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Daily News - Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Government spending more
The government continues to increase its spending. Today's Listin Diario reports that government spending was up 12.6% from January to August of this year, compared to the same period in 2006. The government spent RD$91.45 billion in 2006 and then spent RD$102.97 billion during the first eight months of the year. The level of spending is above what was authorized by Austerity Law 497-06 for the public sector. The law was passed in December 2006 and set a payroll ceiling for the central and decentralized government institutions during 2007, with the exception of the Customs (DGA) and Tax (DGII) departments.
Listin Diario reports that Treasury Ministry data shows that government payroll spending increased 6.8%, from RD$27.12 billion to RD$28.96 billion, or RD$1.83 billion more.
Personal staff spending amounted to RD$27.35 billion, up RD$1.59 billion, or 6.2%. Spending on Social Security increased 17.5%, or RD$1.60 billion, or RD$239.3 million more than in 2006.
On the other hand, government revenue has been increasing. Government collections up to 28 September, reached RD$171 billion, of which the Customs Department collected RD$37.5 billion, DGII collected RD$105 billion and the Treasury collected RD$28 billion.
Government collections were up 9.4% more than last year and 33% more than budgeted for the period. Overall, government spending accumulated to 28 September 2007 was RD$150 billion. Of this sum, RD$53.66 billion is for current spending, RD$12.81 billion to make interest payments, RD$6.49 billion to make severance payments, RD$45.49 billion for transfers, RD$32.42 billion for public works and 85% of the budget has been executed.

Sun Land Part II
On the heels of all the unanswered questions about a US$130 million loan with Sun Land Corp, on their CDN radio show yesterday, investigative reporters Huchi Lora and Nuria Piera revealed that the Fernandez administration had taken out another loan with Sun Land, this time for US$200 million. The contract is similar to the one for US$130 million dated May 2006, but this time President Leonel Fernandez authorized his former minister of Public Works, Manuel de Jesus (Freddy) Perez to sign 14 promissory notes on behalf of the government by Decree No. 144-06 dated 20 June 2006. Mrs. Heredia Lambert signed for Sun Land Corporation RD, S.A. As in the case of the US$130 million loan, this did not follow the usual procedure of Congressional approval.
The PRD recently submitted a recourse of unconstitutionality to the Supreme Court of Justice against the US$130 million contract, for borrowing without Congressional approval. Supporters of the deal say that the government is not indebted and that this type of contract is common practice in the DR.
The June contract specifies that the US$200 million financing would be invested in the construction of the Duarte Highway with San Francisco de Macoris highway, reconstruction of the Navarrete-Puerto Plata highway, Miches-Uvero Alto, San Juan-Barahona and Cruce de Matayaya-Banica-Pedro Santana highways as well as for the reconstruction of the bridges over Soco, Cumayasa and El Regajo rivers; for the completion of Jacobo Majluta avenue and the entrance to Santo Domingo from the Las Americas expressway, as well as for the construction of the Santiago Central Park and an overpass over Estrella Sadhala avenue in Santiago.
The promissory notes have monthly consecutive expiration dates, starting one month after a 12-month construction period to be charged to the annual budget of the Ministry of Public Works.
The US$130 million contract was signed by Felix Bautista, director of the Office of Supervisors of Public Works (OISOE) in May 2006. Bautista subsequently went on to authorize Sun Land to build just five of the projects with the budget, as Lora and Piera discovered from documentation they have obtained.
The promissory notes from the loans authorized by President Leonel Fernandez are being traded on the international markets. In case of arrears in payment, there is an additional 2.16% interest charge on the value of the note. The government has not responded to press inquiries about the interest rates on the either the US$130 million or US$200 million notes.
Reports on this new deal are published in El Dia, Diario Libre and Clave Digital online publications today.

Bani lands are protected area
Deputy Minister Jose Manuel Mateo, the director of Protected Areas at the Ministry of the Environment announced his department has empowered the Attorney General for the Protection of the Environment to proceeed legally against the sale of protected land property by the Municipality of Bani in the southwest, as reported in the Listin Diario.
Mateo has clarified that Parcel 977 of Land District No. 5 located in Calderas de Puerto Hermoso in the municipality of Bani, under Title 3406, which the Presidency had authorized ship-building company Ciramar to use for their company's expansion, is part of a protected area within the Felix Servio Doucudray Scientific Reserve, known as the Bani Dunes, as per Law 2002-04.
He disputes information contained in an advertorial by Bani's Mayor, Nelson Camilo Landestoy, who originally stated that if this were proved, the deal would be revoked. Environmentalists also point out that the land is within a coastal area that falls under Law 3005, meaning that infrastructure cannot be installed there and the area cannot be developed for commercial ends. He said that ministry experts had met with Landestoy and used maps to prove that the property that was leased is within the limits of the protected area.
"It is unfortunate that after he (Landestoy) said that he would not allow the dunes to be damaged and that he would rescind the contract, for which he was congratulated, and now is pointing out something totally different. That shows inconsistency," says Mateo. Mateo questioned the mayor's advisors.
Regarding the authorization for the sale carried out by the Executive Branch, Mateo clarified that the Mayor's office did not request a certification from the Ministry of Environment that confirmed whether the property was within the protected area zone prior to requesting permission from the Presidency.
Mateo stressed that when appointed mayor, Landestoy received a mandate to preserve and care for the areas that are part of the nation's natural and cultural heritage.
In a paid advertisement yesterday, Landestoy had stated that the transfer of the property to Ciramar was conducted with the same interest shown by the President of the Republic to facilitate the operations of the company, which has a strategic value for the province and the country. He said the decree issued by President Fernandez had the support of the Dominican Municipal League, the Ministry of Interior and Police, the Administrative Secretary of the Presidency and the legal advisor to the Executive Branch.
Ciramar paid RD$10 million to the municipality for the deal that was authorized by Presidential Decree 450-06 to Ciramar International Trading Co. Ltd. Payment was received by the municipality prior to issuing the decree.

Judgment on the judgment
Francisco Dominguez Brito, a former Attorney General and current president of the Senate Justice Committee, says that yesterday's judgment on the Baninter case weakens the justice system because the decision tried to appease all sides. Dominguez, speaking in Hoy, says that despite the Solomonic intent from the judges Antonio Sanchez Mejia, Pilar Rufino and Giselle Mendez, the judgment was not technically coherent and sets a bad precedent for being so confusing.
Dominguez says that he regrets the way in which so many corruption cases end up going down this very same route and says that he has no idea where the judgment will end up because it is neither clear nor precise. "We have major challenges in administrative corruption cases," the legislator told Hoy.
El Caribe publishes comments by former judge and lawyer Juan Miguel Castillo Pantaleon who says that the verdict in itself is not understandable. He added that in the end the verdict did not appease anyone.
In the judgment, former Baninter bank president Ramon Baez Figueroa was sentenced to 10 years in jail for violation of Law 83-02, the Monetary and Financial Law. Baez Figueroa was discharged of the accusations of laundering assets and abuse of trust. However, Luis Alvarez Renta was condemned for complicity in laundering assets. Vivian Lubrano de Castillo and Jesus Maria Troncoso were released due to insufficient evidence. Baez Figueroa was sentenced to pay RD$64 billion in compensation to the Central Bank and RD$45.46 billion to the Superintendence of Banks.
Dominguez Brito was entrusted with the case in August 2004 when he was appointed Attorney General in the new Fernandez administration. He later resigned in order to campaign for the senator seat for Santiago.
Castillo Pantaleon also explained that the judgment favors the former Baninter president because the criminal charges were removed, which meant that the assets that had been impounded would be returned. He explains, "The compensation will be paid with the money from the intervened companies. In other words, Baez Figueroa will not have to pay a cent from his pocket... and will be able to continue enjoying the money he has left over." Castillo forecast that the case would now move on to the appeal court where his lawyers will seek the definitive discharge "and all will be left as is."
Lawyer Jottin Cury commented that each day Dominican courts issue 15 to 20-year prison sentences against people for minor infractions such as stealing a chicken, in contrast to the 10-year sentences issued in the case of the greatest fraud ever committed in the country.
Father Rogelio Cruz, a parish priest in the province of Maria Trinidad Sanchez, is quoted as saying: "It is a joke at the expense of the people. This verdict is clearly saying that if you are going to steal, steal a lot, if you are going to do it, do it big. It was clear there was complicity and tie-in between those who administer justice and the powerful.

Venezuela and DR on migration
Venezuela has sent a delegation of civilian and military government employees to the DR in order to share their experiences in the area of migratory control and border security. Exchange meetings began yesterday with Venezuelan Ambassador Francisco Belisario Landis and officials at the Ministry of Foreign Relations, with legislators and directors of the National Border Council (CNF), which is sponsoring the exchange.

Dominicans in Spain complain
Dominicans expatriates complained of the high costs of obtaining their cedula or identification card in Spain during a meeting at El Molino restaurant in Barcelona, where Angel Lockward was representing the Dominican government. Spokespersons for Dominicans in Europe also asked for facilities to renew their Dominican driver's licenses in Spain. Earlier this year the Spanish government agreed that Dominicans living in Spain could turn in their Dominican driver's licenses and get a Spanish driver's license as long as the license was valid and up to date. According to Diario Libre, Dominicans in Spain feel that the EUR10 fee is way too expensive for the cedula (it is free in the DR) and that of the 16,000 Dominicans registered at the Barcelona consulate, only 9,000 have paid the fee for their document.

Financing homes for Dominicans
Diario Libre is reporting that the BDI Bank and the Banco Popular Espanol have signed an agreement in order to provide financing to Dominicans living in Europe who would like to buy homes in the DR. The agreement went into effect in September and could increase the number of Dominican emigres who return to live in their home country.

Pope appoints new archbishop
Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Valentin Reynoso Hidalgo as auxiliary bishop in the Santiago diocese. Reynoso is the parish priest at the Our Lady of the Altagracia at the same archdiocese. The priest was born in Nagua on 16 December 1942. He studied at San Tomas de Aquino seminary and the Pontificia Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra.

Canadian mules arrested
The National Drug Control Department (DNCD) has apprehended two young Canadians for transporting three kilos of cocaine. The Canadians were apprehended as were four other "mules" who were on their way to the Spanish capital, Madrid. Hoy reports that the mules were carrying the drugs in their stomachs and have since had the packages removed at the Armed Forces Hospital. Canadians Amaud Neider Pajos and Nataya Boisee were arrested at the Gregorio Luperon International Airport in Puerto Plata before boarding Air Canada flight 1809. The two were in possession of two packages containing 2.9 kilos of cocaine.
Cinthia Rosalina de la Cruz Cuevas, Luiggi Abel Gonzalez Dominguez, Ricardo Blanco Dominguez and Carlos Jack were apprehended prior to their boarding an Air Europa flight.
The DNCD has arrested 122 drug mules so far this year.

Florian staying in jail
Convicted drug dealer Rolando Florian Feliz has stopped trying to obtain a conditional release from jail and has removed the application that his lawyers had submitted at the Supreme Court. Florian was taken to the Court of Appeals in San Cristobal under heavy security to sign the release petition. Florian's previous applications for conditional release have all been rejected. No reason was given as to why Florian decided not to pursue his release and security officials didn't allow him to be interviewed. Florian is currently serving three sentences for drug related offenses, including a 20-year sentence for being caught with 953 kilos of cocaine in Barahona. He is being held at the Najayo jail.

Mexicans head home
92 Mexican workers who were stuck in the DR after being refused entry to the Turks & Caicos have finally made it home. Francisco Hernandez Samano, head of the Mexican Embassy's commercial sector said that the Mexican government had chartered a Nova Air flight that left for Mexico at 9am yesterday. Thus ended the ordeal for the group of 25 Mexicans that began on 30 September when they weren't allowed to enter the Turks & Caicos because officials said they had no knowledge of their work contracts.
When they returned to the DR, they took up lodging at hotels in Boca Chica but eventually ran out of money and returned to the airport where many ended up sleeping on the floor.
Listin Diario reports that the Mexican workers were probably victims of a con scheme. Each had paid group organizers between US$1,385 and US$1,850, which they will probably never get back.

Baseball update
Wednesday is turning out to be a big day for Dominicans in Major League Baseball. Tomorrow Dominican sluggers David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez will begin their quest for their second World Series title. The duo will lead a Red Sox team that overcame a 3-1 series deficit against the Cleveland Indians in the American League Championship Series to advance to their second World Series in three years. The Red Sox are the big favorites against the upstart Colorado Rockies, who have won 21 of their last 22 games including a recent 10-game winning streak. Also tomorrow, Dominican Tony Pena, the one-time Manager of the Year when he managed the Kansas City Royals, is interviewing for the job of New York Yankees manager. The position was left open after long-time manager Joe Torre declined a one-year offer from the Yankee front office. Pena is a leading candidate for the job, as are former Yankees Don Mattingly and Joe Girardi.

Rains could continue
A stationary front hovering over the Mona Passage will continue to cause rainfall over the country for the next 48 hours. The National Meteorological Office is forecasting light and periodic rains with heavy wind bursts from time to time, as well as thunder and lightning.
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