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Daily News - Wednesday, 30 April 2008

IKEA in Santo Domingo
President Leonel Fernandez and IKEA president Anders Dahlvig, put their shoulders into the first shovelfuls of dirt at the official launch of the construction phase of the US$63 million investment. The new store will occupy 80,000 square meters of the old UNPHU I campus on Ave. John F. Kennedy, near the intersection with Ave. Winston Churchill. President Fernandez took credit for the investment, telling reporters how he got the deal going at a breakfast meeting held in Madrid three years ago. The IKEA facility will complement an area full of shopping options, with Americana de Departamentos, Hache, Almacenes Unidos, Diamond Mall and La Sirena all within a few minutes of each other.

Fernandez on corruption
President Leonel Fernandez says that the creation of the Department for Prevention of Administrative Corruption (DEPRECO) during his first 1996-2000 government and the National Commission for Ethics and Fight against Corruption during his second term (2004-2008) are his major achievements in fighting corruption in government. He was addressing the Foundation for Justice and Institutionalism (FINJUS) at the UNPHU yesterday.
Furthermore, Fernandez highlighted that in 2005, his government launched the National Plan for Ethics and Prevention of Corruption (2005-2008) and the Code for Ethics of the Government Employee. In his words, there have been in-depth changes aimed at making government activities transparent and efficient. He also highlighted the advances in the application of the Law of Free Access to Public Information. He said that corruption is a worldwide phenomenon.
Fernandez spoke of how he was in favor of creating another structure to combat corruption by upgrading the National Office of Public Administration (ONAP) to a government ministry. As reported in El Caribe, Fernandez believes it is a priority to decentralize government so that the President is not responsible for public institutions, and that instead all ministers would be responsible for their actions and would be able to take decisions without Presidential authorization. Fernandez feels that is the trend of modern government and has been pushing his government in that direction.
During the event, FINJUS vice president Rafael del Toro Gomez said that there has been a lack of political will to fight corruption in the Dominican Republic. As reported in El Caribe, he said that despite the conversion of DEPRECO into the Department for Prevention of Administrative Corruption (DPCA) during the 2004-2008 Fernandez administration, there are still difficulties for those bodies to act on the will of the President to eradicate corruption in government. He advocated for change in the way politics is carried out and the way government funds are handled so that every person who has made corruption their modus vivendi should be punished. He said the eradication of corruption would provide all Dominicans with more opportunities for economic development, business and progress.
Del Toro added that surveys carried out by Finjus and other institutions show that the National Commission for Ethics and Fight against Corruption has not met expectations.

New 10-Year Education Plan
Education Minister Alejandrina German has unveiled the government's 10-Year Education Plan for 2008-2018, calling it an instrument for changing education in the country. The plan follows a lengthy consultation phase with private educators, teaching unions, business and civil society groups, as reported in Hoy. Nevertheless, it postpones the implementation of General Law of Education 66-97 that calls for the government to invest 4% of the Gross Domestic Product in education until 2013.
During the presentation, Luis Sanchez Noble, speaking for the business community, spoke about the changes that are needed. "Up to now we have been surrounded by brilliant speeches, but action has been weak", he stated. He encouraged Dominican teachers to be better trained, highlighting the fact that more and better quality education is needed. He called for the cooperation of the Dominican Public School Teachers Association (ADP) so that teaching schedules are met.

Generic meds will cost less
A list of 51 generic pharmaceuticals will be sold at reduced prices starting Thursday. The drugs will be sold through the state's essential drugs program, PROMESE. Included on the new price list are insulin, cardio-vascular medicines, gastro-intestinal products, anti-parasitical treatments, medicine to fight anemia, dermatological medicines, and medicine to fight high blood pressure and seizures. According to El Nuevo Diario, the announcement came on the heels of statements made by eminent neurosurgeon and PRD vice-presidential candidate Dr. Jose Joaquin Puello, who said that the current PLD government had "abandoned the hospitals". Public Health Minister riposted that Puello is head of neurosurgery at the Luis E. Aybar Public Hospital but he has not carried out an operation there in five years.
Elena Fernandez, who heads the PROMESE program, told reporters that just last month medicines worth RD$58 million were sent to the hospitals, and that the basic problem had to do with "warehousing" the drugs.

Chinese medicine at HOMS
Dr. Marcelo Lam, an oncologist, says that an alternative Chinese treatment for cancer tumors will be available at the Santiago Metropolitan Hospital (HOMS) within two months. As reported in El Caribe, he says they will be applying injections of Huang Qi (Astragalus Membranaceus) to increase cancer patients' survival rates. He described the treatment as the most advanced biological treatment for cancer in the world. The treatment will also be available at the Centro Medico Dr. Ovalles in San Francisco de Macoris.

Small business needs simplicity
Issachart Burgos, president of the Confederation of Small and Medium-sized Companies (Codopyme) is calling on the Senate to pass the small business incentives bill that recently passed in the Chamber of Deputies, as reported in Hoy. The bill releases small businesses from several requirements for payment of social security and taxes. Burgos said that many small businesses, unable to cope with all the new red tape, would have to close if the facility is not passed. The bill was submitted to Congress by President Leonel Fernandez.
A report prepared by the Social Security Treasury (TSS) says that companies with less than 15 employees make up 80% of companies registered with the government entity. As of 31 March 2008, 37,275 companies had registered with the social security department. Of these, 29,875 are small companies. Listin Diario points out that many more companies are not registered. The TSS estimates that 55% of all companies doing business in the DR do so informally.

Basic foods are "assembled"
The president of the Dominican Agribusiness Board (JAD), Jose Ramon Peralta, put it quite clearly: Food consumed in the Dominican Republic is actually "assembled" from foreign raw materials. This argument reduces the importance of self-sufficient food production since this is dependent on imported fertilizers, chemicals and grains whose prices are subject to international pressures. Peralta said that the chemicals applied to local agricultural production are at least 90% imported, further proof of local farmers' dependence. With government authorities claiming over and over that the Dominican Republic is at least 80% self-sufficient in its food production, Peralta said that the figure is closer to 50%, since half of what is on the supermarket shelves comes from overseas.
Peralta is advising the government to provide producers, not consumers, with food subsidies. Peralta feels that the country has the capacity to produce more rice, sugar, garlic, onions, milk, eggs, vegetables, meat, fruit and vegetables.
As reported in Diario Libre, Peralta said that local producers are already feeling the market pressure from Haitian buyers who are sourcing rice here, since they can buy it at lower prices compared to US-produced rice. Peralta says that if the government subsidizes producers, wealth and jobs will be created. He said that producers are concerned about the constant increases in the price of diesel and other inputs.
Peralta was speaking at a press conference called by the JAD to emphasize the dependency of Dominican agricultural production and the sector's vulnerability to external factors. The JAD synthesized the issues surrounding the inability of Dominican farmers to supply local demand, and rested its case on the high costs of fuels, fertilizers, chemicals and other products needed to produce foodstuffs. Today's New York Times features a long article on how the fertilizer shortage is threatening farmers around the world.

Porvenir produces sweet millions
The Porvenir sugar mill has produced over 9,200 tons of raw sugar so far this harvest. Most, if not all, is going to the local market. The mill's general manager, Leoncio Sandoval, told reporters from Listin Diario that the sugar was of a very high quality, "enviable" in his words, with excellent color and texture. Currently, the Porvenir mill is sending between 15,000 and 18,000 bags of sugar to the local market each week, which, in economic terms, means RD$15 million to RD$18 million in sugar and an additional RD$7 to RD$8 million in molasses. According to Sandoval, "we are talking about RD$38 to RD$40 million every two weeks". In the 76 days of the harvest to date, the mill has processed 143,436 tons of sugar cane, averaging between 2,000 and 3,000 tons a day. Porvenir, a part of the State Sugar Board (CEA), an entity that came into being with the fall of the Trujillo dictatorship, had been leased by a private company, but the mill was returned to the CEA after a lack of working capital led the mill to be shut down. Porvenir, located in San Pedro de Macoris province, is scheduled to work for 163 days this year and produce between 24,000 and 25,000 tons of raw sugar. Private sugar farmers provide 80% of the cane that is processed; the other 20% comes from lands owned by the mill itself.

The EU has millions for bananas
The Dominican ambassador in to the European Union, Federico Cuello Camilo, says that the European Union has set aside 80 million euros for assistance to Dominican banana farmers. The ambassador was speaking at a luncheon meeting held at the Ministry of Foreign Relations hosted by Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso. According to the Brussels-based ambassador, the funds are available now, having been negotiated in 2006, outside the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that was signed with the block of Caribbean nations. Ambassador Cuello and Minister Morales Troncoso told reporters from Listin Diario that the banana sector had made a positive recovery and had done so quickly enough for many of the producers to repay the government credit they were granted to help with the recovery of their crops after last year's tropical storms. Banana cultivation provides 15,000 jobs in the northwest of the Dominican Republic, and the banana sector's spokespersons listed their priorities for the government representatives: First, an improved irrigation infrastructure in order to compete with Central America; second, a reduction in the cost of transportation which can be achieved by using the port of Manzanillo rather than Haina for exports, and third, the exporters want measures that will help them compete on the world markets. Ambassador Cuello said that the repairs at Manzanillo were feasible since maritime transport and administration was liberalized under the EAA agreement. Bananas produce as much as US$100 million in exports and pay millions of pesos to 15,000 workers each week.

FTA needs revisions
Several business leaders have pointed out the need for a revision of the Free Trade Agreement with Central America that was signed in 1999. Some business representatives asked for equal treatment on the grounds that the region is blocking the entry of Dominican products into the Central American trade area. Celso Marranzini suggested that some tariffs should be applied to products from Guatemala as reciprocal treatment for Dominican products trying to enter the Central American country.
According to Free Trade Zone Association (ADOZONA) president Fernando Capellan, the agreement with Central America should be revised, but "I (Capellan) do not think the problem is Central America or Guatemala, the problem is that the Dominican Republic has lost its competitiveness. We have stopped being competitive. There are many factors, from the Labor Code that is obsolete, from the big expense of social security... Where we have a series of costs that are very high compared to these countries."
Jesus Moreno, the president of the Herrera Industrial Association emphasized the need for some sort of dialogue between the two parties in order to solve the problem, rather than taking restrictive measures.
Aquiles Bermudez, the president of the Santiago Free Zone Association said that his group was in agreement with the CONEP position that the Dominican Republic was losing its competitive position in the marketplace.

Tragic accident near Azua
At least four, possibly six people were killed in an accident on the highway near Azua. The accident occurred near Villarpando, near Padre de las Casas, when an SUV driven by Rafael Luciano Zabala rear-ended a soft drinks truck as it drove around a curve in the highway. At least three other members of the Zabala family perished in the accident and some newspapers are reporting two further deaths.

A.M. A cop once more
Today's page two editorial from Adriano Miguel Tejada is more a lament than a comment on politics or economics. The Diario Libre editor tells how, once more, he became a 'volunteer traffic cop' and had the same experience all over again. He said that when he sees some stupid traffic jam, as one sees in Santo Domingo all the time, because no one is willing to give way, and everyone wants to be first to get through even when they see a stopped vehicle and there is no way through, he gets out of his car and helps sort out the problem. He says that he has done this so many times he has lost count. The first thing that one finds is that nobody wants to give in, and the guy causing the problem is the worst. The second thing is that nobody accepts the fact that they should obey an order that would solve the problem. The only ones who do obey are the ones at the back. Thirdly, he says that women are especially spoiled and undisciplined. They say words that are worse than those used by the men and do not accept any direction. Public car drivers are obedient, but taxi drivers are not. It seems that the struggle to arrive first at the passenger's house (yes, taxi piracy) is a question of personal pride or life or death. The bus drivers' assistants (who hang out the doors and call for passengers) only help to get their own vehicle through. Then they get on and go smiling down the road. Finally, when it is all straightened out, the ones who were trapped at the very back of the traffic jam go past with a smile, and sometimes lower their windows and say thanks, while others express their admiration for a job well done. Tejada says that his answer to all of them is: "Get out of your cars and do your duty to make this city a little more 'livable' for everyone".

Derek Walcott speaks tonight
Nobel Prize-winning author Derek Walcott will give a talk tonight, 30 April at 8pm at the Sala de la Cultura of the National Theater. He is visiting as guest of honor of the XI International Book Fair in Santo Domingo, the main cultural event held annually in the DR, organized by the Ministry of Culture. Walcott, born in St. Lucia, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992 and currently teaches at Boston University. The event is free of charge, but the Sala de la Cultura is a small hall, so anyone interested in attending should get there early.

The Emergency Operations Committee (COE) has issued a Yellow Alert for 15 provinces in the Dominican Republic due to the risk of flooding caused by increasing rain showers. A low-pressure front is currently hovering over most of the country. The COE issued the alert for Santo Domingo, the National District, Puerto Plata, Santaigo, Samana, Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Espaillat, Duarte - particularly the Lower Yuna Basin, Hato Mayor, El Seibo, San Pedro de Macoris, Monsignor Nouel, Salcedo, Sanchez Ramirez and La Vega. According to the bulletin, the COE is advising residents in these provinces to continue taking precautions against flooding and landslides. At the same time, the National Meteorological Office said that thunderstorms would continue today, caused by the humidity and the unstable air mass and yet another low-pressure area located over Haiti and coming east.

Wednesday sales
Radiocentro is advertising major sales on appliances with slight defects in its outdoor tents.
Walid Attias Comercial has a one-day clearance sale at its Lope de Vega furniture store.
La Cadena supermarkets are advertising apples for RD$24.95lb, watermelon for RD$6.95lb, green bell peppers for RD$12.95lb, yellow onions for RD$8.95lb, cauliflower for RD$9.95lb, potatoes for RD$8.95lb, celery for RD$3.95lb.
Plaza Lama supermarkets have 30% off meat cuts, eggs for RD$89.95/30eggs, rice for RD$149.95/10lbs.
Jumbo is advertising Michel white cheese for RD$99.95lb, black beans for RD$49.95/2lbs, La Famosa tomato paste for RD$63.95/kilo.
Bravo has fresh Colorado fish for RD$89.95lb, Clorox for RD$69.95/gallon, passion fruit for RD$24.95/lb.
La Sirena is advertising its Wednesday fruits and vegetable sale with 35%, and carrots for RD$4.95lb, broccoli for RD$8.95lb, red onions for RD$6.95lb. Bores olive oil for RD$169.95/638g.
Nacional supermarkets have a sale on Grana Padano cheese for RD$424.95lb, Maasdam cheese for RD$204.95lb, 40% all grapes, and 20% off other fruits and vegetables.
Carrefour is advertising eggplant for RD$6.90lb, bugalu tomatoes for RD$6.90lb, plantains for RD$7.50ea, red bell peppers for RD$19.95lb, sweet potatoes for RD$12.50lb, white onions for RD$11.90lb, broccoli for RD$8.90lb, white rice for RD$14.45lb.
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