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Daily News - Thursday, 29 November 2007

Fernandez inaugurates new center
President Leonel Fernandez will be in Santiago this afternoon to inaugurate the new cancer center at the Union Medica clinic. The clinic is one of the main health centers in the Cibao region. The inauguration event will begin at the new premises on Juan Pablo Duarte Avenue at 5pm. The center was built with an investment of RD$100 million, according to Luis Berges, institute coordinator. Berges said that the institute would provide services at a reasonable cost.

Fernandez at groundbreaking
President Leonel Fernandez has attended a groundbreaking ceremony in Villa Altagracia for 128 apartments for families affected by Tropical Storm Noel. The apartments are part of a program to provide housing in the wake of the storm and the total value of the project is RD$245 million. The government plans to build 200 houses in Bonao, 80 in Piedra Blanca, 437 in Ocoa, 100 in Azua, 150 in La Vega, 80 in Maimon, 150 in Bani and 150 in Manoguayabo, as well as a possible 30 in Cotui and 25 in Cevicos.

Election costs big bucks
The Central Electoral Board is applying for a RD$7.5 billion operational budget for 2008, of which RD$3 billion will be used to organize the 2008 presidential elections, as reported in Hoy. This is RD$6 billion more than was requested in 2004. The board said that this large sum is needed in case the elections aren't conclusive first time round and a second round has to be held. The increased budget will include funding for 120,000 voters abroad, an increase of one million voters for the 2008 elections, the 13,500 electoral colleges in the country and 250 abroad, and the equipment needed for staging the elections. Diario Libre writes that for the 2004 elections the JCE applied for RD$1.9 billion, but this sum was reduced to RD$50 million. The budget, which will be reviewed by the JCE board before being sent to the National Budget Office (ONAP), includes funding for the political parties, which is 0.5% of the national revenue in an election year. The JCE has been experiencing financial instabilities this year. They had applied for an RD$2.9 billion budget but were allocated RD$1.84 billion, which according to JCE board members wasn't enough. JCE president Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman said that the budget forced some JCE projects to be put on hold, as well as affecting the electoral process abroad. Due to a need for increased funds President Leonel Fernandez promised the JCE RD$200 million, of which RD$100 million was handed over yesterday.
The budget requested does not include the RD$1.1 billion that the government is bound by law to allocate to the political parties once the presidential campaign is officially launched in March. Also not included is the budget for the Chamber of Disputes, as reported by Diario Libre.
The JCE estimates that the number of voters in the DR has increased from 4.8 million in 2004 to 5.8 million in 2008.

We're buying and that's that
Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa says that the Dominican government is committed to buying Shell's 50% stake in the Dominican Petroleum Refineries and said that the government doesn't need the IMF's endorsement of the deal. Speaking yesterday, Bengoa was defiant in his attitude towards the purchase of Shell's shares and is quoted in Hoy as saying that "the IMF can't stop us from making a move like this. Let it be clear! We will not retreat in this process." Bengoa did say however that the purchase would be transparent and would respect the government's commitments to the IMF and the Stand-by Arrangement, which limits public spending and foreign debt. Bengoa's comments came as a response to IMF country representative Eric Offerdahl's comments that he sees no advantages in purchasing Shell's shares and added that the company should stay in the hands of the private sector. Bengoa added that Offerdahl was just giving his personal opinion and defended the government's imminent purchase by explaining that complete control of the Refineries would allow the government full access to the 50,000 barrels of fuel available from Venezuela through the Petro Caribe agreement.

Opposition to purchase voiced
The National Business Council (CONEP) and the National Association for Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE) have both spoken out against the government's planned purchase of Shell's share in the Dominican Petroleum Refineries. Conep president Lisandro Macarrulla said that his organization is opposed to the purchase because the government's role is that of a facilitator and regulator. ANJE president Joel Santos says that it would be counterproductive to purchase Shell while the government is supposed to be in a state of austerity. Santos said that the government should instead find a strategic international partner for the purchase. Economist Guillermo Caram voiced similar concerns and said that the government should build a new refinery instead of investing in the current one because the existing refinery has limited production capacity.

Speaking out against trucking monopoly
Business representatives are reiterating their demand that the government stop tolerating the forced monopoly on cargo transport. They say this affects costs considerably and reduces their competitiveness. The presidents of the National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE), the Federation of Industrial Associations (FAI) and the National Federation of Traders and Entrepreneurs (FENACERD), Joel Santos, Ignacio Mendez and Antonio Cruz Rojas respectively, called on the authorities to enforce the Anti-Monopoly Law.
As reported in El Caribe, Santos, president of ANJE, said that, "the state, as regulator, needs to help by confronting the monopolistic practices and facilitating the opening of the cargo business so that anyone who wants to transport their own merchandise from the ports can do so freely and with their own vehicles. He said that if this were accomplished, there would be a considerable reduction in product prices.
Mendez of FAI emphasized that ground cargo transport in the DR is among the most expensive in the Americas. He said that the manufacturers find it hard to believe that entities such as the National Federation of Dominican Transport (Fenatrado) are still tolerated in a competitive and open market. "While there is no competition, these transporters can set the rates at will," he complained.
Cruz Rojas of Fenacerd called for the monopoly to be broken.
El Caribe pointed out that Fenatrado trucks commonly obstruct other vehicles, even if there is a police station nearby.

Plagiarism becoming a problem
According to UASD University law professor Dinorah Gomez, 99.1% of students commit plagiarism at least once each semester. This astounding figure is leading university professors to try and combat the new habit of "cut and paste" among college students. Hoy writes that many college professors are now forcing students to present their assignments and final projects in handwritten form in order to avoid the "copy and paste" scenario. They are also looking to correct the alarmingly high rate of spelling mistakes among university level students. Gomez, quoted in Hoy, says that she is continuously frustrated because students just copy material that they find online and don't even read what they have copied. Professor Samuel Moqueto de la Cruz said that the other problem is that students are also copying from each other, which is eliminated when students are forced handwrite assignments. The problem, however, is not just at the UASD; INTEC has had to tackle the same issues and the university was forced to use computer programs that scour the Internet to determine whether a work is plagiarized.

Tourism in danger?
According to Enrique de Marchena Kaluche, president elect of the Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA), stagnation in the Dominican tourist sector and reduced local investment into the country's hotels are two tourism trends for 2007. Marchena says that between January and October 3,294,012 tourists (2,830,6610 foreigners) visited the DR, which is almost exact same number as in 2006. Marchena added that investment in local hotels by local businesspeople has declined by 13.8% and that Spanish investors have polarized the market, controlling 66.1% of the hotel rooms in the country. He says that the strength of the euro, increased presence of Spanish chains, combined with low rates in the Spanish market have led to this polarization.

Hotel Montana contract revoked
The government has revoked a contract signed by businessmen Jose Cabrera Castillo with the Corporacion Hotelera, a division of the Ministry of Tourism, as reported in Hoy. Eric Hazim, director general for the implementation of the new Law on Governmental Contracts said the contract, which was granted without a tender, violated the law. As reported in Hoy, the revocation of the contract is part of an effort by the Public Contracting Department to stamp out government corruption. The department also works for the fulfillment of Law 340-06 on Government Procurement, Contracting.
In September, Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez announced that Pareatis S.A. was awarded a 35-year lease on the Montana Hotel in Jarabacoa. The company was contractually bound to pay a stipend of RD$67,000 (US$2,000) per month and committed to a RD$300 million investment in the hotel through 2010. As part of the deal, the first rent payment would be made in 2018 with the company being given time to recover a RD$300 million investment it was committed to making in the hotel.
The hotel has been undergoing renovation work for several months, and the Ministry reports that RD$18 million of the budgeted RD$40 million taxpayer money had already been spent.
Freddy Majluta, director of the Hotel Industry and Tourism Development Corporation (CORPHOTEL) signed the contract for the Dominican government. Jose Felix Cabrera Castillo, the main shareholder of Pareatis S.A., signed for the new operator. El Caribe describes Cabrera Castillo as a show-business promoter.
At the time, Cabrera announced that he would invest RD$25 million to complete the structural renovations and another RD$67 million to equip the hotel, for an initial RD$110 million investment to get the hotel started. The company also planned to install a casino to attract gamblers. This would have been the first casino in the province of La Vega. The Ministry did not explain where the additional RD$200 million would be spent.

People want those jobs
Dozens of people rushed to the Santiago Promipyme office yesterday in the hope of getting a job. Many of them were former casual laborers and free trade zone workers. Yesterday it was announced that 20,000 jobs in the Program for Micro, Small and Medium-sized Businesses would be available to qualified candidates. Diario Libre reports that phones were ringing off the hook with calls from people seeking more information about job opportunities. According to Melanio Paredes, the Industry and Commerce Minister, the jobs were being funded by a RD$200 million loan. The new jobs will be in shoe, textile, bakeries, farming, metal works and furniture companies.

Drivers begin fuel system change
The transport unions and the government haven't yet reached an agreement on halting the threatened fare hike, but drivers have begun to install the new dual fuel systems that combine diesel and gas to power their vehicles. Three vehicles, including a Fenatrano truck and two Conatra buses, will be used as trial vehicles to see whether or not there is a 35% fuel saving, as had been reported. Union leader Ramon Perez Figuereo said that the test results would be in tomorrow.

Leptospirosis finally under control
Leptospirosis, which last week was on the verge of reaching epidemic status in the DR, is finally under control, according to health officials. Even so, officials are warning people to continue taking preventive measures. A total of 29 people have died, while 350 were infected. Health officials are still concerned about the spread of conjunctivitis and are advising private or public employers to send people home if they feel they might be infected, in order to prevent the spread of the disease.

Violent deaths caused by guns
Santo Domingo District Attorney Jose Hernandez Peguero has revealed that 80% of violent crimes reported in the last year were committed with a legally owned gun. In September 195 murders were reported, of which 131 were committed using a gun. The DA said that the number of violent crimes has gone down during 2007. Between January and September there were 1,487 violent deaths compared to 1,620 for the same period in 2006. Criminally motivated homicides were registered at 560 and other types of murder were registered at 924. Hernandez was speaking at the signing of an agreement between his office and the Technological Institute of Santo Domingo (INTEC) to launch a new course on "Alternative Conflict Resolution in Society." The plan is to train 30 mediators in barrios to prevent cases from reaching the courts. He explained that voluntary conflict resolution through alternative processes is longer lasting than solutions imposed by a court or a judge. "Our goal is that every barrio district office should have a conflict mediation center by next year," he said.
In related news, Diario Libre reports that in the last 20 days 39 suspected criminals have been killed during shootouts with police.

Baseball update
In yesterday's baseball action the Estrellas finally beat Licey for the first time this season and ended their eight-game losing streak, the longest in the team's history. The Estrellas had 11 hits and won the game by a score of 8-4. In other baseball action the Toros blanked the Aguilas 3-0, although the Aguilas are still a game and a half behind their rivals Licey. Yesterday's final game between Escogido and the Gigantes was canceled due to rain. No date has been set for the make up game.
Current Standings
Team Win Lost Percent Games Behind
Licey 20 11 .641 --
Gigantes 18 12 .600 1.5
Aguilas 16 15 .516 4.0
Escogido 15 17 .469 5.5
Azucareros 13 19 .406 7.5
Estrellas 12 20 .375 8.5
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