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Daily News - Tuesday, 01 July 2008

Seems like everyone's connected
The Dominican Telecommunications Institute (INDOTEL) says that 70% of people living in the DR have a phone. Department director Jose Rafael Vargas said recently that 5,780,028 cell phones were in operation as of the end of March 2008, compared to 705,431 in 2000. Of these 99.7% are digital phones. The spiraling growth in cell phone use compares to the relatively stagnant growth in residential lines. In 2008, there were 621,408 residential lines, up from 592,285 in 2000.
Vargas said that 39% of Dominicans now have an internet connection. There are 278,778 Internet accounts in March 2008, up from 52,761 in 2000. By installing community Internet centers, INDOTEL has strived to reduce the digital divide.

Deputies defend themselves
Dominican deputies are defending their recent pay raise, which totals RD$58,000, in a year where business sectors have called for government to cut spending. National District Deputy Julio Horton said that money for the raises came from savings from the Congressional budget . Diario Libre writes that the increase was voted on in December and according to Chamber president Julio Cesar Valentin, it came into effect in March. Deputy Ramon Rogelio Genao says that the increase is nothing out of the ordinary, but that the accusations of corruption at the Chamber of Accounts has attracted increased public scrutiny to Congress as well.

Fake drugs claim "exaggerated"
The Customs Department (DGA) has denied claims by one of its officials, Claudio Almonte, who said that 70% of pharmacies were selling fake drugs. Almonte also said that more than RD$600 million in fake drugs entered the DR last year. In a press release the DGA explained that Almonte's claims were exaggerated, adding that he was not qualified to give that type of information. The press release did acknowledge that there were fake drugs floating around the pharmaceutical market, but that it was impossible that 70% of pharmacies were selling fakes.
In related news, the Pharmaceutical Department at the Ministry of Public Health has already closed four pharmacies for selling unauthorized goods. Officials at the Department assure the public that the situation is under control and that illegal pharmaceuticals that have entered are being tracked.

Banking decreases
International Monetary Fund economists report an increase in international banking in DR-CAFTA countries, with the exception of the DR. The economists said that two foreign banks were forced to leave the DR banking sector because they encountered "ferocious competition" and couldn't adapt to the country's finance culture. Republic Bank and CitiBank both ceased operations in the DR. Economists Carlos Medeiros, Torsten Wezel and Jorge Cayazzo revealed their findings during the Seventh Annual Regional Conference of Central America, Panama and the DR, held in San Salvador, El Salvador. International banks market share is above 90% in El Salvador, 55% in Panama, and 25% in Costa Rica, while international banks only make up 10% of the banking sector in the DR and Guatemala. The economists believe that the banking system in the region operates in basically the same way, but that similar banking regulations should be implemented across the region. Alfred Schipke, senior economist at the IMF's Western Hemisphere Department says that there needs to be convergence in banking rules in the region as a way of preventing high risks at the capital level. Schipke revealed that the Council's Superintendents signed a cooperation agreement that will allow increased supervision of banks in the region.

Swiss love DR
Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez says the DR has become a popular vacation destination for Swiss travelers. During a press conference in Zurich, Jimenez said that Swiss tourism grew by 7.2% during the first five months of the year and grew by 25% in May.

CONEP presents report
The National Council for Private Business (CONEP) has released its "diagnosis" of the Dominican economy. According to the report, "The Dominican Economy: Pending macroeconomic and sectorial challenges", economic growth has been unbalanced. "Evidently, we are experiencing very asymmetrical growth, in that sectors that drive the economy and should be growing aren't doing so."
The report found that commerce (businesses for the most part based on imports), finance and communications were the growth sectors, with 52% growth of the GDP from 2000-2007. On the other hand, productive sectors, such as industry, mining, farming, free zones, construction and tourism together only grew 23.6%. The report points out that workers in the informal sector now make up 56% of the labor force. CONEP stresses that the high cost and relatively low reliability of power service continue to be the greatest obstacles to doing business in the DR.
The study cited increased imports and lack of competitiveness in the productive sectors as problematic. The report also describes the growth as regionally asymmetrical because most of it is concentrated in Santo Domingo. Unbalanced growth is also reflected in increased unemployment.
According to CONEP there is a lack of concern by the state in matters of social development and infrastructure. This apathy is reflected in increased foreign debt, the quasi-fiscal debt and the deficits incurred by government subsidy programs. The study calls for increased spending on education, health, justice, public order and infrastructure because the DR is among the three countries in Latin America that invest least in social costs. The study also investigates the burden of debt payment on the economy. According to the diagnosis, 29% of all revenue collected by government goes towards debt payment and the subsidy to the energy sector, which has totaled RD$12.3 billion from January to April, further hindering economic growth.

Macarulla on monetary policy
Lisandro Macarulla, president of the National Council for Business (CONEP) says that the Central Bank's current monetary policy affects the nation's productive sectors. "A monetary policy that increases interest rates, increases the cost of money and limits access to financing, affects productive sectors that need to evolve in order to be more competitive." He added that expensive financing will limit sectors from making the necessary investments required to strengthen their exports and reduce the deficit in the trade balance. Macarulla agreed with banker Alejandro Grullon's criticism of the Central Bank's policy of high-interest CDs that he said "sucked up" much of the nation's cash. Macarulla said that the government recently increased interest rates as a way of controlling inflation, but this move has had negative ramifications.

Teachers honored
During a ceremony at the Presidential Palace yesterday, three teachers were honored for their years of service to the Dominican educational system. The awards were part of the celebrations for National Teachers' Day. Teacher Alejandrina Cruz, who's been teaching for 30 years, was awarded a RD$150,000 prize, while Gregorio Santamaria, a teacher for 20 years, was awarded RD$100,000. Eusebia Cristina Arias Gomez, with 18 years in the profession, was awarded RD$75,000. Present at the ceremony were VP Rafael Alburquerque and Education Minister Alejandrina German. After the event German hosted a second dinner at the V Centenario Hotel to honor 120 other teachers.

UASD confirms findings
State university UASD rector Franklin Garcia Fermin held a press conference yesterday to confirm the scandalous results in tests on the Ministry of Education's public school breakfast drink. Blind tests by the UASD Agronomy Sciences School's milk lab, considered the best in the country, confirmed that samples of Ladom milk given to public schoolchildren contain minimal levels of protein and fat. The press conference was held after Ministry staff tried to disqualify the work of lab director Daysi de los Santos. The Education Ministry has denied that school breakfasts aren't nutritious and disputed the results. The issue was first reported by investigative journalist Nuria Piera. Daysi de los Santos, who is in charge of the Milk Training Center at the Agriculture Laboratories at the UASD confirmed that their testing had found that the sample milk only contained 0.76% protein, below the recommended 3%. In her TV report, Piera revealed that the Ministry has contracted 40% of breakfast drink supplies to Ladom. Piera also telephoned the company and confirmed that the minister's daughter was employed in a top management position at Ladom.

Manny goes off
Boston Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez is in the news again and not for the best reasons. The usually laid back slugger is reported to have pushed Red Sox's traveling secretary John McCormick after McCormick was unable to fulfill Ramirez's ticket request for a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. McCormick said that it would be difficult to get Ramirez 16 tickets at the last minute. Ramirez responded by saying, "just do your job." The argument got heated, resulting in McCormick being pushed by Ramirez. This is the second time in a month that Ramirez has been in the news for an altercation with a club member. In early June, a video showed Ramirez fighting with fellow mate Kevin Youklis in the dugout. Ramirez apologized for both incidents and has vowed to move on. The organization does not plan on proceeding with disciplinary actions.

Inoa sets record
Michel Inoa has been awarded a US$4.25 million signing bonus after agreeing to terms with the Oakland Athletics. The bonus is the highest ever awarded to a Dominican MLB prospect. Willy Mo Pena (US$2.44 million) and Irvin Joel (US$2.25 million) held the previous highs. Some bloggers are saying that Inoa's bonus could be the highest among Latin American players. Inoa, from Puerto Plata, was courted by the Yankees, Reds and Rangers. As GM Bill Beane will be in the DR tomorrow for Inoa's official signing along with other As officials.

Tuesday shopping
Plaza Lama is advertising green plantains for RD$6.95ea, eggplant for RD$4.95lb, potatoes for RD$12.95lb, carrots for RD$5.95lb, smoked pork chops for RD$68.95lb, broccoli for RD$11.95lb, and Dutch Gouda cheese for RD$199.95lb.
Bravo supermarket is offering 30% off on fruits and vegetables today.
Jumbo is advertising watermelon for RD$4.95lb, cucumbers for RD$3.95lb, sweet potatoes for RD$5.95lb, red grapes for RD$59.95lb, Keith mangos for RD$6.95ea, and cantaloupe for RD$17.95ea.
La Sirena is advertising Michel white cream cheese for RD$99.95lb, and Brunswick tuna for RD$19.95/can 170g.

Jazz Cowboys in Santo Domingo
The US Embassy is inviting the public to free performances by the jazz-country music band, Igor's Jazz Cowboys, from Arizona. Shows will be Saturday, 5 July at the Governor's Palace in Santiago at 7:30pm and Monday, 7 July at the Instituto Cultural Dominico-Americano in Santo Domingo, also at 7:30pm. The presentations are preceded by classes for musicians starting at 3pm at the same venues. Igor's Jazz Cowboys play acoustic Western Swing accompanied by a hot horn section. Just imagine Roy Rogers singing with Louis Armstrong's boys - you get the picture. With roots stretching from the Great Southwest all the way over to Dixie Land, the Jazz Cowboys' music is described as one sure way to get your feet stomping.
For more on events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
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