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Daily News - Monday, 29 October 2007

President Fernandez to attend summit
President Leonel Fernandez will attend the XVII Ibero-American Conference in the Chilean capital Santiago on November 10. The conference will include heads of state, and government leaders from Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America and Spain. The major issues on the agenda are the theme of social cohesion and the possibilities for reducing social inequalities in the region. Education, fiscal reform and social policy issues, and the development of indigenous and African-Hispanic communities will be a major part of the talks. King Juan Carlos I of Spain will once again attend the conference.

Red alert for Noel
With no apparent warning Tropical Storm Noel formed yesterday, and the Weather Department has extended its Red Alert for large areas across the Dominican Republic. Continuous rains and stiff winds with some strong gusts are expected throughout the day, today. According to the weather office, rainfall will be heaviest in the southeast, the southwest, north, northeast and the Cibao Valley. The National Hurricane Center in Miami has issued a Tropical Storm Warning for the Dominican Republic and Haiti, as well as Jamaica and Cuba. Up to eight inches (200 mm) of rain is possible, according to the forecasts. This morning Dominican TV and radio were reporting possible casualties in the southwestern province of San Jose de Ocoa, where the Nizao River has burst its banks. It was also reporting that the authorities might have to open the Tavera dam as a result of a two-meter rise in water levels, putting many low-lying riverside communities at risk.
For updates, see http://www.dr1.com/forums/weather-beyond/...

Weather Dept caught off alert
Everyone in the DR seems to be caught off alert regarding Noel that surprisingly developed on Sunday into a strong storm. Anyway, this morning's Diario Libre A.M. page two column written by editor Adriano Miguel Tejada blasts the Weather Department (ONAMET) for not sound the alarm to the public about the onslaught of TS Noel. As recently as yesterday morning the weather office was talking of a "frontal system" that was causing constant rains since Saturday. The "frontal system" was baptized yesterday at 2 o'clock in the afternoon as Tropical Storm Noel, with 50 mph winds and heading north. The note from the weather forecasters says that the "storm, located to the south of Hispaniola, is moving NNW at 5 mph and it is expected to continue its movement northwards for the next 24 hours." Tejada says that the note also warns of heavy rains over Hispaniola, Jamaica and the southeast part of Cuba" where rains of up to 20 inches can be expected. The Diario Libre editor says that the Dominican people were caught unaware by the storm, and no noticeable activity by the civil defense teams was evident since the storm arrived without warning over the weekend. While great efforts are being made to improve our meteorological service, each time we are surprised by a storm, there is reason for worry. These storms are not surprises. They are phenomena that evolve, that can be observed and predicted. Because of this there is no plausible explanation for the Dominican people to be trapped by some rains with unusual winds and nobody knows anything. The editor ends by letting the reader imagine what could happen: "With the absence of a national emergency alert system, if it wasn't for the 'little Virgin' that protects us...." (Note: Our Lady of Grace is the protector of the Dominican Republic, called the Virgin de la Altagracia).

SFS fines up to RD$1.0 million
Participating entities in the Family Health Insurance System (SFS) that violate Law 87-01 are subject to fines of up to one million pesos, according to the recently approved Regulations on Infractions and Punishments in the SFS. The fines can go from 50 minimum wages (RD$5,635) all the way up to 200 minimum wages. Thus, a small violation of the law can bring a fine of RD$281,850. Enriquillo Matos, the head of the Dominican Medical Association (CMD), called the regulation just one more provocation for the doctors who are not obliged to obey those rules. El Caribe reported that the National Association of Private Clinics (Adeclip) had joined the doctors in their opposition to the idea of fines. Rafael Mena echoed Matos's complaint that neither the government nor the unions understand that "basically, it is the HMOs that are trying to undermine and discredit the SFS and then blame the doctors." Both doctors agree that no medical doctor has signed any contract specifying the obligation to fulfill the stipulations of the Regulations as laid out by the SFS.

Fuel prices down a bit
Fuel prices were reduced slightly over the weekend. Gasoline was allowed to go down RD$2.00 and RD$2.50 for Premium and Regular, and diesel fuel also got a little respite with a RD$0.70 cent drop in price. However, the nation's housewives and publico drivers were hit with yet another increase in the cost of propane gas (LPG), which now is priced at RD$59.95 in the case of subsidized gas and RD$81.71 for the non-subsidized variety.

Conep and economist urge prudence
Both the National Council for Private Business (CONEP) and Inter-American Development Bank economist Santiago Levy Algazi have urged prudence in the face of the recent spike in oil prices. Conep called on industry and the general population to realize that the era of cheap energy is past. Conep mentioned the energy subsidy paid by the government, the deterioration in commercial activity since DR-CAFTA came into effect, and the negotiations currently under way with the European Union and other countries as warning signs of things to come. In an exclusive interview with Listin Diario reporters, Levy Algazi, the head of the Research Department at the IDB, called for a sensible macro-economic policy in order to face up to the challenges presented by the latest wave of oil price increases.

Urologists latest to leave SFS
As of today the country's urologists have decided to abandon the troubled Family Health Insurance Program (SFS). If any patients need to be seen by a urologist, they will have to attend a public hospital or pay the required fees to see a specialist at a private clinic. According to Dr Pablo Mateo Santos, the head of the Urology Society, the decision was backed by all 160 specialists throughout the country. According to Mateo Santos, the urologists are willing to discuss issues but only the director of the National Health Insurance (Senasa) has expressed her willingness to talk. The doctor said that discussion with Altagracia Guzman had gotten under way and included the requirement to maintain current pay schedules and changes in the regulations controlling the SFS. Dr Mateo Santos also said that none of the HMOs had approached the society to talk about the issues. According to the head of the urologists, "we have done everything, all the HMOs have received a letter from us requesting a meeting, but none have had the courtesy to call us."

Competition lowers broadband costs
The executive director of the Dominican Telecommunications Institute (Indotel), Jose Rafael Rizek Vidal, revealed that just hours after the inauguration of the OneMax offices in Santo Domingo competitor fees for broadband access fell by 20%. He told reporters from Hoy newspaper that his office was proud to see such benefits for consumers. Speaking at a breakfast meeting between business representatives and investors in OneMax, Rizek Vidal said that the Dominican Republic is the first country in the world to launch a new telephone and internet broadband company based on WiMax 802.16E technology. Codetel has begun a nationwide advertising campaign.

BanInter judges go on vacation
Just hours after issuing their verdicts on the BanInter corruption and fraud case, the three-judge panel went on vacation. According to El Caribe, Antonio Sanchez, Pilar Rufino and Esmirna Mendez handed down their decision on 21 October and have not returned to their offices since then. Their reason: Since taking on the case in February 2006 the magistrates had not had any vacation time during the 20 months and 105 court sessions. Ever since the decision was handed down the national press has been buzzing with opinions about the lenient nature of the punishment handed out to Ramon Baez Figueroa and his accomplices. The decisions are being appealed.

Still need US$60 million
The projects associated with the now infamous Sun Land case need an additional US$60 million worth of equipment in order to be fully ready to serve the university and the public. The original US$130 million contract had stipulated 11 works would be fully equipped with the funding. The Heriberto Pieter Cancer Hospital alone needs US$40 million additional dollars, according to Pedro Delgado Malagon, the engineer in charge of supervising the projects.

Sun Land loan is illegal
Lawyer Julio Cury has told Diario Libre that the loans taken on by Sun Land to be passed on to Dominican contractors with the guarantee of the Dominican state violates No. 10 of Art. 55 of the Constitution, which obliges the head of state to send the loans to Congress. During an address to media directors held last Thursday, President Fernandez argued that Sun Land had granted the financing to contractors and this is why it did not have to be approved by Congress. Nevertheless, Cury says that the assets of the contracting companies are not guaranteeing the capital or interest payments, but state assets, through the promissory notes signed by a government official with presidential power of attorney. He says that since it is the government that is guaranteeing the loans, it is a government loan that requires legislative approval. The PRD has taken the Fernandez administration to the Supreme Court for violation of the Constitution in the case of a US$130 million contract signed with Sun Land that was not sent to Congress.

A.M. on the new economy
Voltaire was noted for his satire and irony in his condemnation of the French monarchy. Diario Libre assistant editor Ines Aizpun wields an equally sharp pen as she examines recent declarations by President Fernandez and his ministers about the Sun Land case. Her A.M. column on Saturday, 27 October writes about the re-engineering of the language of government by the Fernandez administration. According to what has been explained to us in an educated manner, from now on a promissory note, or an IOU is a document that does not imply - even remotely - that the signer is obliged to pay, she writes. "The explanation is obvious: there is no debt. In the new economy these IOUs are signed as if one were signing autographs". The award-winning editor continues: "Likewise the possibilities of getting credit multiply infinitely. You can imagine that you can apply this - someone is probably doing this exercise in financial re-engineering right now - to your personal finance. The fact that it is no longer necessary to leave written proof - not even remotely - of supervision or control of the debt undertaken, is fundamental to the spiritual tranquility of the beneficiary and the good progress of his projects". Aizpun goes on to say "likewise, it is an admirable advantage to be able to ask for money for ten projects, without any plans or details and once the money is received, you can build just five. That saves lots of red tape, studies and explanations.
"Now you, an individual, can ask for a credit for some industrial project, leave it half done, and that's it. Nothing could be easier.
"And if once bungle is uncovered, you have the possibility of adding some explanation to shut up everyone who isn't satisfied, all the better. In the new economy we can call a debt taken on into dollars by some other name, so that it not be necessary to send it to Congress, nor submit it to supervision, nor give such foolish details as the interest rate at which it was contracted," she explains.
"We must recognize that this facilitates the whole process a great deal. And now the interested party, who wants to collect his debt before August just in case the elections complicate matters, doesn't want to say anything. As if we'd think something was awry...."
Aizpun is referring to the hundreds of dollars the government has secured through loan mechanisms with Sun Land. The PRD recently accused the Fernandez administration of securing US$130 million when President Fernandez authorized promissory notes for the amount. Later, it was revealed that the government had signed another contract for US$200 million, but it was annulled a year later.

More Sun Land deals
According to a letter from the Central Bank, 10 promissory notes, totaling US$22 million from a prior suspended commitment in which Sun Land also intervened during the Mejia administration were converted into public debt and are being paid by Dominican taxpayers regardless of the fact that the project for which they were contractually taken on was never executed. Diario Libre reports that this was the case of housing for teachers through the Instituto Nacional de la Auxilios y Viviendas (INAVI) and the national housing institute (INVI). The US$115 million contract was approved by Congress in November 2001. The director of INAVI, Aristipo Vidal says that the cap on borrowing set by the International Monetary Fund limited the implementation of the deal. "We found the contract signed with financing with the US government export promotion agency, US Exim Bank for 15,000 homes, but it was never executed in the past government and when we came, due to the agreement with the IMF there was a cap on taking on foreign debt and the contract was postponed. But Diario Libre says the government is still liable, and US$22.4 million was registered as foreign debt for the 10 promissory notes, according to a letter the Central Bank sent to Sun Land.
Diario Libre also reports on the signing of a power of attorney by President Fernandez to the Ministry of Finances authorizing the signing of a new loan and exchange of debt with Argo Fund Limited that purchased the loans of Sun Land and two other companies identified as Fortis S.A. and Child Safe Products. Child Safe Products was responsible for the failed construction of sports facilities nationwide, most of which were never completed despite the nation taking on costly financing during the Mejia administration.

Police tracking killer gang
The police have announced that they tracked down the killers of four people in the Pastor section of Santiago to the mountains around San Jose de las Matas. The chief of police is warning the four accused killers of Maria Gomez, 63, Elias Collado, a.k.a. "Eli", Jeffrey Rosario Pimentel, a.k.a. "Parece", and Manuel Antonio Luna Valerio, a.k.a. "Vaca", to turn themselves in and prevent "bloodshed." The police have warned the community to be aware of the fact that the men are considered to be armed and dangerous. The four, Eddy Torres Torres, a.k.a. El Quila, Edgar Sarante, a man known only as Roberto and one man whose name is not known, entered the house in El Pastor and shot and killed the four people and wounded two others. Just two weeks ago two of the victims had been arrested and arraigned on charges of illegal weapon possession, but were somehow released on October 26. Regional police commander General Raudo Ramirez Comas told reporters that his men are "combing the hills of San Jose de las Matas".

Police announce capture of killer
The Chief of Police has announced the apprehension of the accused murderer of Ricardo Jesus Smart, a US citizen who went to the assistance of Leonardo Mordan Pena, a Haitian who was being attacked. Smart's body was found in a house in the Campo Lindo barrio of Boca Chica. The accused, Ruddy Alberto de los Santos Rodriguez, 22, was also accompanied by Wander "el Pollero" and a person known as Robin, both of whom are being sought. Preliminary investigations revealed that the accused showed up at the house in Campo Lindo and robbed RD$22,000 from Mordan Pena who was also stabbed. The Haitian said that the criminals stabbed Smart when he tried to help him.
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