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Daily News - Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Revisiting the doctor issue
Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez says that any salary wage awarded to doctors will only happen once the government's contractual structure with the doctors is reviewed. The ministry insists that wage increases be pegged to individual performance at specific jobs in public hospitals. Public hospital doctors have been engaged in an ongoing struggle with the government for higher wages and other benefits. Bautista said that the Health Ministry's technical team has met to discuss its plans for the next four years. Bautista, however, didn't dismiss the fact that there could be a wage increase for the doctors in the near future. The minister, quoted in El Caribe, seemed optimistic and showed willingness to resume negotiations with representatives of the Dominican Medical Association (CMD).

Subsidies maintained for now
Administrative Minister to the Presidency Luis Manuel Bonetti said the government would maintain food and fuel subsidies to keep prices stable.
Industry and Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes announced the economic team of the government will meet on Thursday. He advanced that it is most likely fuel prices will be frozen until the speculative phenomenon passes.

CPI at 1.88% for April
The Central Bank April Consumer Price Index showed a 1.88% increase in prices for April, after a 1.71% price increase in March. The government would instate several new food and price subsidies in April and May in order to control rising prices. Accumulated inflation for January-April was 4.72%. See http://www.bancentral.gov.do/...

Subsidies maintained for now
Administrative Minister to the Presidency Luis Manuel Bonetti says the government would maintain food and fuel subsidies to keep prices stable. Meanwhile, Industry and Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes announced that the government's economic team would meet on Thursday. He hinted that it was likely that fuel prices would be frozen until all the current speculation ceases. Taxes make up a large part of fuel prices.

The increase in food prices took years
The rector of the Higher Agricultural Institute (ISA), located in La Herradura, Santiago, told Hoy reporter Jose Alfredo Espinal that the current prices of basic foodstuffs in the Dominican Republic is the result of a process that has developed over several years. Benito Ferreiras, the rector of the institute, said that the current crisis is the result of years of relegating the agricultural sector to the back burner and government attempts to even out the participation of the different sectors in the economy. Ferreiras said that while other countries have changed one important sector of the economy for another, in the Dominican Republic the government has placed tourism, finance and industrial free zones ahead of agriculture, and we are now paying the price. He called for government action to guarantee the country's food supply through policies that support farmers. He criticized the current emphasis on producing bio-fuel on lands that formerly produced foodstuffs for human consumption.

More austerity, fewer subsidies
Representatives from several industrial groups agree that over the next four years the administration will have to apply an ironclad policy of savings, reduce expenditures and reduce subsidy programs. The presidents of the National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE), the Agro-Business Board (JAD), the Herrera Industries Association (AEIH) and the Trade and Business Federation, together with other leaders such as the president of the National Council of Business (CONEP), agree on this position of austerity and subsidy reduction. ANJE spokesman Pablo Piantini called for controlled handling of government expenditure so that more resources could go to education and health. Jesus Moreno, the head of the Herrera Industrial Association, called for more emphasis on the farming sector and the use of alternative energy programs. Lisandro Macarrulla of Conep called business groups to unite and collaborate with the government to promote initiatives to improve quality of life and spur development. "More precise actions are needed, as well as an intelligent fiscal management, in terms of improving quality of spending, adjusting investments to real needs and combating poverty," he stressed.

Organic exports prevail
The Dominican Republic is a world leader in the export of organic bananas, cocoa, coffee and coconuts, as reported in Diario Libre. The DR leads in organic banana exports to Europe, shipping more than 90,000 boxes per week. Organic banana exports make up about 20% of the DR's total banana exports. Banana exports increased by 167% in the first quarter, compared to the same period in 2007. Exports increased from US$10.38 million to US$27.73 million.
Hispaniola-type raw cacao exports, used to produce organic cocoa, were up 412.7% in the same quarter, going from US$2.10 million to US$10.77 million.
Exports of organic bananas were up 52.49%, going from US$8.41 million to US$11.31 million.
Exports of organic furfural, an alternative biofuel made from bagasse and other agricultural products, were at US$6.61 million.
Other organic products exported were Sanchez-type cacao, peppers, cocoa butter and avocados.

"Dominicans" sold in Japan
No, Dominicans are not being sold to the Japanese, but a chocolate bar made from Dominican cacao is being sold in Japan under the name Lotte "Dominican." The chocolate used in the bar is from San Francisco de Macoris, according to press reports. Dominican company Roig Commercial has signed a contract with the Mitsubishi Corporation, the supplier for the Japanese firm Lotte Corporation, Inc., one of the main chocolate companies in Japan. The Lotte firm will produce chocolate products made exclusively from Dominican cacao. The cacao is produced at Roig's modern installations in San Francisco de Macoris.
According to Listin Diario, the DR is world leader in organic cacao exports, the third largest producer in the Americas and in the world in total volume with 42,000 tons in 2007 for a value of US$55 million.

WTO reasserts EU banana ruling
The World Trade Organization (WTO) has reasserted its position that the current banana trade regime in place between the European Union and Asian, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries is illegal and must be modified. A group of trade experts from the WTO was responding to a challenge from the United States. According to Hoy, the banana export regime frees the ACP nations from paying tariffs on up to 775,000 tons of bananas, giving them, according to the complaint filed by the US, an unfair advantage. The US itself is not a banana exporter, but the regime puts US-owned banana distributors in Latin America at a disadvantage. However, according to Hoy, most bananas imported by the EU come from non-ACP countries including Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, Honduras, Venezuela, Mexico and Nicaragua, amounting to 68.2% of the EU's banana imports, while only 18.5% comes from ACP countries.

Constitutional reform again
With the 16 May election behind us, the PLD-majority Chamber of Deputies has announced that one of its priorities is to reform the Dominican Constitution. PRSC deputy Luis Gonzalez Sanchez said they would not wait for President Leonel Fernandez to present a draft to Congress on 16 August, when he begins his new term. As reported in Diario Libre, the representative for Bahoruco province said that they would retake a five-year old bill and merge it with the year-old draft prepared by a group of experts convened by President Leonel Fernandez. It is expected that the bill will enable Fernandez to run for another term. The Dominican Constitution currently only allows a presidential candidate to run for two consecutive elections.
The Deputies announced they would resume work after having been off in April and May for participation in the electoral campaign.

JCE did well
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) is being commended for its role in the 16 May presidential elections. The Institutionalism and Justice Foundation (FINJUS) has congratulated the JCE for its efficiency. FINJUS vice president, Servio Tulio Castanos Guzman, quoted in Hoy, said that all the mechanisms put in place to ensure electoral transparency had worked efficiently. Castanos also said that although the parties didn't always live up to expectations, their behavior during the voting process was acceptable.
The Finjus vice president was however critical of the parties expenditure on publicity in the 2008 election, saying that it was excessive and that it generated "true visual and auditory pollution", as reported in El Caribe. He called on civil society and citizens in general to contribute towards identifying mechanisms aimed at controlling campaign spending by the parties, clientelism, preventing the use of government funds for the campaign, and improving the legal framework of political organizations. He said that the Electoral Law needed to be modified to allow for exit polls by approved local organizations. He also called for regulating and limiting pre-electoral campaigning, including the primaries and the eventual campaigns.
State university, UASD dean Franklin Garcia Fermin also congratulated the JCE and the Electoral Police for their performance during the election. Fermin did point out that electoral laws in the DR have to be reformed, because they currently allow never-ending political campaigning. The Council of Latin American Electoral Experts (CEELA) and the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) said that the elections had met with international standards of transparency.

JCE post-election agenda
Central Electoral Board (JCE) Administrative Chamber president Roberto Rosario, quoted in Hoy, says that the board plans to evaluate the 2008 election with a view to reforming the country's electoral laws. He said that the JCE is considering the creation of a new law regulating activities by the political parties. Another priority is to improve the civil registry. Rosario said the 16 May presidential election showed that the JCE has matured and consequently no longer needs to be monitored. Rosario also said that since the digital scanners used during the elections to transmit results were also computers, they would be used in routine work during non-electoral periods, as well as in the 2010 municipal and congressional elections.
Rosario explained that the scanner/computers will be used to digitalize fingerprints in ID centers, and to take credit cards at civil registry centers.

The end of the PRSC?
The once-mighty PRSC's days may be numbered after a dismal turnout in this year's presidential elections. Hoy reports that the PRSC could stop receiving RD$200 million in state funds because it did not obtain more than 5% of the vote in the elections. Electoral Law 275-97 states that 80% of taxpayer funds allocated to political parties would be distributed to parties that receive more than 5% of the vote. During the 16 May elections, the PRSC's candidate Amable Aristy Castro only received 4.59% of the vote, with 187,645 votes.
As a result of this situation, in 2009 the PRD and PLD will receive 80% of all public funds given to political parties, and the PRSC funds will be distributed between them. In all, both main parties will receive the bulk of the RD$500 million allocated to the political parties because they received more than 5% of the vote during the 2008 presidential elections.

PRD grows, PLD grows less
Although the PLD rode a wave of overwhelming support to win the presidency, Hoy is reporting that the party only received 65,000 more votes in 2008 than it did in 2004. In 2004 PLD party received 1,771,377 votes, compared to 1,836,468 votes in 2008. This is in contrast to the PRD party that garnered 467,749 more votes in 2008 than in 2004. Hoy reports that during this year's elections the PLD received 44.9% of the valid votes, but was able to win on a majority because of the 9% obtained by its 11 allied parties and 600 political movements that supported the Fernandez candidacy. The PRD took 38.5% of the votes, but upped its total percentage to 40.4% with the votes tallied by its three allied parties.
Cesar Pina Toribio, the PLD's political delegate at the JCE, said that the party is not concerned about the decline in percentage of votes the party itself received. He said that the election made it possible to identify the party's market share. He said that now the party would work to incorporate the party's grassroots supporters in communities nationwide.
The analysis in Hoy indicates that the PRD party (excluding the allies that backed the party) won in 17 provinces, compared to 14 provinces where the PLD (excluding its allies) received the most votes. The PRSC only received the most votes in La Altagracia province. When the allies were added in, the PLD candidate only lost in three northwestern provinces (Montecristi, Dajabon and Valverde) and in Maria Trinidad Sanchez (Nagua) and Sanchez Ramirez (Cotui).

DNCD continues the fight
The National Drug Control Department (DNCD) is reporting the haul of 252 kilos of pure cocaine that was thrown from a small plane between Villa Riva and Samana. The Dominican Air Force and the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) made the seizure. Listin Diario writes that when the agents went to collect the drugs, which were packed in eight 'bricks', a shootout ensued. No one was injured, and one man, named as Alexis Rafael Campos Rodriguez, was arrested in connection with the case. It is believed that the cocaine was intended for local consumption. While in the past, transshipment deals were paid in cash, the current practice is for local traffickers to be paid in drugs, which they then sell locally to get paid.
The DNCD reports having confiscated 368 kilos of cocaine, 7.43 kilos of marijuana, and has arrested 1,447 people in the past 30 days.

Jumbo supermarket is advertising green plantains for RD$6.95ea, Bugalu tomatoes for RD$5.95lb, limes for RD$9.50lb, pineapples for RD$17.95lb, potatoes for RD$7.95lb, Red Globe grapes for RD$49.95lb, plums for RD$59.95lb, and cantaloupes for RD$17.95ea.
La Sirena is promoting Milex milk powder for RD$229.95/1,000g, and Elite yoghurt for RD$59.95/32oz,
La Kasbah is advertising 15-50% off furniture, maps and home accessories at its Romulo Betancourt No. 1460, Bella Vista location.
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