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Daily News - Tuesday, 29 July 2008

The complementary budget
The Fernandez administration seeks congressional approval to add RD$31.6 billion to this year's government spending. The Presidency called for Congress to extend the legislature through 15 August. Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa said that funds will come from a RD$10.9 billion reduction in current spending, RD$500 million in PetroCaribe petroleum purchases financing from Venezuela, and capital gains taxes from the sale of large companies. The Department of Taxes (DGII) has also reported RD$17 billion more in revenues than budgeted for 2008. The Fernandez administration proposes that 53% of this new budget or RD$16.94 billion will be used to subsidize the electric sector, fund public programs including propane gas subsidies for 800,000 families and 24,000 public transport drivers.
The complementary budget funds will be allotted also to meet demands of the Dominican College of Physicians (CMD), including cash incentives, and creation of 400 new jobs for interns as well as the maintaining of the present structure of the Dominican Institute of Social Security (IDSS).
The bill allots RD$4.9 billion to cover the announced increase of the public sector minimum wage to RD$5,0000, and a 15% increase to government employees that make up to RD$30,000 a month.
Funds will also be used to increase the Solidaridad welfare card allotment from RD$550 to RD$700 a month. The government has selected 400,000 beneficiaries, but this number will be increased to 450,000. The government also announced a bonus of RD$300 will be granted to 150,000 persons categorized as living in extreme poverty and that already are beneficiaries of the Solidaridad card.
The government also proposes that RD$1.98 billion be allotted to the Ministry of Public Works and a similar amount to the Public Works Supervisory Office of the Presidency to complete works that are 75% advanced, including the Pinalito Dam in Constanza.
The current spending savings would come from reductions in government officer vehicle purchase allotments, per diems, gasoline allotments, cell phone use, advertising.
Senate president Reynaldo Pared Perez said that as soon as the budget is submitted to Congress a bicameral committee will be called to study the bill and expedite its approval.
The ruling PLD is majority in Congress.

IDs: a national priority
The government and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) have declared the documentation of 300,000 indigent persons a "national priority." Vice President Rafael Alburquerque and UNICEF country representative Tad Polad made the announcement during a meeting at the Central Electoral Board (JCE) with JCE president Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman. Alburquerque explained once provided with IDs these persons can become beneficiaries of government extreme poverty welfare programs.
Alburquerque said the next step is to meet with representatives from the Attorney General's Office, the Supreme Court, the Senate and Chamber of Deputies presidents and members of civil society to develop a contingency plan. The VP said the government would give the JCE all the funds necessary to complete the registration process, as reported in Hoy.

Haitian cedulas for Haitians
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) of the Dominican Republic will be lending its full support to assist its sister organization in Haiti to provide identity documents to Haitians living in the Dominican Republic, according to a report in El Caribe. The announcement comes at a time when the JCE has unveiled thousands of instances of irregularly issued Dominican IDs to Haitians, and it is expected that the program will help curtail the fraudulent issuing of the document.
The JCE announced yesterday that it welcomes the announcement of the program that has the support of the Organization of American States. Julio Castanos Guzman, president of the JCE, yesterday met with the president of the Provisional Electoral Council of Haiti Frantz-Gerard Verret and Haitian Ambassador Fritz Cineas. "The JCE will offer all its support so that Haitians that live in the DR may receive Haitian identity documents, "but not Dominican documents," said Castanos. He said the role of the JCE would be one of technical advisor. "We have held talks on the possibility of Haitians receiving identification as Haitians in the DR and that they can be incorporated into the Haitian voter list and can vote in Haiti," he said. "This would be a bilateral agreement that would need the approval of our ministries of foreign relations, but it is a good idea and while it will not resolve all the problems, at least it opens a very important road."

The art of not deciding
The Minister of Industry and Commerce has issued a statement where it postpones its decision on whether gasoline stations can sell propane gas to vehicles. The National Association of Gasoline Retailers (Anadegas) fill-up stations want to become "service stations," offering consumers gasoline, diesel, propane and natural gas, when it becomes available. The National Association of Distributors of Liquid Petroleum Gas (Asonadigas) wants to keep its monopoly on propane sales.
The Ministry of Industry and Commerce admits there is no law that can impede the Anadegas stations from selling propane. The Ministry alleges technical reasons for the postponing of when Anadegas members can offer the alternate fuel.
Juan Ignacio Espaillat, president of Anadegas, says that the organization has been requesting the Ministry of Industry & Commerce to authorize the sales by them for five years now. He explains that today 38% of vehicles have been outfitted with propane, as consumers seek savings. Espaillat says that in December 2007, President Leonel Fernandez already established the technical norms to be used for selling propane in gasoline stations when he issued Decree 127-07 that established that until the country puts in place its own propane vending ruling, the sale will be governed by international norms. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce says it will hire an international firm to consult with the Department of Systems and Norms (Digenor) to set the local ruling.

Cacao experiencing a boom
Agriculture Minister Salvador Jimenez says this year the DR will export US$90 million worth of cacao, equivalent to 40,000 metrics tons. The Minister explained that in the first six months of the year the country exported 24,000 metric tons of cacao. Jimenez says that a metric tone of Dominican cacao is sold for as much as US$4,000. The world's leading producer, the DR's 41,000 farmers produce 15 metric tons of organic cacao per year. Jimenez made his comments during the Choco Caribe conference, being held at the Hotel Jaragua through Friday. The conference seeks to strengthen relations between Latin American cacao producers and European consumers. According to Gustavo Arteta, 30% of Dominican chocolate is exported towards Europe and 15% of that chocolate is exported to Italy.

Indotel rules in favor of DGTEC
The Dominican Telecommunications Institute (Indotel) has ordered Codetel to give Dgtec access to a set of blocked phone numbers within the next 24 hours. Indotel originally assigned the numbers to Dgtec. Indotel is also ordering Dgtec to reprogram its call deflection policies to only allow the service only when the user is connected to the Internet. DgTec has 72 hours to do this. The Indotel Board unanimously passed the resolution. Indotel says it will penalize Codetel if it does not comply with the resolution.

OTTT denies ban on Samana
OTTT denied that it had prohibited Caribe Tours from operating its buses on the new Santo Domingo-Samana tollway. Asonahores yesterday protested recent decisions of OTTT that have impeded Caribe Tours, a leading bus company, from offering its service on the route to Samana and Cap Haitien.

Building gets expensive
The prices of construction materials have increased 5% to 50% during the first six months of the year. Luis Mejia, president of the Dominican Hardware Federation, says that sales for cement, metal rods, gravel, paint, woods, steel and all other building materials are down because of the higher prices. A bag of cement which cost RD$220 now costs RD$250 while a quintal of metal rods went from RD$60,000 to RD$69,000. Cristian Maluff, VP of the Dominican Construction Chamber (Cadocon) said the increase in material prices and the increase in bank interest rates are a dangerous mix for the real estate sector. He added that since last October real estate prices have gone up 15%. He also explained that many Dominicans have put their construction projects on hold because of the price hikes.

Herrera criticizes propaganda
Manuel Cabrera, the new president of the Association of Industries of Herrera, criticizes that the government, despite announcing an austerity program, continues to spend freely on advertising. Cabrera mentions as an extreme case a costly advertisement in the press yesterday by the Energy Commission congratulating the government on the "success in its efforts in the fight against nuclear weapons". Cabrera also criticizes that the Metro Office (OPRET) published another costly advertisement providing details of the forthcoming construction of the second line of the Santo Domingo Metro.

Danilo back in the mix
Danilo Medina, the former Secretary of the Presidency, is back in the picture. After a long absence, he attended a meeting of the Political Committee of the ruling PLD party.
Medina had distanced himself from the government after President Leonel Fernandez announced he would seek reelection. Medina aspired to be the PLD presidential candidate in 2008, but lost in the primary to Fernandez.
Medina, regarded as the PLD's chief political strategist, did not campaign for Fernandez's re-election. Asked what role he would now play in the PLD, Medina is quoted in the Listin Diario saying that he will participate in the daily activities of the party and will do what is asked of him.

Caamano's head found
The National Police have announced they have the head of the Francisco Alberto Caamano Deno statute, which was reported missing on Saturday. El Caribe reports that the head was knocked off the statue at the Sofitel Nicolas Ovando Hotel after a ladder fell on it. Hotel employees handed the head over to the Police.

Bank accounts blocked
The bank accounts of Oscar, Luis, Carlos and Jose Benitez, as well as those of unnamed eight Dominican associates, have been blocked by authorities while the investigations into their illegal activities proceed. The brothers are suspected of defrauding the US Medicare system of US$110 million and laundering the money through a variety of businesses. The bank accounts of the brothers' businesses have also been frozen. El Caribe reports this could be the biggest money laundering case in the history of the DR. Diario Libre reports that some businesses that have been confiscated have been allowed to reopen because they employ hundreds of workers. Dominican and US authorities are still looking for the four brothers. The hunt for the brothers began several weeks ago after an investigation into a kidnapping of a daughter of one of the brothers lead to an in depth investigation into the multimillionaire businesses of the family.

According to a study done by the 10/66 Group and published by the Washington Post 11.7% of Dominicans suffer from dementia. The percentage of women with the disease is below the average for men. The study, directed by Dr. Martin Prince from King's College in London collaborated with investigators from the US, China India, Cuba, the DR and included the participation of 15,000 people in 11 countries. The study indicates that the prevalence of dementia increased in rural areas.

Heat wave
The Weather Department forecasts high temperatures in the DR until the weekend. Gloria Ceballos says nationwide there will be temperatures hovering around 32-34 degrees. In the evenings, though, temperatures have been cooling off to a pleasant 25 degrees in the early morning.

Manny Gate 08
Dominican slugger Manny Ramirez is once again in the spotlight, but this time not for his homerun swing. In the latest chapter of this saga, Ramirez could be on the trading block after he voicing his displeasure with the Red Sox's treatment of him.
Red Sox management has been stalwart on the issue and rumors have surfaced that teams have called Boston management with interest in Ramirez. After many high profiled incidents, including a physical altercation with front office personnel word is that management is no longer willing to accept the "Manny being Manny" excuse that has allowed the slugger his "prima donna" status in Beantown. Reports indicate that the New York Mets have showed interest in Ramirez but it would be tough for a move to happen. Ramirez has a US$20 million salary plus options for 2009 and 2010. The Sox would also be out Ramirez's bat, which has helped the hometown team win two World Series trophies. The trade deadline is Thursday at 4pm.
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