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Daily News - Tuesday, 21 October 2008

DR handling the crisis
Central Bank president Hector Valdez Albizu says that the DR has managed the international financial crisis well so far, adding that he is optimistic about the nation's economic future. Although the crisis has affected many countries, the DR has managed to maintain a level of macroeconomic stability. According to Valdez, the inflation rate for the DR will be at 13% at year's end.
In related news, economist Carlos Despradel says that the government needs to adopt measures to help the country withstand the crisis. He says the government is doing what is necessary to face the international fiscal crunch in the area of monetary policy. Despradel urged President Leonel Fernandez to tread with care, regardless of his continued optimism about the future of the economy. Despradel did welcome Fernandez's optimism, considering that fuel prices and food prices have dropped slightly, potentially saving the DR millions, but added that the Dominican economy is still highly dependent on US markets. He added that in 2009 the US economy could reflect 0% growth, which could affect tourism, remittances and trade in the DR.

Valentin gets tough
Chamber of Deputies president Julio Cesar Valentin says that effective immediately the Chamber will withhold payments to any Deputy who hasn't submitted an asset declaration, as required by Law 82-79. Valentin says that the names of those Deputies would be posted on the CD's website. Valentin says he was surprised at the fact that only 70 Deputies have filed their statements and only 227 politicians out of 2,500 government officials have filed statements. Some government officials have declared substantial assets, including Minister Victor Diaz Rua who has a fortune of RD$540 million and Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso who has a fortune of RD$60 million. Today, Diario Libre reports that former Agriculture Minister Salvador Jimenez has a fortune of RD$29 million, while former Santo Domingo District Attorney Jose Manuel Hernandez Peguero declared his fortune as RD$171 million. The former DA also has RD$4.7 million in investments and RD$16.5 million in real estate investments. Sports Minister Felix Jay Payano reported a mere RD$8 million, while Minister for Women Alejandrina German reported RD$6 million.

True to his word
Yesterday the Environment Ministry closed down three sand and gravel extraction companies and posted military personnel on their premises. Agregados Consolidados, Agregados AG and Mon-Braca failed to comply with Law 16-07, which states that companies cannot work within 150 meters of the rivers or extract sand and gravel. The Environmental Ministry said there would be no more extensions on the law, which was passed in 2007, and which has been already postponed three times. Hoy writes that the three companies had been given until last Saturday to remove their equipment from the rivers and all failed to do so. Ministry officials said however that sanctions would not be imposed, because the goal is to protect the environment, not hurt the industry.

Navy presses charges
The Navy has pressed charges against six former officers for their involvement in the 4 August drug-related massacre in Bani. Captain Jesus Sanchez Pina, Captain Miguel Pena Figuereo and Major Jose Arias Fernandez are now in preventive custody. To date, the Navy has identified and expelled ten officials from its ranks in connection with the massacre, but it is also emerging that this problem reaches deeper within the institution. Yesterday it was revealed that Frigate Captain (Lieutenant Colonel) Ricardo Rafael Guzman Perez was the operational chief behind the killing of seven Colombians in Paya. According to police and the Justice Department investigations, Miguel Pena Figuereo, also a Frigate Captain, and Lieutenants Rodriguez Montero and Chalas Jorge acted together with Guzman Perez. Also involved were Luis Lara (El Churro), Jose Luis Montas (owner of El Duro Motors) and Dennys Rodriguez Perez.
In related news, the Navy is searching the waters off the coast of Santo Domingo looking for an M-16 rifle that was said to have been used in the massacre. Officials say that they have evidence that the weapon was thrown into the water near the National Aquarium. They believe that the weapon was smuggled for use in the massacre and its discovery could lead to more clues as to who else was involved.

Investment up
Center for Exports and Investments (CEI-RD) director Eddy Martinez says the DR has received US$2.3 billion in investment and export revenue in 2008, compared to US$1.7 billion in 2007. Martinez, speaking at a breakfast meeting for economic correspondents organized by El Caribe newspaper, said the DR received US$1.5 billion in revenue and investment between January and June, US$651 million more than the same period a year ago. Non-traditional exports increased by US$260 million, registering US$800 million between January and August. Martinez said that these figures were achieved despite the 50% decrease in nickel exports during 2008.

Gas prices stay the same
Economy, Planning and Development Minister Temistocles Montas explained that regardless of the decrease in international fuel prices the public would continue to pay elevated gasoline prices because the government needs to make up the revenue it lost when the barrel of petroleum was registered at US$150. Montas said that months ago when the barrel of fuel was at US$147 per the government didn't pass on the extra cost of fuel to the consumer, reducing the government's level of revenue, but now that prices are lower the government needs to recoup the money it was unable to previously collect.

PRD asks about Sun Land
The PRD is reviving the debate about the Sun Land case, over a year after it submitted its original charges against the government. Leading PRD members Rafael Alburquerque and Orlando Jorge Mera made their way to the Supreme Court (SCJ) today and presented a letter to SCJ president Jorge Subero Isa asking for a ruling on the US$130 million corruption case. Little has since been said regarding the Sun Land case, in which President Leonel Fernandez signed off on a US$130 million loan for the construction of public works projects without Congressional approval. The projects have not been completed, the money is unaccounted for and not a word has been heard from Fernandez on the case.

Fuel drops, prices don't
International fuel prices have dropped 50% since June, when they were at a record US$145 per barrel. The high price of oil caused a trickle-down effect, increasing transport and production costs, which in turn increased food prices. But while fuel prices have since slowly dropped, food prices have stayed the same. According to Hoy, only two products from the family food basket, oil and pasta, have seen a slight decrease in price. Listin Diario reports that basic foodstuffs have also experienced sharp decreases, though it hasn't reflected in other food price decreases. Listin reports that the price of a metric ton of corn has decreased by 18.5% since June, while the metric ton of rice has decreased by 28.9%, soy has decreased by 70.38% and wheat has decreased by 30.4%. Although these prices have decreased, bakeries have refused to drop prices. Chicken farmers, who during the summer argued that the production costs forced them to up prices, have also refused to lower them. Public transport passengers are also asking why prices are still high. Drivers' leaders say that although fuel prices have dropped, it has yet to translate to cheaper fuel derivatives and spare parts for vehicles. Inter-urban bus fares have shown slight decreases of up to RD$10, and freight prices might be reduced as early as today, but these changes are arbitrary and not part of policy. Union leaders will meet today to discuss whether to keep prices at current rates. Union leaders say that although fuel prices are down this doesn't specifically translate into decreased operational costs for the unions, forcing them to maintain prices.

Unions cancel dialogue
The CNUS and CASC workers' unions have broken off talks with the business sector because the latter has yet to respond to demands proposed by the workers' unions. Workers are asking for a 40% salary increase and a 30% increase for all people who make up to RD$30,000 per month. Union leaders say they will meet today in order to create a plan of action, which will include strikes and marches. Union leaders say they are fed up with the business sector's attitude and say that their representatives are evading the issues and refusing to provide answers.

UASD students struggle
A recent study revealed that 30% of UASD state university students failed their entrance exams. According to the study, between 10% and 20% of these students are never able to catch up and end up dropping out of school. UASD admissions director Gloria Madera said that 80% of students who failed the exams come from night schools or fast-track study programs. Madera says that the vast majority of students lack reading comprehension abilities as well as critical analysis, analytical problem solving and reasoning skills. Most of these students also have low self-esteem and poor study habits.

Gambling beats education
There are at least three gambling houses for every school in the DR. The Education Ministry has registered 10,746 public schools, 2,410 private schools and 197 learning centers, for a total of 13,353. This is in contrast with a total 38,271 gambling houses in the country. Listin Diario points out that most of these houses are owned by politicians. Many of these gambling spots violate many Dominican laws, but the growth of the gambling sector has been incredible. Between 2001 and 2006 the number of gambling establishments has doubled, going from 12,466 to 24,816. Estimates indicate that Dominican spend close to RD$76 billion per year on betting, not including casinos.

Transplant advance
The DR will now have a single national organ transplant list and the Compatibility Laboratory at the Plaza de la Salud will handle all compatibility tests for potential organ recipients. Six hospitals have also created the Transplant Coordination Network in order to manage the transplanting of organs and cells. These new steps in the area of transplant will be coordinated through the Public Health Ministry, the National Transplant Coordination Institute (INCORT) and the Plaza de la Salud Hospital. Fernando Morales Billini from INCORT said that on average each year there are 1,200 requests for kidney transplants in the DR.

Health watch
The Health Ministry has announced that since January dengue fever has caused the deaths of 23 people, while 50 people have died due to leptospirosis. The Public Health Ministry has received reports of 2,330 new cases of dengue this year, compared to the enormous number of 4,000 only a year ago. The ministry says that increased public awareness and media campaigns are responsible for the lower death toll.

Monster trucks in SD
Santo Domingo is hosting the DR's first monster truck rally, an event that most Dominicans have only seen on TV. "Draco, The Dragonator", "Project X", "PR-Ride Truck", "Havoc, "Get er Done" and "Monster Ride" will put on a show this Friday, Saturday and Sunday night as they jump and destroy cars at the race track on Las Americas highway. According to the promoters, these monster trucks have only ever visited neighboring Puerto Rico and no other Caribbean island. Drivers Calvin Dewayne Poore, Marc William Bailey, Dale Edward Prochnow, Shane Michael Phreed and Mitchell Edward Tulachka have already arrived in the DR in preparation for the show. Tickets can be purchased from the Asociacion la Nacional de Ahorros y Prestamos.
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