposes and that it is an environmentally minded company that has made major contributions to the community. Act No. 21/2004 of Work Session Book No. 44 establishes that the city hall did not object to the request for the purpose of the 35,000 square meters within the Las Calderas Dunes Natural Monument in Peravia province. The newspaper points to the irregularity that the deal would close on 9 February 2006. But Decree 450-06 whereby President Leonel Fernandez would authorize the deal was not issued until 22 November 2006.
The newspaper says that the sale happened a year after the Bani municipality had already formalized a lease contract for 20 years, on 3 December 2003, with the option for Ciramar International to purchase for RD$300,000 a month, the 35,000m2 that it was to sell in December 2004, according to certification issued by the municipal secretariat, signed by Dalma Arias, as president of the city hall at that time, and Wilson Guerrero as secretary. The newspaper says that the first payment, for RD$3 million, was made on 25 August 2005, with check No. 7049, that establishes that it is an advance payment on the purchase of lot DC5 within Parcel No. 977 of the Municipality of Bani, valued at RD$10,732,500. Two other checks were issued in the name of the municipality, No. 7101, dated 20 October 2005, as a second payment for RD$3 million, and a third, No. 7132, for RD$4,723,500 as final payment for the property.
Environmental organizations and community service bodies are opposing the deal.

Police get motorcycles
Administrative Minister to the Presidency Luis Manuel Bonetti handed over 325 motorcycles to the Police Department yesterday, on behalf of the government. The motorcycles cost RD$15 million or RD$20,012 each. The motorcycles will be distributed and put to work immediately. The motorcycles were received by Police chief General Rafael Guzman Fermin Guzman who said that 198 bikes will be handed over to the Preventive Police and 178 bikes will go to 13 regional departments; and that 30 would be used in the National District, 30 in Santo Domingo East and 30 in Santiago.

Fabiancic finishes mission
United Nations Development Program country representative Nicky Fabiancic has announced that he has concluded his mission in the Dominican Republic and that he is in his last week of work in the country. Under Fabiancic, the United Nations has carried out important reports that have changed the Dominican mindset, such as the landmark 2005 Human Development Report. Fabiancic will now move to a regional post with the UN, although he didn't give any details.

PLD asked to remove TV spot
Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman, president of the Central Electoral Board (JCE), has asked the PLD to remove a TV spot in which President Leonel Fernandez appears with an actor who is on the Army payroll. The metaphorical spot shows a patient (Elias Caamano Perez) portraying the country and being treated by doctors in the emergency room. The patient is on the verge of death when Fernandez shows up and helps heal the "country" and sees the "country" on its way to recovery. Interestingly enough there is no reference to the actor's role as a military official during the spot, but that is not of concern to members of the opposition who consider the spot unconstitutional. Castanos has asked the PLD to pull the spot on grounds that the Constitution bans military participation in politics.
In response to the issue, Caamano released a statement explaining that he is a career TV commercial actor, who has appeared in advertisements since 1978 and that he is also a dentist. Caamano explained that over the last 12 years he has appeared in ads for Orange, Shell, Colgate, Induveca, Plaza Lama, the Central Bank and many other companies. He even has a role in the "Mi Novia Esta de Madre" comedy, now showing in Dominican movie theaters. He said that if he had to choose, he would relinquish his military wage. He is on the Army payroll because he provides them with training in Tae Kwon Do. He is the owner of the Centro Nacional de Tae Kwon Do.
The PRSC, through its secretary General Victor Gomez Casanova, pointed out the presence of a member of the military in the TV spot.
Administrative Minister to the Presidency Luis Manuel Bonetti responded that Jose Joaquin Puello, former president of the Dominican Olympic Commission, is head of Miguel Vargas Maldonado's External Sector political movement as well as serving as an Army official, who receives the pay of a colonel and that this also needs to be reviewed. During the Mejia administration Puello, the main advocate of the 2003 Pan American Games, worked closely with Vargas Maldonado who as minister of Public Works was responsible for the construction of most of the new venues for the Games.

Baseball update
The Colorado Rockies made history last night as they concluded a four-game sweep against the Arizona Diamondbacks and punched their ticket to their first World Series. The Rockies are baseball's hottest team of the moment after winning 22 of their last 23 games. In the ALCS the Cleveland Indians have made their series with the favored Boston Red Sox interesting by taking a 2-1 series lead. The Sox jumped out to a 1-0 Series lead on Friday by pounding on the Indians 10-3, but on Saturday the Tribe returned the favor by pounding the Sox 13-6. The Sox look to even up the series tonight in Cleveland.
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