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Daily News - Friday, 24 October 2008

Government gives homes
During a special ceremony yesterday, President Leonel Fernandez helped inaugurate the Villa Progreso housing project, in San Cristobal, which includes 416 homes for the same number of families. The project, built with a RD$291 million budget, will house residents displaced by Tropical Storms Noel and Olga and Hurricane Georges. Hurricane Georges hit the DR ten years ago, while Tropical Storms Olga and Noel hit the DR last October and November. The apartments include two bedrooms, kitchen, living rooms and other amenities with a total space of 17,472 square meters.

SD among the best
Santo Domingo has been ranked among the 65 most important economic centers for emerging economies. The results were part of a study by Master Card, and presented in Brazil. In the area of commercial and economic environment, the DR ranked 19th among cities like Santiago (Chile) and Brasilia. The study took into consideration 100 indicators in eight categories, like commercial and economic environment, growth and development, business environment, financial services network, education and information technology, quality of urban life, risks and safety.

Measures 'tough but necessary'
Central Bank Governor Hector Albizu Valdez says the increase in interest rates and changes in legal procedures are tough fiscal policies, but these moves are necessary in order to maintain micro-economic stability. Albizu added that these measures are transitory, though unavoidable. He said that once markets return to normal the measures would be reviewed to determine if they are necessary. The governor explained that the international market is still unstable, and this forces the Central Bank to preserve the DR's economic stability with these policies. Speaking on the economy, Albizu said the DR registered 7.5% economic growth in the first semester of the year and between January and September 2008 the DR experienced a 5.4% growth rate. He expects the DR to register 5% growth by the end of the year. The governor said that the Central Bank's stock debt went from RD$169,829 million to RD$190,725 million, with a 3% monthly interest rate. Accordingly, foreign direct investment passed the US$2.353 million mark, registering a US$1.3 increase. Albizu expects investments to pass the US$3 billion mark by the end of the year. Central Bank revenues registered US$3.372 billion, for a 4.7%, while remittances registered US$2.330 billion, for a 5.1% increase.

Current accounts increase
According to the Quisqueya Foundation the deficit on the nation's current accounts will increase by 150% by the end of the year. The deficit was 5.4% in 2007, will register 13.5% in 2008 and will be 12.4% in 2009. According to economists Frank Valenzuela and Hector Frias, theIMF estimates that the Dominican economy will decelerate by 44.7% by the end of 2008, going from 8.7% growth in 2007 to 4.7% growth in 2008 and will only grow 2.8% in 2009. The economist voiced the common adage that when the US catches a cold the DR gets pneumonia.

Tighten your belts
Considering the financial crisis the word is facing, Inter-American Development Bank representative Manuel Labrado is urging the government to tighten its belt as a short-term response to the crisis. Labrado says first on the agenda should be to prioritize spending, focus subsidies, improve the investment climate and support the agricultural sector, which has great potential due to the DR's geographical location. He added that the government should make the most of any positive elements of the crisis. Labrado did warn that the crisis would bring a reduction in credit opportunities and a reduction in external demands for products, which should force the government to tighten its belt.

No economy immune
Spanish economist Jesus Ruiz-Huertas Carbonell says that if the Dominican economy is dependent on remittances, tourism, free trade zones and exports it is almost impossible to shield the DR's economy from the financial crisis affecting the rest of the world. The economist says he has limited details knowledge of the Dominican economy, but adds that the integration of the global economy makes it difficult to believe the DR will not be affected. Ruiz urged the government to start focusing on supporting more dynamic economic sectors that could soften the blow of the financial crisis. He was speaking during an interview at the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (Funglode) in Santo Domingo where he has been teaching a Masters in high-level public administration. The economist's comments were seconded by former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo Manrique, who said that no country is 100% immune to this crisis.

Treasury will keep checks
The Treasury says it will retain the salaries of employees who have yet to submit an asset declaration. Treasury director Guaroa Guzman says he will follow Law 82-79 and with the help of National Department for the Persecution of Corruption determine which employees have yet to file. Guzman said the only problem is that specific checks cannot be withheld because the payments are electronic and automated, but they are studying ways to get around this. To date 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 Public Works 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.

Fernandez clarifies
Environmental Minister Jaime David Fernandez says that sand extraction companies closed earlier this week for violating environmental regulations will not be allowed to re-open or have extensions. However, they will be allowed to remove the accumulated processed materials found in their factories on condition that they dismantle their equipment. The Minister says the factories will continue to be guarded by military personnel.

Businesses push EPA ratification
The National Business Council (CONEP) is asking Congress to ratify the free trade agreement with the European Union, the European Partnership Agreement (EPA) before 31 October. Conep president Lisandro Macarulla said that failing to ratify the agreement would create a negative atmosphere for the country's competitiveness, reduce revenue and endanger job security for strategic sectors of the Dominican economy. Macarulla also pointed out that the financial crisis that is affecting the EU could provide economic opportunities for the DR in terms of investment. Ricardo Koening, president of the Dominican Export Association, says that the EPA is the best trade agreement the DR has signed to date.

Blackouts still rolling
Rolling blackouts are still being reported throughout the DR, despite the fact that new generators have come in to try and ease the situation. Hoy reports a deficit of 928 MW compared to a demand of 1,884 MW. The State-run Electricity Companies (CDEEE) paid US$20 million to the energy distributors, bringing the government's total debt down to US$336 million to the distributors. It was hoped that this payment would buy the government and distributors some time. However, many of the generators are still off the grid because they don't have money to buy more fuel. The AES-Andres generator, which supplies 20% of the national demand, was still off line yesterday and is not expected to be operational until some time next week. Listin Diario reports that AES has canceled a shipment of petroleum because they did not have the funds to pay for the fuel. The shipment was expected to arrive in December, meaning that these blackouts could extend through the holiday season. Itabo is reportedly in the same position as AES.

Cibao protests over
The 72-hour protest that began on Tuesday has officially ended. The protests were organized by the Alternative Social Forum and called for the government to provide citizens in the region with basic services, improved power supply and lower food prices, among other demands. Yesterday, as part of a general work stoppage, protestors marched through sectors of Pueblo Nuevo, San Pedro, San Vicente, Hermanas Mirabal, San Martin, Alto de la Javiela and El Capacito, in San Francisco. As a result of the protests Public Works Minister Victor Diaz Rua, Police Chief Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin and INAPA director Mariano German will make their way to San Francisco to meet with civil leaders. Officials hope to reach some type of deal that will stop the protests. Listin Diario writes that two people were killed and 20 injured during the three-day protest.

Fighting the sex trade
The sex trade is third behind drug trafficking and the arms trade as most profitable illegal crime activity. Although the DR has tried to monitor this there are no government policies, or sufficient funds, to help fight the growth of this industry. In an attempt to achieve this, German development agency GTZ is to fund the Proyecto Aura de Esperanza with the aim of promoting public policies and national strategies to help stop the sex trade in the DR. The funds will also be used to provide assistance to victims and sanction those responsible for the trade. Hoy reports that there are at least 400 sex trade networks operating in the DR. Women's organizations and campaign groups including MODEMU, COIN and Aquelarre Support Center are also involved in the initiative. Aquelarre Support Center (CEAPA) director Margot Tapia Luciano explained that human traffickers are able to obtain visas for sex workers because many of these networks have connections within diplomatic circles.

Controversy in Villa Altagracia
Listin Diario is reporting that the Villa Altagracia municipality hired five more councilors than is allowed according to Law 3455, as well as Article 2 of the Constitution, Article 21 of municipal law and articles 32,47,48 and 52 of the Chamber of Accounts law. Also, the city hall had to pay out RD$1.6 million more in salaries and the councilors each took out at least RD$300,000 in loans to purchase new vehicles. The news came to light after a study by the Chamber of Deputies to clarify irregularities at the city hall. The Chamber is recommending that mayor Pedro Peralta, vice mayor Miriam Santana de Leon and council members Santos Baez, Luisa Suero Lorenzo, Maximina Sanchez, Evelyn Andujar Matos, Tomas Reyes Martes and Ruben Dario Mejia Solano should be penalized for misconduct. Other instances of corruption include a piece of land, valued at RD$150,000 and owned by councilor Santos Baez, which was sold to the city hall for RD$4 million.

Aguayo's victory
Dominican sailor Raul Aguayo was crowned champion at the Laser Regatta held in Boca Chica last week. The event was sponsored by the Dominican Sailing Federation and the Spanish Embassy and included some of the sport's top sailors. Sebastian Mera and Guillermo Flaquer came in second and third place, respectively.

Manny, a hot commodity
Not that he needs the money, but slugger Manny Ramirez could be raking even more green this upcoming season as suitors prepare their offers. Ramirez, coming off a career year, split between Boston and Los Angeles, has dispelled rumors that he is over the hill and has many teams wondering what they can do to land Manny. Ramirez has said he wants a long-term deal, five or six years, but given his age that seems unlikely. However, teams are willing to shell out the cash in the short term. Sports Illustrated has reported that the Dodgers could pay Ramirez up to US$27.5 million per year, for a two-year deal, tying him with Alex Rodriguez as the highest paid player in MLB. Last season he batted .332, with 37 home runs and 121 RBI.

Rays come to play
The World Series is under way and the Tampa Bay Rays have decided to make a series out of it. After losing the first game to the Philadelphia Phillies the Rays came out with a vengeance on Thursday, winning the game 4-2. B.J. Upton has continued his MVP post-season and Carlos Pena's defense, as well as offense will be key in bringing a World Series to the Tampa area.

Aguilas get some revenge
The Aguilas were able to get some revenge, or at the very least get the bad taste out of their mouths after their 21-6 thrashing by rival Licey. The Aguilas won last night's game 14-7 and Mendy Lopez joined the ranks of the immortal after hitting his 50th homerun in the Dominican Winter League. Pitching has been missing in action during the Licey/Aguilas series, but fans have been delighted with the potent offensive power.
 
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