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Daily News - Friday, 31 October 2008

Fernandez in El Salvador
During his speech at the XVIII Ibero-American Heads Of State Conference being held in El Salvador, President Leonel Fernandez said that the biggest challenge for young people in Central America is education. Fernandez says that in the Latin American context education is only referenced as a percentage of national GDP and nothing else. According to Fernandez, spending on education below 4% of the GDP is insufficient and there is no future with that model. The DR currently allocates just 2.3% of its GDP towards education. Fernandez added that teaching children how to think should be the basic element of 21st century education. "The fundamental problem in our countries is that our children haven't been taught to think, but to memorize text, which they don't always understand." Fernandez also urged his counterparts not to get caught up in "apocalyptic visions" that have surfaced in reaction to the international financial crisis. He is urging Latin American countries to work together to make the most of the "revolution" that is taking place. Fernandez says these are precarious times and that Latin American nations are experiencing uncertainty. Commenting on the US financial crisis, Fernandez said that the markets have yet to react to a bailout package of close to US$1 trillion.

Paredes has lofty goals
Education Minister Melanio Paredes is aiming to get 2.5% of the national budget for education, and says this is a feasible goal. Paredes says that by the end of the current administration the government will have spent between 4% and 6% of the GDP on education, which is the regional rate. Hoy notes that Paredes made his comments despite the fact that the DR registered lower than expected revenue for 2008, making it difficult to grant all the resources needed to education. However, Paredes responded by saying that as the economy grows, spending on education should grow accordingly. The national budget designated RD$26.7 billion towards education for 2008, which is only 2.33% of the budget.

Government denounces violence
Senate president Reinaldo Pared Perez and his Haitian counterpart Kelly Bastien have denounced the violence in Neiba earlier this week, which resulted in the deaths of three men and the injury of 11 others. While condemning the acts, Pared also guaranteed the safety of residents in Neiba, including any Haitians who are in the DR legally or illegally. Bastien and other Haitian officials are calling for guarantees about the safety of Haitians living in the DR. Pared said, "we condemn these acts that should not be supported with any reasonable person. These are barbaric acts by people who are taking advantage of a simple, isolated incident in order to engage in abusive acts against Haitian citizens who live in our country." Haitian Ambassador to the DR Fritz Cineas and Dominican Attorney General Radhames Jimenez also condemned the acts and called for calm and harmony in Neiba. Pared's statement comes days after violence erupted in Neiba when a motorbike taxi (motoconcho) driver, Julio Cesar Diaz Perez, was murdered with a machete by a Haitian national who was trying to steal his motorbike. This sparked anger in Neiba with citizens taking to the streets and attacking innocent Haitians. In all 470 Haitians were repatriated as a result. Supreme Court president Jorge Subero Isa said that special attention should be paid to the situation in Neiba because it could escalate into a serious problem.

Snowballing bureaucracy
Civil society group Participacion Ciudadana says that since taking office on 16 August 2008 President Leonel Fernandez has appointed 320 deputy ministers, while the law only calls for 52. In the same period 53 ministers have been appointed, of whom only 20 have the title of minister of state and the rest are ministers without portfolio. PC attributes this to the culture of clientilism. According to PC the Ministers are paid a total of RD$249 million per year, not including per diems, vehicles, gas and other expenses. PC coordinator Francisco Checo says that these excesses in the administrative payrolls go against the intended rational use of public funds. He asked the rhetorical question, "why are there 37 deputy ministers in the Agricultural Ministry, when the law only calls for three?" Checo also identified the Ministries of Sports, Public Health, Environment, Agriculture and Industry and Commerce as the ministries with the largest number of deputy ministers. According to Checo, the ministers without portfolio represent the culture of clientilism because it is a way of rewarding party members and supporters.

IDB lends money
Hoy is reporting that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) will loan US$40 million to the power distributors for the purpose of improving the electricity system. The funds will allow the three major distributors - EdeSur, EdeEste and EdeNorte - to purchase better equipment to improve their services to the public. The money will also be used to implement a theft prevention system to limit the amount of stolen electricity. The program has been developed in coordination with the IDB, the World Bank and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) International Development Fund.

Energy sector ailing
Listin Diario writes that the energy sector is on the verge of collapse and that the recent blackouts reported are far worse than those registered last week. Aside from no production from the AES, San Felipe, Los Minas and others, there is minimal generation from hydroelectric plants. Listin writes the energy deficit registered 1,021MW yesterday afternoon and reports that some sectors are experiencing 24-hour blackouts. AES, which was supposed to go back online this week, failed to do so, and so far no explanation has been provided. The government was supposed to pay off AES US$184 million, but has yet to do so, and some suggest that this is the reason the generator is still offline. The government owes the generators US$354 million and the State Electricity Companies (CDEEE) admitted that some of the generators have gone offline in order to put pressure on the government and citizens to pay their bills. AES, which also controls Los Minas V and VI, also went offline, but Listin reports that this is because of a lack of fuel. EGE-Haina and CESPM (San Pedro de Macoris) are also offline, however CESPM is offline as a result of administrative orders. EGE-Haina says it has no fuel.

Government calls for fare adjustment
The Land Transport Office (OTTT) has called for urban, suburban and inter-urban bus fares to be reduced by RD$2 to RD$30, depending on the kilometers traveled. The OTTT also said that AMET traffic police would be enforcing this. Transport union leaders said they are in no position to reduce bus fares because the government has yet to fulfill its side of an agreement signed in July aimed at reducing the prices of petroleum derivatives and spare parts. OTTT director Franklin Beltre Cabral said that any transporter who fails to adhere to the new resolution would have their vehicle impounded and would not be allowed to drive on their route. CNTU and CONATRA bus unions say they have already reduced their fares, but passengers are complaining that drivers keep charging the previous rates, which are RD$5 to RD$20 higher. Transport union leaders have reacted angrily to the OTTT's declarations, saying they do not have the legal force to impound vehicles or the right to ask for fare decreases. CNTU president Ramon Perez Figuereo said, "we will not yield to any blackmail or pressure from the government."

No more extraction
Gravel extraction company Osoria & Asociados has signed an agreement promising to stop extracting gravel from the Rio Yuna and will remove their extraction equipment and vehicles effective immediately. The agreement was signed at the Bonao Country Club at an event attended by more than 50 organizations. This agreement comes as the environmentalists and the Environment Ministry are trying to reduce the amount of gravel and sand extracted form the nation's rivers. Last week Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez closed down two extraction companies, saying they would not be reopened. Fernandez reiterated that extensions on extraction laws would not be granted.

Mexico main tourism competitor
The Central Bank's monthly report on the tourism sector reveals that Mexico has become the DR's main competitor for the North American tourist market. According to Hoy the devaluation in the Mexican peso has made Mexico a cheaper alternative and the principal competitor for the DR. With the downturn in the US economy and the need for Americans to save as much as possible, Mexico could become a more financially savvy tourist destination. The report indicates that in the last nine months 2,729,996 tourists from 27 countries came to the DR. This is a 3.6% increase compared to January-September 2007, when 95,618 people came to the DR. Of the total amount, 87.3% of visitors were non-resident tourists.

Legislation affects Dominicans
The US House of Representatives has passed legislation aimed at combating the use of fraudulent calling cards. Campaigners estimate that Dominicans waste US$30,000 per day in misleading phone cards, which only contain 60% of the minutes advertised after the hidden charges and fees. The legislation declared that the calling card industry is "plagued by fraudulent and deceptive business practices," and this new legislation is an attempt to combat that. The bill passed with an overwhelming majority. The legislation came after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched an investigation into the industry. The investigation concluded that card companies only deliver an average of 60% of the minutes promised due to charges that are hidden from the consumer. National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg stated in testimony to the FTC, "[The calling card industry] is a 'Wild West' of sellers and merchants who too often prey upon the most vulnerable consumers by promising minutes they don't deliver and loading up on hidden or undisclosed charges and fees." The bill has yet to be passed in the Senate. The bill, HR3042, was sponsored by Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY, who represents one of the largest Dominican communities in the US. Since Dominican-Americans make up a sizable percentage of international callers, this legislation will have a profound effect on them.

DR leads youth unemployment
The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 5.1 million young people in Central America are unemployed, and this figure includes 627,000 jobless youth in the DR. According to the ILO report, the DR has the highest youth unemployment rate in the region with a rate of 30.4%, followed by Panama (18.9%) and Costa Rica (13.9%). The report also indicates that of the 10 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 living in the region, a little less than half, or 4.5%, are economically active. In all, an estimated 2.3 million young people in Panama, Costa Rica and the DR neither work nor study.

Child labor high
There are 155,000 working children between the ages of 5 and 17 in the DR. It is not known how many of them are involved in the sex trade, agricultural work, collecting trash or other dangerous work. Though this is a high figure, amounting to 5.3% of the total youth population, it is a 3.5% decrease from 2004 when the National Workforce Study (ENFT) was conducted. This figure is significantly down from 2000 when 436,000, or 18.1% of children worked. However the DR still registered high numbers in comparison to other countries in the region. Hoy reports that of these children 26.5% don't go to school while 74.5% of these children juggle work and school.

DR makes strides to save ozone layer
Although the DR has been among regional leaders in the elimination of ozone depleting substances as part of the Montreal Protocol, the country still has work to do to remove toxic substances, including those found in air conditioners and in old vehicles. UN representative Paul Horwitz said the nation still had to remove chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). In all, 193 countries have signed the Montreal Protocol and it is expected that the ozone layer will have fully recovered by 2030 thanks to these measures. The DR has reduced its levels of ozone-depleting substances by 90% since 1993, going from 900 metric tons in 1993 to 43.6 metric tons in 2007.

Infant mortality rate same
The DR's infant mortality has been registered at 32 per 1000 live births (0.03%) since 2002 with no significant change in the figures. According to researcher Frank Caceres, these figures reflect deficiencies in the country's health sector and its health model. As an example, Caceres mentioned that 17% of all children in the DR still live in houses with dirt floors, 2 out 3 of those houses don't have running water, while 5 out of every 100 houses doesn't have a sanitation system. Cacares compared the DR to Cuba, which has an infant mortality rate of 5/1000.

Baseball updates
Last night the Gigantes continued their winning ways after beating the second place Toros 13-8. It turned out to be a slugfest between the league's top two teams, but in the end the Toros lost out on an opportunity to jump back into first place.
Team W-L Avg. Games Behind
GIGANTES 10 - 2 .818 --
TOROS 8 - 4 .700 2.0
ESCOGIDO 6 - 6 .500 3.5
LICEY 5 - 7 .417 4.5
AGUILAS 5 - 7 .417 4.5
ESTRELLAS 2 - 10 .167 7.5

Tonight's game
Estadio Quisqueya, Santo Domingo, 7:30pm: Azucareros vs. Licey
Estadio Cibao, Santiago, 8pm: Escogido vs. Aguilas
Estadio Tetelo Vargas, San Pedro de Macoris, 8pm: Gigantes vs. Estrellas

Six Grammy nominations for Pasian
Young singer Karina Pasian, a New Yorker of Dominican descent, has hit it big with her voice and has been rewarded with six Grammy award nominations for her first album, "First Love." She has been nominated for Album of the Year, Artist of the Year, Best Singer, Song of the Year, Best New Female Artist of the Year and Best Musical Production. The New York-born 17-year old has been paying her dues in the music business since she was a young child and is the first person of Dominican descent to have received six Grammy nominations. Pasian says it is a great honor to have been nominated for the awards. Pasian, who is currently signed with Def Jam Music, can sing in six languages and is a star piano player.
For her full biography click here: www.defjam.com/site/artist_bio.php?artist_id=629
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