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Daily News - Thursday, 19 June 2008

Government revenues up
Government revenues continue to increase over what was estimated for the year. The government is reporting revenues of RD$108.8 billion for the first five months of the year, up from RD$99.38 billion in 2007. The revenues are 43.6% of the estimate for the entire year, and the pace of collections is greater than projected. Nevertheless, Listin Diario points out that revenues in May fell slightly below projections. Revenue collection grew by 9.5% in comparison to the first five months of 2007. In 2007 the government collected RD$99.4 billion between January and May 2007. The National Budget is for RD$300.89 billion, which is 16.4% more than in 2007. The 2008 budget projected that local tax revenues would reach RD$249.6 billion, and allocated RD$70 billion to pay for the foreign debt.
Income tax collection during this period increased by 58.4% compared to the first five months of 2007. Property tax increased by 63.6%. ITBIS (VAT) collection grew by 16.1% and taxes on foreign trade grew by 6.3%, going from RD$9.6 billion between January and May 2007 to RD$10.2 billion for that same period in 2008. Tax Department (DGII) collections grew by 13.9%, going from RD$64.6 billion in the first five months of 2007 to RD$73.7 billion for the same period in 2008.
See www.finanzas.gov.do

Fuel prices impact poverty
Economy, Planning and Development Minister Temistocles Montas says that high fuel prices are having a strong impact on poverty. He adds that in the last six months the fuel crunch has made it difficult for 131,000 people to get out of poverty. The Minister says that during this period food prices increased by 13%, which is more than double the increase that took place between 2004 and 2007. Montas said that the population of poor Dominicans increased from 35.2% to 35.8% during that six-month period. Montas said that the figures don't represent a large increase in poverty, because if fuel prices hadn't skyrocketed, poverty could have decreased by 1.4%.

More details from CC
Every day more details surface about the inner workings of the Chamber of Accounts, which has recently come under fire for suspected misappropriation of funds. Chamber of Accounts members increased personal services costs by RD$113 million. Personal service costs are now at RD$275.3 million. Diario Libre reports that a recording exists of a member of the CA trying to blackmail members of the Dominican Municipal League. Also, DL reports that the remodeling of the CA offices was done by a family member of a CA official. The family member was awarded the remodeling contracts without any public bidding. And yet another twist in the CA saga is that the wife of one of the CA members had applied for a vehicle during the recent presidential election campaign. DL reports that when she didn't receive the vehicle she caused a scene at the CA offices. Officials are also investigating why CA officials didn't investigate 80 government employees who violated Law 10-04. President of the sub-committee investigating the CA, Angel Acosta, said one roadblock for investigators is that some CA members have taken home important documents needed for the investigation. The controversy started when it was revealed that the secretary of the Chamber of Accounts is deaf, and would send his son to take minutes at their meetings. Another case in point was the fact that the chamber members were planning to increase their salaries to RD$550,000 per month (up from RD$400,000), which added to their existing perks would have brought their monthly income to RD$850,000. The Chamber of Accounts was also intending to request a RD$10 million loan to finance their pensions when they finish their term of office.

Too many taxes
National Private Business Council president Lisandro Macarulla disagrees with Jose Luis Machinea who said that the DR has some of the lowest taxes in the region. Machinea, the executive minister for the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) says that the DR has some of the lowest taxes and that a new fiscal reform is necessary. Macarulla says he is confused by Machinea's comments considering that the DR has had four fiscal reforms in the last four years. Macarulla also said that according to an ECLAC report released in 2007, the DR had higher taxes than twelve Latin American countries studies, surpassed only by Chile, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Eliminating "ghost NGOs"
The Bicameral Commission for the Transfer of Funds at the National Congress wants to stop funding non-governmental organizations (NGOs) run by high-ranking politicians. The Commission describes 389 of these organizations as "ghost NGOs". El Caribe reports that the Commission met on Wednesday to discuss the issue and would only transfer RD$162 million to the NGOs if it was determined that the work they were doing was necessary. If the NGOs aren't recognized, the funds will be transferred to organizations like the UASD, Corazones Unidos and the Dominican Cardiology Institute.

Cigar news
The tobacco industry has exported US$1.13 billion worth of goods in the last four years, according to Tobacco Institute director Adalberto Rosa. The director says that tobacco exports have been climbing steadily over the last four years. Rosa says that annual exports are registered at about 550 million units with a total of 2.3 billion units over the last four years. The Dominican tobacco sector is comprised of 6,150 producers, directly employing 36,000 agricultural workers. The sector also directly employs 117,000 less skilled workers. In the last four years producers have recorded revenues of US$3.2 billion. This year, 189,959 quintals of tobacco were produced, most to be used in cigars for export. Adalberto Rosa said that 687.2 million cigars were exported last year, with estimated revenue of US$274.1 million. Rosa indicates that the production, transport, manufacturing and sale of tobacco generates RD$3 billion for the local market each year and more than RD$11 billion in the last four years.

Fares go up; passengers angered
Yesterday, some public transport drivers began charging higher fares to the dismay of passengers. Reports indicate that the increases were between RD$3 and RD$20, depending on the route, the driver and the union the driver is affiliated to. Hoy writes that beginning today more bus drivers will increase their prices. Union leaders argue that keeping fares at current levels is unsustainable. The fare increase comes as a surprise to some, because earlier this week transport union leaders agreed that they would not increase prices until after they met with President Leonel Fernandez to discuss possible solutions. The decision to increase fares angered many passengers yesterday. News correspondent Lu Olivero reports that the many people were surprised that the fares had been increased and some refused to pay the extra RD$5 or RD$10, causing problems between drivers and passengers. Many blamed the union leaders' greed as the reason for the fare hike. Olivero reports that tensions were so high that at one point a driver ordered an elderly woman to shut up. One woman is quoted as saying, "how much more can we poor people take? Isn't it enough that we are poor? Isn't enough that we can't buy food and buy clothes? They want to humiliate us and treat us like we aren't human. They want big jeeps and all I want is to get home."

Subsidy removed
As a result of the impromptu fare increase the Ministry of Industry and Commerce has ordered the Department of Hydrocarbons to remove the fuel subsidy to the bus unions who unilaterally increased bus fares. The government had been threatening to remove the subsidy as a way of keeping fares down. Industry and Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes said that the government subsidizes fuel in order to keep prices low for poorer passengers. Paredes is quoted in Hoy as saying, "no one, especially the transport unions, can apply the law of the jungle". FENATRANO union leader Juan Hubieres said that if the government removed the fuel subsidy he would be forced to present new fare increase to cover his union costs. Listin Diario reports that his bus union receives 400,000 gallons of subsidized fuel per month. The CNTU bus union has decided not to go ahead with its fare increase.

DR joins coalition
Nine consulates from Latin American countries have created a coalition that will provide services to the immigrant community in New York State. The coalition's services will also extend to communities in New Jersey and Connecticut. Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and the DR have joined forces to create the "Coalition of Latin American Consulates in New York." Ruben Beltran, Mexican Consul in New York said that this is the first time that the participating nations have cooperated in this way at a diplomatic level. Each consular service will maintain its sovereignty, but will cooperate on issues that affect the immigrant communities in the Tri-State area. The coalition's first event will be this Saturday at the Mexican community center, Casa Puebla, in Harrison, New Jersey. Ecuadorian Consul Jessica Escala Maccaferri says that the consulates are no longer there just to sign visas, but also to help the immigrant community.

US travel warning was old
National Police Chief Major General Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin says that the US State Department advisory on safety issues for tourists visiting the DR is old and doesn't reflect the current situation in the DR. Guzman says that the report is from 2005-2006 and that he recently met with members of the US Embassy in Santo Domingo who were also surprised by the release of the report. Guzman says that crime in the DR has decreased by 60%. Presidential Palace Press director Rafael Nunez went as far as saying that the release of the report is a way of smearing the DR's reputation as a tourist destination. Quoted in Hoy, Nunez said that representatives from the Embassy visited Guzman to confirm that they had not released the report. He added that it is normal for the US government to inform citizens about possible dangers. Nunez says that the DR receives more than four million tourists and this could be the reason behind the release of the report.

Drugs associated with crime
Santo Domingo Attorney General Perfecto Acosta says that 50% of criminal cases in the province of Santo Domingo are drug related. The AG says that the increase in drug use is directly linked to the increase of crime in the province. He added that an analysis of the situation reveals that most thefts, attacks and homicides are drug related. "Drug abusers attack because they have no other way to satisfy their need. Addicts will do anything, even kill family members, in order to satisfy their needs," said Acosta. Acosta also voiced his concern about the number of young people between the ages of 18 and 35 who are involved in drug trafficking.

Medicare fraud connected to DR
US federal agents are in the DR investigating money laundering involving Medicare funds. Sources say that the perpetrators of the scam defrauded the Medicare system out of millions of dollars and laundered the money through the DR. Three FBI agents as well as other enforcement officials are currently in the DR to carry out the investigation. Dominican Attorney General Radhames Jimenez said that officials have many leads, but didn't provide more details. The AG said that this has nothing to do with Drug Control Department (DNCD) head Rafael Ramirez's comments last week that officials are on the verge of capturing a criminal "larger than drug trafficker Paulino Quirino". The AG said that US and Dominican officials are cooperating in the investigation. The AG doesn't know how long the US officials will be in the DR.

Vigilantes kill fugitive
A mob in Tamboril is being blamed for the death of Martin Polanco Cruz, a fugitive of justice who had killed five people. The mob reportedly shot the man then pelted him with rocks, sticks and also stabbed him. Diario Libre reports that Polanco was seen firing shots into the air and threatening to kill people. Tired of his actions, locals armed themselves and proceeded to attack Polanco. Polanco had been on the run since 2004 and was supposed to be serving 30 years in jail. Twenty people are in custody.
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