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Daily News - Wednesday, 21 May 2008

No tax reform looming
The Minister of Economy, Planning and Development, Temistocles Montas, has announced that the government has no plans to embark on a new tax reform package in the near future. According to a report in El Nuevo Diario newspaper, Montas said that his office has insisted on improving tax collections and the tax administration apparatus and that so far, this policy has worked.
He did say, however, that the government would have to be more tight-pocketed in order to avoid disrupting the economy. At the same time, he pointed out that despite this situation, the inflation rate at 4.72% in the first quarter of the year remains well below 10%. He attributed this to government policies focused on economic stability. According to a report in El Nuevo Diario newspaper, Montas said that his office has insisted on improving tax collections and the tax administration apparatus and that so far, this policy has worked.

Montas: rigid austerity
Economy, Planning and Development Minister Temistocles Montas says that the government is aware that these are times for "rigid austerity." He feels, nevertheless, that there is room for the subsidies in the budget, as reported in Hoy.
Meanwhile, former administrator of the Central Bank, economist Apolinar Velo says that the present monetary and fiscal policies, including the rising subsidies, are unsustainable. He says they lack the flexibility to handle external shocks, including the slack in the US economy, and rising international fuel prices. Interviewed on the Uno + Uno TV show presented by Juan Bolivar Diaz on Channel 2, he said that the present exchange rate makes buying goods here cheaper than abroad. He explains that the growing deficit in the trade and current balances are pressures that permanently affect the Central Bank finances.

Vega sees troubled future
Contrary to what Minister Temistocles Montas told reporters, former Central Bank governor and economist Bernardo Vega told reporter Aleida Plasencia from Hoy newspaper that he did not think the coming months would be very agreeable, especially in the area of economic policy. He called on President Fernandez to start his adjustments now, and not wait for his new term in office to begin what has to be done. According to the prominent economist, three elements are involved in the needed "adjustments": Fewer subsidies, austerity, and tax reform. Vega said that the state-sponsored subsidy programs on energy and food have grown so much that "the government's only options are: to reduce or eliminate the subsidies, increase taxes or implement a drastic austerity program. The former Central Bank governor also said that these programs will be undertaken either with or without the International Monetary Fund. He said that a series of programs undertaken without the IMF agreement in place would be "chaotic, politicized, and would affect the confidence factor."

US$42 million for electricity
The World Bank has approved a US$42 million loan for the Electricity Distribution Rehabilitation Project, aimed at improving the service for EdeNorte, EdeSur and EdeEste electricity customers in the DR.
"This project will help reduce both technical losses and energy theft on the EDEs' rehabilitated power circuits, as well as improve the quality of electricity service for regular customers," said Yvonne Tsikata, World Bank Director for the Caribbean. The project goals are to increase the three EDEs' Cash Recovery Index by reducing technical losses and energy theft, as well as improving the companies' coverage. It also aims to increase the hours of electricity provided on rehabilitated circuits as part of the 24 Hours of Light Program, based on social agreements between the distribution companies and community organizations.
The initiative seeks to increase the electricity service to 24 hours in exchange for a substantial increase in the CRI. The rehabilitation of the power circuits will ensure improved quality of life and greater confidence in customer service as well as stabilizing the precarious situation caused by illegal connections.
In addition to the new loan, the World Bank's energy sector projects in the Dominican Republic include a US$150 million budget support loan (US$100 million of which was disbursed in 2006 and 2007) linked to the distribution companies' increased CRI; and a technical assistance loan to the energy sector for improving its institutional performance.
The new World Bank fixed-margin loan for US$42 million based on a LIBOR rate has a payment period of 30 years and a five-year grace period.

Shell sale ready to sail
The sale of the Shell Company's 50% share of the Dominican Oil Refinery, Refidomsa, is ready, and the details will be presented to the board next week, according to the Hacienda MinisterVicente Bengoa. The minister told Listin Diario reporter Candida Acosta that his team was "finalizing" numbers and that the final report would be on President Fernandez' desk by this Friday. However, a private sector source told the reporter that the commission that was handling the negotiations was going to meet with President Fernandez today. The refinery, which was installed in 1973, handles 33,000 barrels of petroleum per day. Because of demand, a further 30,000 barrels of petroleum products are imported each day.

Senators vs. Deputies on reforms
The president of the Senate of the Dominican Republic is facing off against the leader of the Chamber of Deputies. At stake is the start up of debates on Constitutional reform. Senate leader Reinaldo Pared Perez wants to wait until President Leonel Fernandez submits his agenda on 16 August when he is sworn in for his third term. Chamber of Deputies president Julio Cesar Valentin is urging the President to submit his proposal now so that the deputies can begin discussing them.
Pared Perez told reporters from El Nuevo Diario that the President would reveal the details of the reform project during his inaugural address on 16 August. He added that while any legislator can present proposals on this or any other item, it is up to the PLD's political committee to decide what action should be taken. He suggested that both Congress chambers should get together to discuss this and other issues. The PLD has absolute majority in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

Subero and Sun Land
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Jorge Subero Isa, has told reporters that the court never had any intention of hearing the Sun Land case before the 16 May elections. Judge Subero Isa said that all cases involving issues of constitutionality are of high priority for the court, and they are heard according to the agenda worked out by the entire court in session. According to El Caribe, as soon as the case is on the agenda, the media will be the first to know. The case referring to the constitutional issues of the Sun Land deal, which involved a contract signed by Felix Bautista, the director of the Office of Supervising Engineers for Government Works, was brought by the PRD political party and the Alternative Social Forum movement.

PRD won 88 municipalities
In a somewhat surprising editorial comment, Diario Libre says that the PRD party, with Miguel Vargas Maldonado as its presidential candidate, won the straight party vote in 88 municipalities in the recent elections. This number represents 57% of all the cities. The PLD party won 63 municipalities, the PRSC won in Higuey and the Christian Popular Party won in La Descubierta. The Central Electoral Board (JCE) bulletin indicates that on a strictly party vote, PLD-PRD, Leonel Fernandez won with 45.83% of the vote, and Miguel Vargas Maldonado received 40.48%. The piece in Diario Libre also points out that the PLD party won the election thanks to its alliances with smaller parties and the fact that it concentrated all its election efforts on the seven most populous provinces and urban areas.

"Motoconchistas" raise fares
The ubiquitous motorcycle taxis, known as 'moto-conchos' in local terminology, have decided to up their fares by RD$5 and RD$10 pesos a ride. The associations set up to regulate this fairly unique public transport system decided to increase fares due to the continual increases in the cost of gasoline. Moto-conchos are the units most affected by price increases, since they are obliged to use gasoline in their small motorcycles, while regular taxis and public cars "conchos" tend to use subsidized propane gas as fuel. Regular rides are now priced at RD$25 and longer rides will go up to RD$40.

FBI investigates player signings
The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into alleged irregularities surrounding the contract signing of several young Dominican baseball players by members of the Chicago White Sox organization. As a result of the investigation, so far the Sox have fired their director of scouting for the Caribbean, David Wilder and two Dominican scouts. The story dominates the front page of today's Listin Diario Sports Section. Basically, complaints were received from ballplayers from the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Florida about signing bonuses and the way they were distributed. Listin says that according to rumors, one player signed at the end of 2007 for a signing bonus of US$500,000 complained that he only received US$200,000. The White Sox operate Baseball City in Boca Chica, on the outskirts of Santo Domingo. The papers quote sources saying that the FBI is investigating more than just the White Sox scouts, and that the case will involve many more as it develops. Of the thirty major league teams, the Milwaukee Brewers is the only team that doesn't have a training and recruitment facility in the Dominican Republic.

Dominican valedictorian
Young Carlos Delgado Imbert, son of former judge Carmen Imbert Brugal and lawyer Angel Delgado Malagon, was the valedictorian at the commencement exercises at the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. He was chosen from 800 graduates. His speech was interrupted several times by applause from an appreciative audience. Delgado Imbert graduated Summa Cum Laude with a dual major in Music and Music Business-Songwriting, Piano Principal.

Ramon Mateo: chess grandmaster
Dominican Ramon Mateo was awarded the title of Grandmaster, the highest title a chess player can attain, by the World Chess Federation (FIDE) in April 2008. It is a title that is awarded for performance in competition and is held for life. He is the first and only Dominican chess player to receive this title. His current rating (April 2008) is 2,505 points. He began playing at the age of 12 and now has been able to make a career of it. He recalls his most outstanding win, when he defeated Russian Grandmaster Sergey Kasparov by half a point in a championship in France this year. Mateo, who has played in tournaments in Europe, the US and Latin America, feels that the sport needs more press coverage in the DR, to encourage more young players to take up the sport.

Felipe Alou ready for final win
Legendary 72-year old Dominican ballplayer and manager Felipe Alou aspires at least to make it to the finals in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. During his official presentation as head of the Dominican team, he told the press: "We are going to do all we can to win the Classic." He said that the DR has all the players to make an "invincible" team. The DR came in a disappointing third in the inaugural 2006 championship, behind Japan and Cuba.
Alou feels that the most important thing is for the players to be in shape for the event. "We are going to encourage the players to be in good physical shape in time for the Classic. We are going to encourage them to play winter baseball in the DR to prepare", said Alou. Sixteen countries will compete in the event that opens on 5 March 2009 at the Tokyo Dome in the Japanese capital. The 16-team field is the same as '06, although an expansion of the field to 24 countries and territories with qualifying rounds as a preface to reach the main competition is under consideration for 2013.
For 2009 the teams will play a first round divided up as:
Pool A - China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea will begin play on March 5 in Tokyo.
Pool B - Australia, Cuba, Mexico and South Africa, from March 8-12 in Mexico City.
Pool C - Canada, Italy, the US and Venezuela, from March 8-12 in Toronto.
Pool D - Dominican Republic, the Netherlands, Panama and Puerto Rico, from March 7-11 in Puerto Rico.

Wednesday sales
Nacional supermarkets are offering 40% off mangos, plus 20% off other fruits and vegetables. Ground coffee (Santo Domingo) is selling for RD$62.95lb.
Super Pola is advertising 35% off fruits and vegetables.
La Cadena is selling cabbage for RD$15.95ea, Tommy Adkins mangos for RD$9.95ea, red apples for RD$26.95lb, and more discounted fruits and vegetables.
Plaza Lama has 30% off in the meat and seafood department.
Nuebo furniture store has 50% off in selected merchandise.
Gold's Gym is advertising 50% off its registration fee.
La Sirena is advertising appliances sale for Mother's Day.

DR1 breaks for Corpus Christi
It is very unusual for the Catholic Church religious holiday of Corpus Christi to take place in May. Usually, it is a June holiday, coming right after school is off. But this year, Corpus Christi will be Thursday, 22 May. Since Dominicans are just recovering from the long election holiday of last weekend, it is most likely this will be an intense shopping day in the cities. With Motherís Day coming soon (always the last Sunday in May), many large stores are advertising sales to attract shoppers. News will be compiled and published in the Friday update. For breaking news, please refer to the DR1 Forums that are open 24/7 at http://www.dr1.com/forums
For more information on other holidays in the DR, see http://dr1.com/travel/prepare/holidays.shtml
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