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Daily News - Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Greenberg poll: Fernandez 55%
The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner-Diario Libre poll shows President Leonel Fernandez of the ruling PLD party winning this Friday's presidential election in the first round with 55% of the vote. The PRD's Miguel Vargas is second with 37% and the PRSC's Amable Aristy is third with 6%.
The polling company asked prospective Fernandez voters to give two reasons for their choice. Of those polled, 62% said they would vote for Fernandez because things are going well in the country, 41% for his economic policies, 34% because they always vote PLD, 24% because of President Fernandez's experience in education, and 9% for the President's personality.
The poll showed that voters are indifferent about the PLD's use of public funds for the presidential campaign.
The poll also shows that the opposition party has not been able to capitalize on negative events in the country. It mentions that 82% of Dominicans said they were affected by the rising food prices, and that 62% of Dominicans disapprove of the way the government has reacted to the situation. The polling company says that leading opposition candidate Miguel Vargas's voter support remained steady at 37% in their March, April and May polls.

PLD ends campaign
The ruling PLD party closed its 2008 Presidential campaign with a massive rally on Av. Padre Castellanos and Francisco del Rosario Sanchez Bridge yesterday. PLD politicians called on voters to give President Leonel Fernandez four more years. During the rally PLD members and high-ranking government officials, Santo Domingo Mayor Roberto Salcedo, Santo Domingo Senator Cristina Lizardo, Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso, Senate president Reynaldo Pared Perez and merengue legend Johnny Ventura all gave speeches touting the successes of the PLD government during the last four years.
After their introductory speeches, President Fernandez stepped up to the podium and addressed the crowd of countless supporters who held flags and banners, creating a sea of purple as far as the eye could see. Fernandez used various props to get his message across. In a 23-minute speech, he said that during Friday's elections "the nation's future and our children's future and the country's development are at stake."
During his speech, Fernandez brought out a telescope in order to see the very last PLD supporter at the rally, but said he wasn't able to see them. The President also held up a large "insurance" card with a photo of PRD candidate Miguel Vargas, and said that the card, like Vargas, didn't work and that it needed to be thrown in the trash. Fernandez proceeded to crumple up the life size card, threw it on the ground and trampled it.
For his next demonstration, two young women appeared onstage holding small signs representing the prices of certain foods during the PRD and PLD administrations, while Fernandez read out the prices. Finally, Fernandez brought out a large Dominican flag and continued shouting out slogans in defense of his re-election bid. Fernandez continued to berate the opposition, saying that during the PRD's four years in power they mismanaged the unprecedented sum of RD$40 billion, and did nothing with those funds. He continued by saying that during his next four years he would support development in education, health, investment and tourism, among other things, and said that in no way could the country go back to life under the PRD government.
The rally was complete with musical performances by Frank Reyes, El Lapiz Conciente, Los Potros, Kinito Mendez, Fernando Villalona, Jose Pena Suazo and Ramon Orlando, who kept the crowd entertained.

You'll just have to wait
Following a four-hour meeting, the Central Electoral Board decided not to schedule a time to announce the first election results bulletin. JCE president Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman said only that the first bulletin would be broadcast "as early as possible". As for the complaints lobbied by the PRD about a possible selection of voting precincts to include in that first bulletin, Castanos said that the main reason for delays in the transmission of results during the trial runs was the lack of bandwidth in some of the precincts. He said that telecommunications company CODETEL has promised to install the necessary bandwidth to speed up the process from all precincts where scanners have been installed.

Schools used for voting
State schools and the UASD University will be closing their doors as of Wednesday, 14 May because classrooms will be used as voting centers for the 16 May presidential election. Schools will re-open on 19 May. Hoy reports that for the first time in the university's history, some professors at the UASD will act as official electoral observers. In all, 6,000 public schools will be used as polling stations during the electoral process. Private schools have not reported if they will also close on Wednesday and Thursday in addition to Friday, 16 May, Election Day.

Topics fall by the wayside
As the end of the electoral period nears, Diario Libre publishes an analysis by Tania Molina of headline-making issues that have fallen by the wayside and have been almost forgotten. She says that the financing of the Santo Domingo Metro, Social Security, Constitutional reform, and the Central Electoral Board's contract for the SOMO project to automate the civil registry have all been forgotten. Molina writes that last 15 November President Leonel Fernandez addressed the nation to present a new energy saving plan at a time when the price of fuel broke the US$100 barrier. The use of natural gas, transport efficiency and energy use programs were all part of the plan, as was limiting the use of government vehicles and rational use of energy in public offices. Part of Fernandez's plan included removing speed bumps, and alternate days for shared fare-paying taxis, but none of this seems to have been implemented. But Molina, citing statistics from the Ministry of Hacienda, writes that little has been implemented. She mentions that since November government offices have actually used 1.47% more energy.
Another issue is the Dominican state's purchase of Shell's stake in the Dominican Petroleum Refinery, but little more has been heard of that topic.
The government admits there is a need to reform the social security law, but again, it was said that that this would be the responsibility of the next government. Other issues like a new IMF agreement and rulings on the Sun Land case have all but disappeared from the public debate to give way to electoral propaganda.

Need to control government spending
The president of the Association of Industries of the Dominican Republic (AIRD), Manuel Diez Cabral is calling on the government to control what he describes as "disproportionate" spending. He told El Caribe that government spending was up 35% in the first three months of the year, compared to last year's figures. Business leaders are concerned that the government could resort to increasing taxes in order to keep up the spending. "The country cannot sustain this spending, more taxes and the increases in the cost of food products, and fuel," said Diez Cabral.
Meanwhile, Circe Almanzar, executive vice president of AIRD, recalled that a study of the government payroll and ways to reduce this was carried out in 2003, when it was determined there were around 300,000 public employees. She expressed concern about the President's recent announcement that the government has 400,000 people on its payroll, without including employees of decentralized government departments. She commented that during that period the national budget went from RD$60 billion to RD$300 billion, four years later.
Almanzar said that taxes affected all sectors, and cannot be sustained. "If you are going to export and you want to promote an export culture, do not burden these industries with taxes on exports or their assets. Promote it with conditions equal to those of their competitors in Central America", she urged.
Almanzar said that the agreement with the IMF would have been needed earlier in the year when it would have been useful to control the excessive government spending into the presidential election.
She said that Dominican leaders are motivating consumption and not production in the country. "It is easier to get a loan for a car than to produce or purchase machinery," she commented.
Diez speculated that the government could be considering a new fiscal reform, and remarked that the previous fiscal reform had not worked. He mentioned that several companies had seen a collapse in sales, such as beer and liquors and an increase in lower costing imports was stimulated with an increase in the trade deficit.
Almanzar urged a need to nationwide promote a work ethic. She said that many Dominicans receive remittances, do not go to work, and just spend the money they receive on consumer goods. "We have lots of informal trade, but that commerce is not helping our development," she commented.

Tourism still doing well
While climbing fuel prices and the economic troubles in the US gave rise to fears that the Dominican tourism sector would experience a slump in 2008, the opposite has occurred. The Ministry of Tourism reported that in the first four months of the year, 1,430,034 visitors have come, that is 6.73% more than in the same period 2007, when 1,339,836 tourists arrived.
April passenger flow numbers alone show a 2.54% increase compared to 2007, and there is a trend for arrivals to continue on the up. This year, 315,721 tourists arrived in April, compared to 307,914 in April 2007.
Arrivals come primarily from the United States, Canada, France, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland, as reported in El Caribe.
Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez said that the Canadian market is showing its strength, with 398,023 arrivals in the first quarter of the year, compared to 358,638 in April 2007.

Foreign investment a constant
During the past 15 years the DR has received a total of US$12.1 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI). This information comes from the Central Bank, the Dominican Republic Center for Exports and Investment (CEI-RD) and the Foreign Investment Association (ASIEX). In 2007 alone the DR received US$1.7 billion in FDI, slightly less than Costa Rica, but more than the remaining four DR-CAFTA countries. Tourism and telecommunications were the major areas of investment. Net revenues for services have continued a constant, registering 95% net revenues in 2007 as a whole. Free trade zones experienced 4% net revenues in 2007. Listin Diario writes that macroeconomic stability in the DR has been the key factor in increasing FDI.

Small business bill
The Dominican Confederation of SMEs (Codopyme) is urging the Senate to pass the bill that creates a new framework for small and medium sized businesses in the DR. The bill passed in the Chamber of Deputies several weeks ago, but has not been put on the Senate agenda. The bill was sent to Congress from the President's Office. "The delay in passing the project is creating serious difficulties for small companies to compete," explained Issaachart Burgos, as leading motivation for the passing the bill. He says that the bill creates a special chapter for very small businesses. Burgos said that a large number of their members might even have to close operations given the fines and complex social security and income tax requirements from the government.

More call centers in DR
The Center for Exports and Investment (CEI-RD) says that 57 call centers are currently operating in the DR. Eddy Martinez of CEI-RD feels that there is potential for the number of call centers to double in the next two years. He says that approximately 25,000 Dominicans are employed in call centers and forecasts that by 2014, as many as 200,000 could be employed in this sector. Martinez said that the DR has been the Latin American leader in attracting call center business. Other world leaders are the Philippines, India, Germany and Ireland. He said that these business are entry-level jobs for young Dominicans, and wages are around RD$20,000 for agents.
The CEI-RD recently signed an agreement with the Contact Center Institute of the Americas (CCI) to train more Dominicans for these jobs. INFOTEP will be the local training counterpart.

Manny inches closer
Slugger Manny Ramirez took one step closer to joining the 500-homerun club after clubbing his eighth homerun of the season last night. The Dominican-born star hit a shot in his first at bat against the Minnesota Twins to give him 498 dingers for his career. Ramirez's homer wasn't enough for the great team from Boston as the BoSox lost 7-3. When Ramirez hits his 500th homerun he will join Sammy Sosa as the only Dominicans in the exclusive club.

Dominican track runs well
During a track meet in Venezuela the Dominican track team ran well enough to collect seven medals, including three golds. The team ran during the Brigido Iriarte y Maximo Viloria meet during which athletes from 15 nations competed. The meet is one of many preparatory events in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games in China. Arismendy Peguero won gold in the 400-meter dash while 17-year old Tayron Reyes won the silver medal in the 800-meter dash. Reyes, who looks to have a promising future, was one full second within the minimum time required to qualify for Beijing. He ran a time of 1:48.91. Reyes's time is one of the fastest run in the world this year, according to Listin Diario.

Tuesday sales
Plaza Lama supermarket has green bananas for RD$2.95ea, carrots for RD$5.25lb, Barcelo tomatoes for RD$5.45lb, pineapples for RD$18.95ea, yuca for RD$17.45lb, chicken thighs for RD$24.95, and watermelon for RD$5.45lb.
Jumbo has red onions for RD$6.95lb, squash for RD$4.95lb, carrots for RD$4.95lb, cantaloupe for RD$22.95, red grapes for RD$49.95lb, limes for RD$12.95lb, and green bananas for RD$3.95lb.
La Sirena is advertising chicken thighs for RD$28.95lb, white beans for RD$24.95lb, Milex milk powder for RD$239.95/kg, Sosua Danes cheese for RD$109.95lb, Brunswick sardines for RD$15.95/106g, and La Yogurt for RD$20.95/6oz.
Nacional is advertising Food Club peanut butter for RD$59.95/18oz, and Food Club ketchup for RD$44.95/24oz.
Vitros has a sale on picture frames for Mother's Day. Prices range from RD$245-RD$525.
La Nacional furniture store is promoting a one-day, Tuesday 13 May sale at its Home Gallery stores, including Gustavo Mejia Ricart 105.
Radiocentro continues with its outdoor clearance sale on appliances with minor defects.
 
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