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Daily News - Wednesday, 09 July 2008

New budget request
Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa has told reporters that the government will submit a supplementary budget request to Congress next week. The minister told Diario Libre reporters that the new funds will be used to cover the subsidy program for bread and to satisfy some of the demands from the Dominican Medical Association (CMD). Bengoa said that he will be meeting with President Fernandez to present the details of each line item and where the money will come from. However, according to several newspapers, the minister did not say just how much money would be requested. He did say that the RD$113 million debt with the bakers was being resolved, and "would be taken care of when we come back from the PetroCaribe summit." The Hacienda Minister also said that he had met with the President's Chief of Staff, Luis Manuel Bonetti, Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez, and the President's medical advisor, Dr. Alberto Fiallo Billini to work out the details of the proposal that the government will submit to satisfy the doctors' demands. Bengoa said that seven of the eight issues are tied to the Ministry of Hacienda, and while not all of the demands will be resolved, some will be included in the 2009 budget. He did not go into specifics about the government proposals for the CMD.

Central Bank defends policies
The Central Bank of the Dominican Republic has issued a press release defending its economic and monetary policies. The bank said that its handling of the economy that has been hit by external factors, responds to a "strategy" designed to react to international events. The Central Bank is facing a series of unforeseen events that includes the slowdown in the United States' economy, high oil and food prices and higher prices for raw materials. The bank said that "in a small economy, open to international trade such as the Dominican economy, these blows from outside are transferred to increased prices for consumer goods and services." The bank's policy is aimed at reducing the impact of these events. This was the bank's response to criticism that came from the National Council for Private Business (CONEP). According to the Central Bank, the reduction of the money supply will restrict inflation, and it rejected claims that there is a lack of liquidity in the system.
Conep has called for major structural changes and has criticized the way in which governmental monetary policies have stimulated imports, leading to an increase in the deficit in the current account of the balance of payments, which is expected to reach US$4 billion this year. Conep says that policies have favored the telecom, energy and financial sectors, which grew 106% over the past seven years, compared to just 23.6% growth in the tourism, industry, mining, farming, free zones and construction sectors over the same period.

Attorney Generals meet in Punta Cana
Attorney Generals from 21 countries will attend the XVI General Assembly of the Ibero-American Association of Public Ministries (Justice Departments) that opens Wednesday, 9 July and ends on Friday, 11 July in Punta Cana. The theme of this year's assembly will be "Victims, witnesses and social cohesion". The meetings will take place in Punta Cana's Paradisus Palma Real. Nineteen officials from Latin America and representatives from Spain and Portugal will take part in the event. The Dominican delegation will be headed by Radhames Jimenez Pena. One of the interesting events at the assembly will be the Seminar on Justice Ministries and Experiences in Strategic Penal Prosecutions in the face of the New Procedural Model. Radhames Jimenez will talk about the experiences in the Dominican Republic relating to the new model of Procedural Processing of the Criminal Code.

More money for subsidies
To date, the government has assigned a total of RD$3.05 billion to food subsidies in an attempt to keep the basic staples affordable to most people, and to prevent the price increases associated with increasing production costs that can reach as much as 50%. Less than a year ago the government began to subsidize foodstuffs as the price of fuel and raw materials increased around the world. Foods that receive subsidies include poultry, rice, beans, eggs, milk and bread.
Rice is the food that gets the biggest share of subsidies, taking more than half of the billions used in the program. The government is subsidizing rice to the tune of RD$600 per 125 pound bag, using RD$1.8 billion in funds so that rice can be purchased for RD$12 per pound. Milk is another big item, consuming RD$423 million. The bread subsidy was budgeted at just RD$254 million but that has already been used up, and the government is looking for hundreds of millions more to keep the most popular types of bread at just RD$3 rather than RD$5 or RD$7 per unit.
On the question of the controversial subsidy for the transport unions, the government has yet to work out just how to apply the proposal to supply diesel at RD$145 a gallon and propane at RD$65 per gallon. In fact, according to Diario Libre reporter Soila Paniagua, the government does not know how many units (cars, buses and trucks) will benefit from the program or along which routes. CNTU transport union leader Ramon Perez Figuereo told Diario Libre that daily talks are being held with the government entities that oversee the transport of passengers and freight throughout the country.
Previously, the government provided subsidies for electricity and LPG (propane), and this consumes about RD$30 billion per year.

Government presents a proposal on Chevron
The official commission that is handling the conflict between the SACTPA transport union and the Chevron-Texaco Company has presented a proposal to Chevron-Texaco in the hope of ending the dispute. The mediating commission wants both parties to return to the former conditions for "the time being". Chevron-Texaco has announced the cancellation of contracts for 25 tank trucks as part of their restructuring process. The commission's proposal was worked out by Labor Minister Ramon Fadul, National Police chief Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin and Vice-President Rafael Alburquerque, and accepted by the transport union. The Chevron-Texaco representatives, headed by general manager Rosanna Grullon and Hector Infante, did not comment on the idea, saying that they had to consult with their head office in the United States. After meeting both sectors in separate sessions that lasted for more than three hours, Alburquerque said that the two sides should get together and discuss how long the government proposal should last. Alburquerque said, "It's a problem of time. The union wants more time and Chevron wants less." The Chevron executives did not talk to reporters. Truckers' spokesperson Nelson Crespo said that the union wanted five more years under the current conditions in order to pay off their debts. A spokesperson for the drivers themselves, Clemente Morillo, said that the drivers would settle for two or three more years. Both men called the Chevron representatives "overbearing and arrogant," for not talking face to face with the truckers.

More than a trucking issue
The conflict between members of the SACTPA union and Chevron Caribbean (Texaco) could mean a step forward or another step backwards in doing business in the DR. More than the profitability of the truckers and Chevron-Texaco is at stake. For the first time, a private company has decided to go all the way and fight the transport unions' monopolistic stance, citing clauses in the DR-CAFTA free trade agreement that guarantee them the right to choose their transporters. The truckers don't agree and are trying to win again by imposing a blockade on the supply of fuel from the Dominican Petroleum Refinery to around 170 Texaco gas stations nationwide since 9 June. The blockade on the entrance and free transit of vehicles from Chevron Caribbean to the Refinery was lifted on 24 June when the executives of Chevron visited, but was reinstated on 2 July, after Chevron decided to maintain the cancellation of five contracts covering 25 fuel transporters. The transporters did make a concession after a meeting with Vice President Rafael Alburquerque at the Presidential Palace, and agreed to distribute aviation fuel, so as not to affect tourism and air cargo operations.
Business groups have lined up behind Chevron-Texaco. For years now, business groups have been fighting the Fenatrado truckers' union's claims to a "right" to 50% of all cargo out of national ports, to the detriment of companies that would like to choose their own transporters. The right has traditionally been established by forceful and vandalistic actions on the part of the transporters, with the authorities not wanting to very much get involved.
Business groups issued a statement where they appeal for respect for the rights established under free trade and guarantees for doing business in a country where the laws must be respected. "It is contradictory that while there is talk of globalization and competitiveness, and our trade frontiers are opened, the business sector is confronted with an act of force by subjects that defend personal interests beyond all legality, and act against the operations of small and medium-sized companies, commercial guarantees, the development of tourism and the bilateral trade agreements," states the note. The business groups' position is that the conflict is a commercial one, between private companies, and any difference should be resolved within the legal framework of the Dominican Republic."
The statement is signed by the Dominican Republic Association of Industries (AIRD), the National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE), the Association of Shippers of the DR (ANRD), the Association of Industries of Herrera (AEIH), the Association of Dominican Free Zones (ADOZONA), the Dominican Association of Exporters (Adoexpo) and the Dominican Agribusiness Board (JAD).
In a separate release, the American Chamber of Commerce called the blockade "a blunt infringement of the legal security and the state of law that should prevail as fundamental warranties in the Dominican Republic. The right to freely select the services that one wishes to contract is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution of the DR and one of the sovereign commitments contracted by the country under the DR-CAFTA agreement. The same happens with the right to commerce and the right to free enterprise," states AmCham.
AmCham's position coincides with that of its fellow business groups: "Under no circumstances should any group be allowed to take justice into its own hands, an action that constitutes a direct threat to the country's rule of law. In a state of law, the appropriate arena to resolve contractual and work conflicts is in court, which is why we urge the authorities to adopt the necessary measures in the framework of the law to correct this blatant disruption to public order."

Cocco asks Congress for approval
The head of the Dominican Customs Department, Miguel Cocco, has requested the rapid passage of the legislative bill that relates to the International Convention on Simplification and Harmonization of Customs Rules that President Leonel Fernandez has sent to Congress for approval. Cocco told reporters from Hoy that approval would speed up the work of local customs agents and modernize the Dominican Customs Department. The new set of rules would hasten customs work throughout the entire system and make trade flow faster.

A.M. Questions
Editor Adriano Miguel Tejada poses some questions in his A.M. column in today's Diario Libre. The editor asks, should the government give larger subsidies and favors to drivers who never comply with the deals and who, moreover, owe the same government, the banks and who knows who else, billions of pesos and who refuse to pay, or to put it more delicately, are "timid" when it comes to payment time?
Can the government maintain some subsidies that it does not control, without investigating whether or not the beneficiaries pay taxes, or have cases pending in the courts, or have a file in the financial data banks, and whose costs have never been really clear?
Can the import of eight-cylinder used vehicles that will be converted to propane gas be maintained in order to keep increasing the subsidy?
Given the price of oil, can we keep "fixing" the potholes in streets and highways without providing maintenance? Or is it cheaper to designate neighborhood groups and make them responsible for keeping the drainage clean so that the streets and highways don't suffer so much damage?
Can we keep talking about scandalous salary levels while our soldiers and police officers (who have guns) survive on really miserable salaries, without the disaster that we are beginning to witness, in which many of these soldiers and police officers are involved in robberies and murders?
There are many more such questions, according to Tejada, but "let's leave it there," so we don't get a headache.

Salary increases divides management
Despite the fact that salary demands are widespread, the business community has not managed to reach a unified front on the issue. According to Diario Libre, the president of the National Council for Business (CONEP), Lisandro Macarrulla, has said that he favors an across-the-board minimum wage increase for both the public and private sectors. In contrast, the head of the Dominican Employers' Confederation (COPARDOM), Maribel Gasso, says that this is not the time to talk of wage increases. Gasso based her statement on the fact that the Labor Code says that the minimum wage should be revised every two years, and only 14 months have passed since the last wage increase. Gasso's comments seem to complicate the situation for the workers, because Copardom is responsible for working out and approving the proposals for increases in the minimum wage that come from the Committee on Salaries. Meanwhile, labor leader Gabriel del Rio says that a 50% increase in the minimum wage is needed for workers who earn less than RD$6,000 per month.

Northeast gets JCE office
Good news for the nearly million people who live in the northeast of the Dominican Republic. They no longer will have to go to Santo Domingo to get legalized birth certificates or to legalize any other personal documents. The Central Electoral Board (JCE) has just opened a modern data center in San Francisco de Macoris to handle the needs of residents of Duarte, Hermanas Mirabal (Salcedo), Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Sanchez Ramirez, Samana and Espaillat provinces. Roberto Rosario, the head of the JCE Administrative Chamber told his inaugural audience that regardless where a person was born they could request a birth certificate or legalization services from this office in San Francisco, and save themselves a costly trip to Santo Domingo.
The new building cost the JCE RD$15 million as is expected to serve nearly 700,000 people. JCE chief magistrate Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman said that this was just one of the new technological platforms that will be inaugurated throughout the country.

Pols and civil society agree on something
Leaders of the PRD and PRSC parties were in agreement with spokespersons from the Citizen Participation group about the proposal from the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Julio Cesar Valentin, who argued for a Constitutional Amendment that would freeze the number of members in Congress to 150, and combine the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies into a House of Representatives single legislative body. When Hoy reporters asked Orlando Jorge Mera of the PRD and Ramon Rogelio Genao of the PRSC, both politicians were in agreement with the proposal. So were the vice-president of the Justice and Institutionalism Foundation (FINJUS) Servio Tulio Castanos Guzman and the executive director of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), Francisco Cueto and Citizen Participation's Javier Cabrera. Cueto also favored the idea of reducing the legislature to just one chamber, an idea that was rejected by the PRD and the PRSC.

DPCA visits Terrero
The director of the Department for the Prevention of Administrative Corruption (DPCA), formerly known as Depreco, visited the former chief auditor of the Chamber of Accounts, Andres Terrero for more than three hours yesterday. The assistant director of the DPCA, Hotoniel Bonilla also met with Juan Adalberto Lora, a former member of the chamber. According to Bonilla the meetings consisted of "exchanges of ideas" with Terrero and other personnel associated with the audit bureau. Bonilla said that if an analysis of the documents that are being gathered show any penal violations, then auditors would be appointed to look further into the case.

Santiago is Santiago
Santiago de los Caballeros, the first city in the New World to be named Santiago, is gaining fame as an attractive place to visit. Listin Diario calls the city "gentlemanly" and "old world". Some of its citizens, such as movie critic Jose D'Laura, never set foot outside the city unless it is a case of "life or death." The fervent fans of the Aguilas Cibaenas baseball team and its imposing Monument to the Restoration are just two of the characteristics of the 500-year old city. As well as the Monument, there is the Cathedral, the Governor's Palace, the Duarte Park, the San Luis Fort Museum, the Model Market, the Victorian architecture of so many of its houses, and the friendly barrios such as Los Pepines or La Joya. There is a long list of cultural attractions as well, headed by the Centro Leon, the Casa de Arte, the Alianza Cibaena, the Ateneo Amantes de la Luz (the DR's first public library), the Centro de la Cultura with its award-winning folkloric dance troupe, the Tomas Morel Folklore Museum, the artists' refuge, La 37 Por Las Tablas, and the Grand Cibao Theater. Santiago is located in the center of the Cibao Valley, 150 kilometers from Santo Domingo. The towns of Tamboril, San Jose de las Matas, Villa Gonzalez, Navarrete (Villa Bisono) and Licey al Medio are part of the province and lend their charm to the city.

DR at expo
The DR was one of two featured countries at the 2008 Zaragoza Expo yesterday when the DR delegation presented its water conservation model, "Madre de las Aguas 2008," which spans four national parks and a scientific reserve located in the Central Cordillera. Seventeen major rivers providing 80% of the DR's water start in these mountains. It is also home to 12 hydroelectric plants and the Pico Duarte, the highest peak in the Caribbean. The Central Cordillera is also known for its biodiversity, with 600 of the nearly 6,000 animal species found in the DR. The Rio Yaque del Norte Basin Recovery Project (PROCARYN) is being completed with a RD$385 million fund set up by the Dominican state, the German aid agency GTZ and private sector funding. Minister of the Environment Omar Ramirez says the conservation initiatives have led to reforestation projects and agro-forestry, helping thousands of people in the area and protecting the environment. The Zaragoza Expo is considered the biggest water festival on earth. It opened on 14 June and continues until 14 September.
For more information, see www.expozaragoza2008.es/Participants/...

Hurricanes and Tropical Storms
After last years disasters associated with two tropical storms, people are listening more closely to what forecasters are saying. The National Hurricane Center in Miami has sent forecaster John Morales to Santo Domingo to give a lecture on "The Eye of the Storm". According to Morales, this will be an "active" storm season with fifteen to seventeen named storms of which eight are likely to become hurricanes, and four will be major storms classed as Category 3 or higher. Morales told Listin Diario reporter Viviano de Leon that this was a natural occurrence given the high temperature of the ocean, and the current trend is expected to continue for another 10 to 15 years. Morales had words of praise for the initiative taken by the Dominican Telecommunications Institute (Indotel) in creating a network for emergency situations that will allow all the media to have access to the same news at the same time.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Santo Domingo was drenched by a tropical wave.
For weather reports, see http://www.dr1.com/forums/weather-beyond/
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