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Daily News - Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Steven Covey visits Leonel
Steven Covey, the best-selling author of "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", visited President Leonel Fernandez yesterday. First Lady Margarita Cedeno and Congress president Julio Cesar Valentin were also present at the meeting. Covey is in the Dominican Republic to give a talk on "Personal and professional greatness: Keys and principles for personal success". The event is taking place at the Santo Domingo Hilton Hotel.

GDP grew by 8.2%
The DR's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 8.2% during the first nine months of 2007, according to the latest report from Central Bank governor Hector Valdez Albizu. According to the governor, the data indicates that the Dominican economy "is continuing its recovery process." Valdez Albizu said that there has been sustained economic growth since 2005, averaging 9.4% over the last three years, a figure that surpasses most other Latin American economies. In his speech commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Central Bank, Valdez Albizu revealed that so far this year US$1.111 billion dollars had come into the country in the form of direct foreign investment, and another US$2.089 billion in the form of remittances.

Cesfront chief says job well done
The new Specialized Frontier Security Corps (Cesfront) has fulfilled its mission during its first month of operations, according to its commanding officer, General Adriano Silverio Rodriguez. The military boss told reporters from Diario Libre that during this first month of operations contraband has been slowed to a trickle, and 7,000 Haitians were caught trying to cross the frontier illegally at Dajabon, Jimani, Elias Pina and Pedernales. The general said that most of the operations of the 500-man corps are concentrated in Dajabon where 200 men are stationed. The other three hundred are distributed at the other key crossing points along the Dominican-Haitian border. Silverio Rodriguez said that more men would be added to the Cesfront units soon.

Dunes contract null and void
The Ministry of the Environment has announced that the contract between the municipality of Bani and the Ciramar International Co. is null and void because the lands involved are inside the Felix Servio Ducoudray Scientific Reserve. According to Environment Minister Omar Ramirez, "in light of the facts we consider the contract to be null and void because it violated the law". Ramirez went on to declare that, "Nobody can sell state-owned land that is in a protected area." The minister told reporters from Listin Diario that the case was in the courts in order to establish damages and other charges. As reported, Ciramar paid RD$10 million to the municipality of Bani that authorized the sale.

Fernandez to speak on Sun Land
In the wake of recent revelations about a previously unknown June 2006 US$200 million finance package contract with Sun Land Corporation, one that the government says was annulled in August 2007, President Leonel Fernandez will address the issues during a meeting with top media executives at the Presidential Palace tomorrow. The most recent revelations, concerning a US$200 million package for Sun Land, were made by radio journalists Nuria Piera and Huchi Lora. The Presidency told reporters that the money was never received or used in any way and that the state did not incur in debt. Public figures such as Joel Santos of the National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE) and Porfirio Rodriguez of Participacion Ciudadana (Citizen Participation) have voiced concerns about the Sun Land deals and both called for more transparency.

More details on Sun Land deals
Huchi Lora yesterday shared with listeners of the Nuria & Huchi radio show on 92.5FM that during an interview with Heredia Lombert, general manager for Sun Land in the Dominican Republic, several details on the contracts the government has signed with that financial intermediary, presided by Daniel Mejia and headquartered in Florida. Lora said that he was told that on the US$130 million financing contracted by Sun Land and subcontracted to DR-based construction companies for public works, the administrative, insurance and legal costs were 8.26% of the loan. She also clarified that the interest on the loan itself ranged from 8 to 14%, depending on the subcontractor. Diario Libre had reported earlier that the deal incurred RD$924 million that was to be allotted to pay for legal and banking fees, plus interest for borrowing RD$2.07 million. Furthermore, the government was to make another RD$900 million available to pay for complementary works and for equipping them. Diario Libre points out that the original contract with Sun Land had covered all costs.
Lora said she did not have an explanation on why the number of works contained in the original contract with the Office of Supervisory Works (OISOE) was reduced from 11 to 5 works, despite the budget not being reduced.
Regarding the US$200 million contract, Lora told his listeners that there is a contradiction between the government's reason for not executing this contract, that Sun Land did not get the resources on time, while Lombert of Sun Land told him that it was not executed because the government secured funding elsewhere.
Another contradiction Lora revealed was that former minister of Public Works Freddy Perez denied having signing the contract, while Lombert said he did.
Lora has been pushing for transparency and accountability in government. He said yesterday that citizens have to be more to government than people who vote for them and pay taxes. He questioned how it is possible that the government signs for US$330 million in foreign financing and nothing be known of this until the press opens it to debate. Furthermore, Joel Santos, spokesman for the Young Entrepreneurs Association (Anje) criticized the contracting and parallel budgets saying that this contradictorily happened at the same time that two new laws on public credit and budget supposedly making borrowing and allocating of resources more transparent were enacted by the government.

Council halts new med schools
The National Council for Science, Technology and Higher Education has called a halt to opening any new medical schools in the Dominican Republic. According to Higher Education Minister Ligia Amada Melo, the idea is to strengthen the schools that currently exist as well as modifying and modernizing their curriculum. The ministry is coordinating the renewal process, working closely with the Ministry of Public Health and the nine universities that currently offer medicine. The minister rejected the idea that any of the current medical schools would be closed. There is the position that teaching hospitals are working at capacity, and do not have room to accommodate more students.

JCE announces measures for 2008
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) has announced that it will use transparent ballot boxes and introduce Braille voting slips for blind voters. The ballots for use by visually impaired voters will be transported in special security cases. In another innovation, the JCE announced that it would set up a computer center for polling centers with more than five voting stations. These steps still need to be approved by the political parties involved in the May 2008 elections. The JCE also announced that it had recruited and selected 350 instructors to train 100,000 volunteers, mostly university students, who will staff the polling centers during the elections. Finally, the JCE announced that it has set up overseas Coordinating Offices in areas with sizable Dominican populations. The report in Hoy newspaper mentions New York, New Jersey, Miami, Philadelphia, Washington, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Montreal, Venezuela, Panama, Madrid, Barcelona, Zurich, Holland, Milan and St. Maarten. An estimated 125,000 Dominicans who live overseas are expected to vote in the upcoming presidential elections.

JCE divided over TV spot
Yesterday the Central Electoral Board debated the issues raised by the controversial television campaign advertisement that features President Fernandez and an active member of the armed forces. After the meeting, the JCE voted 5-4 in favor of holding a meeting with PLD officials. The entire nine-judge panel argued over two positions. The first was the immediate removal of the spot from all media. The second idea was to open discussions with the party involved, the PLD, in order to hear their arguments. Yesterday magistrate Eddy Olivares told Diario Libre that he had warned the board that it was no longer qualified to rule on similar cases during the election process because it should have removed the spot within 48 hours of its first appearance. Olivares said that there was "no need to consult anybody because the issue was a serous and grave violation of the Constitution and Electoral Law." Olivares said that after the spot had been on the air for more than 48 hours there was not much sense in removing it since the effect that the JCE should have prevented was already in place.

UN observers visit
The two United Nations observers currently looking at racism and minority rights in the Dominican Republic visited the Ministry of Foreign Relations yesterday and met with Alejandra Liriano, the deputy minister for Foreign Relations. Liriano assured reporters that the observers were here at the Ministry's request. She explained that as part of their job, the observers were trying to learn as much as possible about whether or not racism and discrimination existed in the Dominican Republic. Special observer Doudou Diene and minority affairs observer Gay McDougall interviewed several people at the ministry, before going on to meet with PRSC president Federico Antun Batlle. Antun Batlle told the observers that the DR did not mistreat or discriminate against foreigners. He said that foreigners who live in the Dominican Republic work in the same way as any Dominican of equal status. As an example, Antun Batlle pointed out that a large portion of the budget at Santiago's Cabral y Baez Hospital is spent on eight or more Haitians who come to the hospital to give birth each day. He also pointed out that all public schools are open to any child, regardless of nationality, up to the fourth grade.

Cardinal to speak on abortion
The highest ranking Catholic official in the Dominican Republic, Nicolas de Jesus Cardinal Lopez Rodriguez, will address a national radio and television audience tomorrow and Sunday. He will speak about the serious consequences of permitting any form of abortion. The announcement was made by Father Luis Rosario, the head of the Youth Ministry, who also announced that the Cardinal would give the speech tomorrow after a march on Congress that is due to start at 8:30 in the morning. The marchers plan to call on legislators to reject the legislative proposal aimed at decriminalizing abortions in certain circumstances. Another march will take place on Sunday, starting at the Fray Anton de Montesinos statue on the Malecon. The Cardinal will deliver his national radio address at 5pm on Sunday, and it will be televised at 9pm that night. According to the cardinal's spokesman, "everything we are doing is with the idea that our people understand the seriousness of decriminalizing abortions, what is most important is what we do to favor life."
The passing of the revisions to the Penal Code is held up because of opposing view regarding the penalization of all cases of abortion.

Court rejects Bancredito case
The Third Joint Court of the National District has declared the criminal case brought by the monetary authorities (Central Bank and Superintendence of Banks) against former National Bank of Credit (Bancredito) officials Arturo Pellerano Pena and Juan Felipe Mendoza Gomez to be inadmissible. The case involved an accusation of fraud to the tune of RD$23 billion. The court accepted the argument of double jeopardy presented by the defendants. Carlos Salcedo, the lawyer for the Central Bank announced that they would appeal the decision within the three-day period given. Salcedo argues that the two cases are different.
The chief magistrate on the panel, Alina Mora de Marmol, ruled that the case had already been tried in the National District First Joint Court in 2006. Lawyers for the government argue that the first decision did not address a payment of RD$22 billion given to the bank for returning depositor money and allegedly used for outside business of the shareholders, issues of deceit and abuse of trust, and that the magistrates' decision would only intensify all the criticisms currently being voiced about the nation's justice system.

Three wounded in confusing incident
Three people were wounded in a very confusing incident that occurred when police officers in Santiago confused plainclothes DNCD (Drug Control) agents with a gang of assailants. The DNCD agents were traveling in a vehicle with an improper license plate, and the police officers were also in an unmarked car. Two of the drug agents were seriously injured in the resulting shootout and were sent to the Cabral y Baez Regional University Hospital for treatment. Their condition is listed as serious. Also injured was a Chinese citizen who was driving past when the incident occurred. Santiago District Attorney Raul Martinez has announced the formation of a commission of assistant District Attorneys and the local DNCD commanding officer to investigate the incident.
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