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Daily News - Monday, 30 June 2008

I&C suspends diesel subsidy
The Ministry of Industry and Commerce has suspended the sale of subsidized diesel fuel to the transport unions. Saturday's announcement by minister Melanio Paredes was forced on the government as a result of the continuing increase in the price of a barrel of oil. Over the weekend the price of oil hit US$142 a barrel. In a press release handed out to reporters, Paredes said that a number of alternatives were being discussed with transport leaders in meetings coordinated by OPRET - the Transport Reorganization Office. The minister added that the government was doing all it could to minimize the impact of rising oil prices on transport and consumers.

Civil Registry earns millions for JCE
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) earns millions from its Civil Registry offices. According to Hoy newspaper's Loyda Pena, in a little over a year, the offices where people register births, deaths, marriages and divorces have generated over RD$490 million. Much of this income is a result of assigning fixed salaries to their employees and remodeling many of the main offices throughout the country, making them more attractive for people who use them and who work in them. During the first five months of 2008, the offices reported an income of RD$157 million. According to a consolidated report on the 161 Civil Registry offices in the Dominican Republic, the busiest are Higuey, the National District and Santo Domingo East.

Fdez Zucco calls for service
Former head of the Dominican Refinery and current president of the National Energy Commission Aristides Fernandez Zucco has called on the electricity distribution companies to provide the electricity they charge for. In fact, some energy distributors charge for an electricity service that they do not supply and should therefore be penalized, according to Fernandez Zucco. Speaking to reporters from Listin Diario, the official called on the electricity superintendent to look after their customers' rights and preserve the quality of service that they are paying for.

Grullon blasts Central Bank
Seldom in the news and never in headlines, banker Alejandro Grullon featured in both last Saturday as he blasted the Central Bank's policy of high interest CDs that "sucked up" much of the nation's cash. According to Grullon, who is president of the Popular Financial Group, "the lack of liquidity that is affecting the financial sector and the nation's economy is due to the fact that the Central Bank has rounded up all the pesos in order to maintain the exchange rate at the level it has been at over the last few years." According to Listin Diario, Grullon said that "this is not normal" and because of this policy, there is a lack of money available to loan for agriculture and cattle farming. The prominent banker called on the government to reduce spending and to halt non-reproductive investments, and, at the same time, to stimulate investment in agricultural production for the international market as well as for local consumption.

Foodstuffs go up again
The trend for ever higher prices for basic foods continued throughout last week. Staples such as poultry, pork, eggs, refined sugar, pasta, plantains and bananas have been subject to more price hikes. Reporter Luis M. Cardenas found plantains at RD$10 each, ripe bananas at 3 x RD$5, and poultry for RD$40 a pound at Las Palmas market in Herrera. According to statements from local traders, refined sugar was up to RD$120 a bag, potatoes were up RD$8 from a week ago, but beans were stable at RD$24.50 a pound. They also reported that rice had increased in price, going from RD$1,350 per 125 lb. bag to RD$1,975 per bag for the superior quality of the staple. Similar pricing was found in Santo Domingo East and in barrios in northern parts Santo Domingo.

Millions of gallons of good water lost
While the front page picture was certainly a cheerful portrayal of youthful exuberance, the reality of millions of gallons of pure water going to waste was embarrassing for many. A valve that controls part of a new aqueduct called the Salinity Barrier is not working properly, and water gushed out of the system, forming what has become a popular swimming hole for hundreds of children and adults. They know the water is "good" because it is crystal clear and smells of chlorine. Unfortunately, the aqueduct is supposed to serve the thirsty population of Santo Domingo East where barrios such as Mendoza I and Alma Rosa have not had drinking water for three weeks now. The new swimming pool is located near the San Isidro Highway. Authorities consulted by Listin Diario reporters were told that repair teams had changed two 12" valves in the system just a few days ago, but the technicians said that the "people" had damaged the drainage valves.

Twelve products for export
Amid the calls for increased exports to pay for oil under the PetroCaribe agreement, Diario Libre is reporting that 12 products have been identified as having good export potential. What is interesting is that neither coffee nor cacao is on the list. Instead, it includes rice, beans, garlic, onions, mangoes, avocados, bananas, oriental vegetables, beef, poultry and milk. The information comes from the Inter-American Institute for Agricultural Cooperation (IICA). The IICA is working in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Competitiveness Council to support the commercial success of these crops. The newspaper lists the areas where these items are produced and how much they earned in past years. For example, the export of oriental vegetables brought in US$80 million over the last few years. Avocado production exceeds 105,000 tons and will increase as the damage caused by last year's tropical storms is repaired. Farming these crops generates half a million jobs.

Las Americas is lit up again
Electricity distribution company Ede-Este has just restored electricity to the Las Americas Freeway that connects Boca Chica with Santo Domingo. The 24-kilometer stretch has been in darkness since the repeated theft of thousands of meters of valuable copper wire, transformers and even light fixtures. According to El Nuevo Diario, Ede-Este has spent nearly RD$7 million repairing 29,000 meters of new cables, lighting up 855 street lights, installing 32 transformers, and 9 new light poles along the stretch between the Juan Carlos Bridge and the toll plaza before Boca Chica. Ede-Este is asking for the public's help in keeping the lights on this time and has promised to maintain the equipment. The company says it is now using an aluminum-based wire that is not as attractive to thieves.

Industrialists say new law far from perfect
A panel of industrialists and technicians is analyzing the recent set of Regulations for the Law on Incentives for Renewable Energy and Special Regimes. The group found that the regulations contain so many inconsistencies, gaps, complications and discretionary clauses that such a vital new sector could be stalled in the paperwork. The analysis, conducted at the Herrera Industrial Association (AEIH) headquarters has found that one of the main incentives in Law 57-07, Article 10, which provides for a10-year exoneration on taxes on income from the sale of electricity, bio fuels or synthetic fuels generated by renewable energy, does not have an explicit application in the regulations. This important information was made public by AEIH executives Jesus Moreno Portalatin and Julissa Almonte Espaillat. Another important facet that is not completely covered in the regulations deals with the extent of taxes on external financing of the project developed under Law 57-07. The law provides for a 75% incentive for investment in alternative energy equipment installed in private houses or businesses. Moreno told reporters that as the analysis of the 127-page regulations goes forward, his group will release reports on its findings.

More increases in fuel prices
The latest blow to local wallets was a RD$7 per gallon increase in the price of diesel fuel. A gallon of the cheapest diesel fuel now costs RD$181.90. Propane went up RD$4 a gallon, and kerosene went up RD$2.70 a gallon. Premium gasoline is now at RD$207.90 and regular is RD$197.80. Subsidized propane is now selling for RD$67.95 a gallon and the non-subsidized gas is RD$89.71. Never in the course of human events have fuel prices been so high in the Dominican Republic.

Taiwan to re-equip Azua hospital
The Azua Regional Hospital will be re-equipped with the support of the Taiwanese government. Ambassador Isaac Tsai made the announcement as he visited the facility accompanied by personnel from the Ministry of Public Health. According to the authorities, the investments that the ministry will make in the hospital, along with the donations from Taiwan, will convert the hospital into a model for the whole country. Health ministry official Dr. Rodriguez Aybar told reporters that all the important hi-tech equipment that had never worked since the hospital was inaugurated, is now working. This includes tomography, magnetic resonance and other sophisticated equipment.

A.M. Chamber of Accounts trial
In today's A.M. column in Diario Libre, Editor Adriano Miguel Tejada comments on all the confusion about what constitutes a "political trial". This is the process that is facing the remaining members of the Chamber of Accounts, according to all of the national newspapers. According to lawyer-editor Tejada, a political trial is not a criminal trial. Therefore, responsibilities can be collective or individual, and since in this case there have been no individual faults pointed out, the trial should be for all members, minus, of course, the ones who resigned. The Senate will act as a 32-judge panel. Just as in a trial, the accused have their rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the law, and have the right to a fair, oral, public and confrontational trial. They may be assisted by lawyers if they wish. Of course, they must be notified about the accusations and must be given a reasonable period of time to prepare their defense. Tejada points out that just recently there have been questions about whether they can be judged by Congress, some pointing out that the Chamber of Accounts members are not elected officials. The answer is that they are elected officials of the second degree, and that is what the legislator understands, since Article 36 of the Law that established the Chamber of Accounts says that: "The members of the Chamber of Accounts will be responsible before the National Congress for the conduct and performance of their duties, according to the Constitution. If they are found guilty of crimes or misconduct, they will be judged by normal tribunals, without the need to seek permission to begin proceedings and without having to be fired or suspended from their posts." Tejada concludes that "clearer then that is not possible."

Thousands of Dominicans could leave Spain
The immigration policy currently being considered by several European countries could affect thousands of Dominicans living and working in Spain. The first to be affected would be an estimated 25,000 Dominicans who are there illegally, followed by over 100,000 who live there legally. Dominican consul in Spain Marcos Cross Sanchez told reporters from Hoy newspaper that the new immigration directives would certainly affect many thousands of Dominicans. According to Cross Sanchez, the new migration regulations would oblige many of the legal immigrants to return to their home countries. Spain and other European countries have decided that an undocumented citizen can be arrested and spend up to 18 months in prison, at the end of which the person would be repatriated. Spain has taken the additional step of deciding that any worker who is laid off due to the global crisis and who was paying into the social security fund would receive a single payment in order to return to their homeland. After three years, the person would be eligible to return to Spain.

Cost of living increases missed payments
The family budget is taking a lot of hits these days. A 100-pound cylinder of propane for cooking went up by RD$200 over the weekend, and gasoline, diesel and kerosene have all hit new highs. In addition, food has also increased in price. According to El Caribe, the pressure on the family budget is affecting people's ability to repay many debts such as electricity and the corner market on time. According to the Superintendent of Banks, late payments constituted 4.45% of the bank's portfolios last year and the trend is expected to continue. "Shortage of money" and "other priorities" are just two of the reasons given by some experts in the field. The corner supermarkets are reporting an increasing rate of late payments on outstanding bills. The director of the program that supports micro, small or medium-scale businesses, Promipyme, reports that the organization's accounts are showing a 5.37% rate of late or overdue payments. The Agriculture Bank reports an 18% rate. Since the country held to low interest rates for a long time, many people increased their debt load, and with interest rates going up on mortgages, the credit crunch is affecting them.

The Center of Emergency Operations (COE) has issued a Green Alert for 20 provinces. A Green Alert means that residents of low-lying areas and areas near rivers and creeks as well as people who live in potential landslide areas should be prepared for heavy rainfall. The Green Alert affects the provinces of Barahona, Independencia, San Juan de la Maguana, Azua, Peravia, San Jose de Ocoa, San Cristobal, Santo Domingo, the National District, Monte Plata, Sanchez Ramirez, Samana, Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Duarte (especially the Lower Yuna Basin), Hato Mayor, Monsenor Nouel, La Vega, Espaillat and Santiago. Heavy cloud cover is expected for the next 16 hours, with strong thunderstorms and lightning. Residents are warned to be on the lookout for flooding in their areas.
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