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Daily News - Friday, 23 November 2007

Refinery might have a partner
President Leonel Fernandez is awaiting a report that will determine whether the DR needs to find a private partner for the DR's total purchase and management of the Dominican Petroleum Refinery. Speaking to reporters outside the National Police headquarters, Fernandez explained that the Ministry of Hacienda would be in charge of purchasing Shell's remaining shares in the Dominican Refinery. Hoy writes that some experts are saying that new investment is needed so the refinery can increase its daily capacity from 33,000 to 140,000 barrels per day to better serve local demands. Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa said that the government still doesn't have a negotiation plan and that the sum of US$183 million that has been mentioned as a possible price for Shell's shares is just a starting point for negotiations.

Cheaper fuels for transport
President Leonel Fernandez presented new alternatives for public transport to run on bio-diesel and natural gas at the Presidential Palace yesterday. An OMSA bus that has been converted to run on bio-diesel, fuel provided by the recycling of cooking oil from hotels and restaurants was on display. OMSA director Ignacio Ditren announced that 10 buses would soon be operating using bio-diesel, as reported in Diario Libre. Fernandez also said that 300 OMSA buses will have been converted to run on natural gas by February, and that by February/March 2008 half of the energy saving proposals recently announced by the government would be in place.
Although a national energy saving plan is welcomed by most, some are questioning its feasibility. Listin Diario is reporting that the systems that convert gasoline vehicles to natural gas will cost US$1,200 - three times the cost of a system that converts gasoline vehicles to liquid gas (GLP) vehicles. Industry and Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes said that this initial investment by drivers would soon be recouped because natural gas is 50% cheaper than propane.
President Fernandez ratified the decision to use natural gas in public taxis yesterday. Although the chip that needs to be installed in vehicles will be donated by a Colombian company, the gasoline conversion units must be paid for. Salvador Rivas, director of the Non-Conventional Energy Department at the Industry and Commerce Ministry, said that these systems cost around US$1,200 in Peru, although prices may vary.
CNTU transport union president Ramon Perez Figuereo has asked Fernandez and the government to carry out further analysis of the proposal to change from propane to natural gas because of the increased cost associated with the installations of the systems. He added that in the interim, a fuel subsidy should be introduced. Perez added that it is yet to be defined whether the drivers or the state would pay for the systems, and that at US$1,200 per system and 2,000 the total cost would reach RD$84 million.

Herring and cod get tax break
The government has decided to remove ITBIS (VAT) on dried herring and cod so that more people can afford to buy these Dominican food staples. The measure came into effect yesterday. Manuel Cabrera, president of the Dominican Warehouse Importers Association (ASODAI), provided the information and added that herring and cod with bones would be sold without the tax. In the last year world herring and cod prices have gone up, and in the DR what used to cost RD$56 per pound is now at RD$95 per pound. Cabrera added that the move seeks to counter the effects of Tropical Storm Noel and said that the move has two elements. First, it seeks to counteract the increase in prices after Noel and will ensure that more people can afford to buy the food, especially people who lost refrigerators and need to purchase foods that don't need to be refrigerated.

Classifying hotels
The Ministry of Tourism and the National Competitiveness Council have agreed to launch a National Hotel Classification System in the country's eight main tourist areas. The classification system will include infrastructure, services, environmental sustainability and consumer rights. In its first phase, the project will include hotels in Santo Domingo, Boca Chica, Juan Dolio, Punta Cana-Bavaro, Samana, Puerto Plata, and Santiago at a total cost of US$381,545. The funds will be provided by the Ministry of Tourism and the Innovation Program sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The agreement was signed by Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez and Competitiveness Council director Andres van der Horst. The companies FreemanGroup, Codexca (Spain), Diamond Hospitality Group (Canada), Instituto de la Calidad (Sevilla, Spain) and THR (Spain) have all entered the international bidding to classify the hotels. The classification is based on a five-star system, as in Europe and the US, and will involve the classification of hotels by an independent body. Currently hotels classify themselves.

Leptospirosis under control
It's been two days, and another death as a result of leptospirosis has yet to be reported. Also, the number of new patients hospitalized for the disease has also decreased. Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez said that the leptospirosis outbreak is now getting under control, but explained that although numbers are dropping, the Public Health authorities will continue carrying out prevention work. Yesterday 867 UASD medical students volunteered to inform the public on how to effectively prevent the spread of leptospirosis. The students went from door to door in some of Santo Domingo's poorer neighborhoods, handing out pamphlets and providing information about the disease. Rojas also said that the spread of the disease should be treated as an inter-institutional issue, as was recommended by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)

Petro Caribe summit in December
Cuban Ambassador in the DR Juan Astiasaran has announced that the Fourth PetroCaribe summit will take place in Cienfuegos, Cuba on 20 and 21 December 2007. President Leonel Fernandez is expected to take part in the summit, according to Diario Libre. Astiasaran said that Dominican Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso and DR Ambassador in Cuba Miguel Mejia have confirmed the President's attendance. Also, the Cuban ambassador expressed the hope for a free trade agreement to be signed between the DR and Cuba. Although the two nations have established diplomatic relations, a trade agreement has yet to be signed.

Adding up Noel aid
Administrative Minister to the Presidency Luis Manuel Bonetti says that to date the government has received RD$166 million and US$355,136 in aid for tackling the effects of Tropical Storm Noel. Bonetti says that aid is still pending from some friendly nations and said that the funds received have been deposited in a BanReservas bank account for correct usage. Among the entities that donated funds are the Insurance Superintendence - RD$50 million, the Dominican Petroleum Refinery - RD$10 million, Fonper - RD$1 million, Odebrecht - RD$1 million and other smaller donations that total RD$29,905. The South Korean Embassy donated US$100,000, the Taiwanese Embassy donated US$200,000, Dessau Soprin US$50,000 and other smaller deposits of US$5,138. Also, Qatar has donated US$2 million and Colombia has donated US$100,000. Bonetti said that President Leonel Fernandez was awaiting a detailed report from the Resource Administration Commission in order to decide which areas most affected by the storms will receive money.

Tobacco loan approved
The government has approved an RD$180 million loan for tobacco growers in Santiago and surrounding provinces whose main crop was damaged or destroyed by Tropical Storm Noel. This information was released by Agriculture Minister Salvador Jimenez. Jimenez said that the storm damaged more than 25% of the tobacco crop. Of the total RD$180 million, a large portion, RD$120 million will be managed through the Banco Agricola and the remaining RD$60 million will be managed through the National Tobacco Institute. Yesterday, the first payment of RD$1 million was distributed, and the authorities will give out the remaining funds over the next few days.

Ministry of Environment flip-flops
The Ministry of Environment has changed its tune once again, this time deciding to enforce law 16-07, which prohibits the extraction of sand and gravel from riverbeds in the DR. The resolution had originally been passed by President Leonel Fernandez, but was ignored for the most part. The resolution was back in the news recently, although ministry officials had supported the extractions, saying that in the wake of Tropical Storm Noel, sand and gravel was needed for reconstruction work. Now the Ministry is announcing that it has impounded 60 trucks, three mechanic shovels and a bulldozer that were being used for gravel removal. Environment officials also cite the use of heavy vehicles after 6pm, without presentation of a valid permit as a reason for their retention. The 64 vehicles were retained in the National District and other parts of the country and the largest number of confiscations took place in San Cristobal where 21 trucks were stopped.

Minister could be charged
Community organizations in Nizao and San Cristobal are urging the Ministry of the Environment to order a halt to sand and gravel extraction from riverbeds in the area no later than Monday, or face being charged with violating law 123-71 and 64-00, which prohibits the extraction of materials. Enovirna Done, representing the San Cristobal National Confederation of Peasant Women and Daniel Carrasco, president of the Federation of Organizations for Nizao Development are the leading forces behind the campaign against the Ministry of Environment.

7,000 families need to be relocated
The Ministry of Environment and the National Council of Urban Affairs (Conau) have delivered a report to President Leonel Fernandez recommending that 7,000 families need to be relocated from vulnerable areas, as reported in Diario Libre. The government departments have identified 20 high-risk areas considered unsuitable for human habitation. These include areas alongside the Ozama River, where some 3,000 families still live, areas in Palo Verde, Monte Cristi that are affected by the flooding of the Yaque del Norte River, areas in San Cristobal, affected by the flooding of Nigua river, as well as Duey in Villa Altagracia and La Jura in Azua. Other areas along the Camu River in La Vega, Barrio El Riito and Panti Flojo in Nagua, Jaquimeyes in Barahona, Hacienda Estrella in Santo Domingo Norte, and Bajos del Yuna in Duarte, were also highlighted.

Police Christmas security plan
The Chief of Police Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin has announced the Police's plan for increased security and safety during this year's Christmas holiday season. Guzman is quoted in Hoy as saying that during the holiday season police will be patrolling the streets and anyone who puts his hand on a police officer is putting their hands on Guzman. Guzman said that he will use the necessary amount of officers during the holiday season and that the number of officers on duty in the country's airports and roads leading to and from the airports would be increased.

Parties will get lots more money
The country's political parties will receive RD$1.1 billion during the last two months of presidential campaigning in the run-up to the 16 May 2008 elections, as reported in Diario Libre. The Central Electoral Board (JCE) will distribute the money. Article 49 of electoral law 275-97 rules that the political parties will receive the equivalent of a half a percent of all national revenue in the given electoral year and a fourth of a percent in the years when there aren't any elections. At the end of this year the JCE will have given the political parties RD$296 million, although most of this money is divided between the three main parties, the PRD, PLD and PRSC, who get 80% of these funds. This means that the political parties receive RD$6,596,432.93 per month. The funding has turned political parties into the nation's leading spenders on advertising, after the government itself.

New DR ambassador in Nicaragua
President Leonel Fernandez has appointed Dr. Pedro Blandino as Dominican ambassador to Nicaragua through decree 646-07 issued yesterday. In addition, Jose Manuel Lopez Balaguer was appointed as Dominican Goodwill ambassador through decree 648-07.

Haiti getting its own CESFRONT
Diario Libre is reporting that Haiti will be getting its own version of the Dominican Specialized Border Security Corps (CESFRONT) and Haitian Chief of Police Mario Andresol said that this will increase the efficiency of border security. Andresol made the announcement in the presence of Haitian Chief of Public Security, Joseph Eucher-Luc and Dominican National Drug Control Department director Rafael Radhames Ramirez Ferreria. Andresol and Eucher-Luc are in the DR holding meetings with Dominican officials. During the meeting Andresol acknowledged the fact that it is difficult to patrol an area that's more than 400 kilometers long, especially with a lack of infrastructural efficiency, as is the case in Haiti.

DREAM Project opens high school
The Dominican Republic Education And Mentoring Project (The DREAM Project) will be inaugurating its first secondary education facility on Friday, November 23rd at the CADIN School in Islabon, Puerto Plata. This inauguration coincides with The DREAM Project's fifth anniversary. According to Patricia Suriel, DREAM's executive director, this facility was not needed five years ago because only 35 children out of 1,400 in the communities DREAM worked in even attended the 8th grade. Now, five years later, 140 children are attending 8th grade. Thanks to continued support from the original group of donors, the CADIN School has been able to expand. In The DREAM Project's five years of existence, they have helped more than 4,000 students in ten schools and community centers, affecting the lives of over 10,000 people in ten different communities. For those interested in learning more about The DREAM Project, an exhibition "Winter DREAMS 07" will be held at the Motif Art Gallery December 14th, in Sosua, Puerto Plata. Exhibition proceeds directly benefit The DREAM Project. For additional information on the organization, you can also visit www.dominicandream.org.

Baseball update
No Games.
Current Standings
Team Win Lost Percent Games Behind
Licey 16 9 .640 --
Aguilas 15 11 .576 1.5
Gigantes 14 11 .560 2.0
Estrellas 11 15 .423 5.0
Escogido 11 16 .406 6.0
Azucareros 11 16 .406 6.0

Tonight's Games:
Estadio Quisqueya 7:30pm - Aguilas vs. Licey
Estadio Julian Javier 7:30pm - Azucareros vs. Gigantes
Estadio Tetelo Vargas 8pm - Escogido vs. Estrellas
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