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Daily News - Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Fernandez new appointments
Police Mayor General Jose Anibal Sanz was appointed director of the Migration yesterday and Vice Admiral Sigfrido Pared Perez, a former Armed Forces Minister, was named director general of the Dominican Port Authority.

Schools closed
The Ministry of Education canceled classes today in provinces that have been issued a red alert due to Hurricane Gustav. Red alerts have been emitted for Barahona, Pedernales, Independencia, Bahoruco, San Juan de la Maguana, Elias Pina, Dajabon, Peravia, Azua, San Cristobal, Santo Domingo, National District, San Jose de Ocoa and San Pedro de Macoris.

Education projects
New Education Minister Melanio Paredes gave a press conference yesterday to announce new efforts to ensure that public schools are ready for the new school year. News reports have focused on several large schools being in a state of disrepair and in an unfit condition to receive students for the 2008-2009 school year that has already started. Paredes said he would be receiving an inventory of the conditions of all public schools. Paredes added that he was creating a multi-sector commission to monitor the quality of the RD$18 million a month public school breakfast program that was focus of a major controversy during his predecessor's term. TV journalist Nuria Piera showed proof the largest supplier was delivering a product well below the ministry's standard. Paredes said the school breakfast program would resume on Monday, 8 September nationwide.

Financial fears hit Central Bank
Fears for a potential economic downturn are motivating some investors to liquidate their Central Bank certificates of deposit. Listin Diario reports that this is one of the reasons why the US dollar has appreciated. The current dollar to peso exchange rate is on average RD$35.20 per US$1. For the first time since 2003 there has been a decrease in certificates of deposit issued by the Central Bank, which now total about RD$6 billion. This shift has caused the Central Bank to increase interest rates. Accordingly, at the beginning of the year a certificate stock in the Central Bank totaled RD$191.4 billion. This decreased to RD$185.6 billion by 21 August, a 3% decrease totaling RD$5.8 billion. Between August and December RD$35 billion in certificates will expire and economists are concerned that there will be fewer renewals.

PRA ending
The Blackout Reduction Program (PRA) will end next July and only the very poorest families in critical situations will qualify for the fixed rate electricity service. Listin Diario reports that by ending the PRA program, the government seeks to increase the efficiency of the CRI, or funds recovery index. No exact details on what would happen to families included in the PRA program or what subsidy program would be implemented, if any. Regardless, the authorities believe that losses by the distributors won't be below 30% by the end of 2008. The PRA program was initiated in 2001 in response to criticism from social activists.

Get your sticker
The vehicle license plate stickers renewal period begins today. Tax Department director Juan Hernandez said prices for the license plate stickers (known as "marbetes") will be the same as last year, RD$1,200 for cars made before 2003 and RD$2,200 for cars made after 2003. The Tax Department expects to collect RD$1.3 billion from the stickers. Drivers will have the option of completing the process online (www.dgii.gov.do) or going to one of 200 designated posts around the country. For drivers in the National District who choose the online option, it will take 6 days to receive the stickers and 10 days from anywhere outside the National District. Drivers will also be able to purchase the sticker at the BDI, BDA, Ahorro y Credito, Ademi or BanReservas banks. Vehicle owners will have three months to get the stickers and Hernandez said that this time the DGII would not give an extension. Those renewing afterwards will pay a penalty. He added that three months is a more than reasonable period of time to get this done.

Selling Aerodom?
Listin Diario is reporting that Swiss and US investors are interested in purchasing a majority stake in the Aeropuertos Dominicanos (Aerodom). Airport Department director Andres Van der Horst confirmed that negotiations are taking place between Aerodom and Grupo Aeropuerto del Pacifico (GAP), based in Mexico. However Van der Horst says that nothing has been formalized, but that negotiations have been under way for over a year. Currently Aerodom manages seven airports in the DR, but it is not clear what would happen to these contracts if Aerodom were sold. Van der Horst says the potential sale of Aerodom is not illegal, as it is included in the original 2000 contract signed between the company and the government. Aerodom operates Las Americas International, El Catey and Arroyo Barril in Samana, Maria Montez International in Barahona and Gregorio Luperon International in Puerto Plata.

Child discharged
Four year-old Francesca Melzani has been allowed home from the hospital after spending a week recovering from injuries she sustained during the tragic bus crash on La Romana-Higuey highway on 15 August. Her mother, 40 year-old Maritza Liloni, is still in a critical but stable condition, according to Dashira Martinez, a spokeswoman for Plaza de la Salud. Martinez said that Liloni has opened her eyes on several occasions. The girl's father was discharged from the hospital last week, as have been many of the other crash victims.

Diaz and Mercedes arrive
Today at 2:30 pm boxer Felix Diaz and taekwondo medalist Gabriel Mercedes will be arriving home to a hero's welcome. They fly into Las Americas International Airport on American Airlines flight 1529. Sports Minister Felipe Jay Payano says that Aerodom, AMET and the Dominican Olympic Committee have organized the welcome ceremony at the airport and asked Dominicans to go to the airport to welcome the nation's new heroes. A press conference will be held for the gold and silver medalists to address the public and the media. The success of these two athletes has caused immediate changes around the Dominican Republic. Government officials have announced that more funds will be provided for boxing in the next national budget. Vicente Bengoa, Minster of Hacienda, said he would ask President Leonel Fernandez for funding to build a new boxing center to house and train the next generation of Dominican boxers. Bengoa added that although baseball is the national sport, boxing has brought the DR two of its four medals in the Olympics.
Diaz and Mercedes's wins at these games will hold a special place in the heart of Dominicans. Although Felix Sanchez won the DR's first-ever gold medal in the 2004 Athens Games, Dominicans appreciate that Diaz and Mercedes were born and bred in the rough conditions of the DR, unlike Sanchez who was born and raised in the US.

State of emergency declared
Following the passage of Tropical Storm, now Hurricane Gustav, President Leonel Fernandez has declared a state of emergency in 20 communities and seven provinces, including the National District. Santo Domingo, San Cristobal, San Jose de Ocoa, Azua, San Juan, Pedernales, Elias Pina and the National District. The provinces of Montecristi, La Romana, Hato Mayor, El Seibo, La Altagracia, Monsenor Nouel, La Vega, Monte Plata, Sanchez Ramirez, Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Espaillat, Salcedo and Santiago were put on yellow alert while Samana, Valverde, Santiago Rodriguez and Puerto Plata were put on green alert. Decree 371-08 will allow the President's Social Plan, the Civil Defense and the National Institute for Potable Water (INAPA) to override regulations stipulated by Law 340-06 and purchase goods or services, at their discretion, to aid in recovery efforts. The decree will last for 30 days, after which centralized and decentralized government offices will have to declare their purchases in a statement to the Comptroller and the Chamber of Accounts.

Rains cause havoc
Rains caused by Hurricane Gustav led to flooding on many of Santo Domingo's main roads yesterday. Flooding made traffic unbearable and the lack of public transport made getting home a nightmare for hundreds of Dominicans. Flooding was reported on 27 de Febrero, Nunez de Caceres, George Washington, John F. Kennedy and 30 de Mayo Avenues. Many of the city's tunnels also experienced extreme situations of flooding. DR1 correspondent Lu Olivero reports lines at many of the public transport stops. Commuters had to wait for half an hour or longer to catch a ride. When buses or taxis did appear they were usually filled to capacity, making the ride home uncomfortable.
El Caribe reports that so far 5,000 people have been evacuated as a result of Gustav. Civil Defense corps director Luis Antonio Luna Paulino says that officials are still working on normalizing the situation in many of the affected provinces and communities. Luna said that many of the evacuations have been preventive. Meteorologists say that Gustav has now been upgraded to a level 1 hurricane passing the southern coast of the DR, near Barahona. The storm will hit neighboring Haiti as a hurricane with winds at a reported 140 KM per hour. The storm is currently located 120km south-southeast of Port au Prince and is traveling at 19kph.
To follow the storm in the DR, see www.dr1.com/forums/weather-beyond/...
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