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Daily News - Friday, 21 November 2008

Budget kept the same
The National Development Council meeting of 19 government ministers has approved a RD$329 billion budget for 2009, up from RD$300 million in 2008. On the whole, government departments will get the same allocations as in the 2008 budget. Of the RD$29 million difference, RD$17 billion will go to cover wage and pension increases that were approved in 2007 and were covered by extraordinary tax collections (Complementary Budget Law) this year. Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa says the budget does not include new wage increases or concessions to the Dominican Medical Association (CMD) for wage increases to public hospital doctors, as reported in Hoy. Bengoa says that any wage increases will have to be negotiated directly with Congress.
Bengoa denied reports that the government was considering raising taxes. He said this would be counterproductive in the light of the international economic recession.
The bill was based on a RD$34.7 to the US$1 exchange rate. Bengoa said the government expects 3% GDP and 7.35% inflation in 2009. He expects the tax burden to decline from 15% to 14 in 2009. On the positive side, he said they estimated the country's fuel bill would be RD$8.2 billion less than in 2008.

Nurses at Congress
Nurses picketed in front of Congress yesterday, demanding a 100% salary raise and other concessions. Three nurses' unions protested in front of Congress as union leaders met with lawmakers. Nurses have held a series of strikes in order to pressure the government, but it seems unlikely the nurses will get their demands in the 2009 budget. The 2009 budget was kept at the same level as that of 2008.

Shell passes to government
The government has become the sole owner of the Dominican Petroleum Refinery (REFIDOMSA). Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa said that the year-long negotiations with the Shell Company had now concluded. Shell used to own 50% of the company until it agreed to sell its stake for US$110 million. The purchase of Shell is part of President Leonel Fernandez's 2007 energy saving plan. Fernandez explained that the purchase of Shell could allow the government to access more petroleum under the PetroCaribe agreement.

Exports could fall
Dr. Ricardo Koening, president of the Dominican Exporters Association (ADOPEX) says he expects Dominican exports to decrease in 2009, adding there is the concern that many Dominican products will lose market share. Koening added that after the holiday rush there would be a "2009 hangover." Koening explained that Dominicans would have to deal with the reality that demand and prices for exports are likely to drop.

Exports to EU increase
According to Foreign Relations Minster Carlos Morales Troncoso, exports to Europe have exceeded the US$600 million mark, making the signing of the EPA agreement between CARICOM and the European Union even more relevant. Morales stressed the potential benefits of the agreement for the DR, in an interview with today's Listin Diario. Morales said that the main exports to the EU were bananas, coffee, cacao, rum and sugar. Morales also spoke about the potential of increased participation by the Dominican service sector in Europe including woodworkers, plumbers and electricians. The EU has a consumer base of 480 million people.

Guerra against risky boat trips
Dominican singer songwriter Juan Luis Guerra is once again lending his name to an important cause. The singer is leading a campaign against illegal trips by Dominicans to Puerto Rico. Guerra says he's worried by recent reports of numerous trips to the neighboring island, especially those that end in great tragedies. Guerra said he would do whatever possible to get the message out about the danger of such trips. This is the second time that Guerra joins the effort to raise awareness among Dominicans about the dangers they face when attempting the difficult crossing of the Mona Passage. In 2005 he took part in the national campaign "Illegal trips are death," which was supported by the US Embassy in the DR.

Navy continues search
The Navy has announced that it will continue searching for a boat carrying illegal migrants to Puerto Rico. Though the US Coast Guard and Puerto Rican rescue crews have called off any further searches, the Dominican Navy says it will continue searching a large area until they find the small craft. The boat disappeared a week ago, and as the days pass any hope of finding survivors lessens. According to an unidentified woman interviewed by Hoy, news reports that only 97 people were on the boat are incorrect. The woman says she jumped off the boat shortly after it departed, claiming there were 139 people on board, 110 men and 29 women, one of whom was pregnant. The woman, described as a mother of four, said she jumped off the boat 200 meters offshore when she overheard the captain say the vessel was too full and could sink. The woman also said that the actual price for the trip was RD$60,000, but those making the crossing only had to pay RD$10,000 upfront. The remainder was to be paid in Puerto Rico once they found jobs.

Supreme Court fire
An explosion in an electrical generator caused a fire at the offices of the Supreme Court of Justice in the Centro de los Heroes, forcing a full evacuation of the premises this morning. No one was reported injured, but there was mass panic.
Supreme Court president, Jorge Subero Isa said that the explosion happened because of the excessive use of the power plant located in the basement. The plant was used continuously when regular power service to the building was interrupted after an outside transformer was damaged. Subero said there were no victims nor damage to any documents.
Subero said work would resume on Monday as usual.

Sun Land verdict on 17 Dec
Supreme Court of Justice president Jorge Subero Isa announced today that the Sun Land case decision would be announced on 17 December.
The announcement comes after the full body of the Supreme Court heard arguments for declaring the entire Sun Land contract in violation of the Constitution. The US$130 million loan package was signed for a long list of construction projects that were never completed with the funds. The judges met behind closed doors in the Council Chamber to listen to arguments from the president of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) Ramon Alburquerque and PRD secretary general Orlando Jorge Mera. The Justice Department, in its opinion, requested to dismiss the PRD appeal. Supreme Court president Jorge Subero Isa said that everything would be done according to the rules of the process and in the order of precedence established by the court.
The US$130 million loan that was signed by the director of the Public Works Office of Supervising Engineers, Felix Bautista and the finance company, and another one for US$200 million with the Ministry of Public Works with the same company, but which was not executed because the company claimed it did not have the resources available.
The appeal states that the Presidential Office of Supervising Engineers and Sun Land signed the contract for the construction of priority projects for the Dominican state, supplying equipment and materials, together with 19 IOUs, each one for US$6.8 million where the Dominican Republic is cited as the responsible party for payment of the debt. The PRD has also objected to the US$200 million loan by means of a suit for unconstitutionality. This loan was signed by the former Minister of Public Works, Freddy Perez with Sun Land but it was never executed.

'Guachi' business grows
The number of security businesses in the DR has increased considerably over the last four years, with the National District at the center of this growth. Hoy writes that there were 143 such businesses in 2004, increasing to 228 in 2008. According to Private Security Superintendent Major General Luis Ramon Payan Areche, an estimated 30,000 people work in the private security sector. These security guards are known as a "Guachiman," a Domicanization of the English term "watchman". The boom in demand for private security services is directly related to the increase in crime in the city.

Army Officer killed
For the second time in as many weeks a security official has been killed in a violent act. Unknown assailants shot 27-year old Sergeant Roberto Jaquez Angomas yesterday. He was a parachutist with the Army and was also assigned to the Tactical Reaction Unit at the National Drug Control Department. Few details have surfaced, but what is known is that he was shot twice, once in the shoulder and once in the leg, at the Plaza Jose Francisco Pena Gomez. Officials have not discussed whether his murder was related to his work in drug trafficking. He leaves a wife and one daughter.
Last week Police Major Paula Mercedes was shot as she entered her house. Suspects have been arrested in that case.

Parties have no credibility
Miguel Angel Encinas, coordinator of the Spanish International Cooperation Agency for Development (AECID) Technical Office says that Dominicans have lost confidence in political parties and the parties have lost credibility because they haven't been able to tailor their programs to the realities of the public. Encinas says that the public, especially women and young people, has even less confidence in their local government and in politics in general.
On the other hand, the AECID recently announced it has allocated EUR8 million for disaster prevention and response programs in the DR. Miguel Angel Encinas said the funds would help mitigate the damage caused by natural disasters. Nevertheless, he said the money would only be available once AECID ensures that there is an administrative structure to handle the donation.
See http://aecid.org.do

Air Dominicana stuck?
Diario Libre reports that the US$60 million plane purchased by Air Dominicana (AD) has not been moved from the airport in Santo Domingo because the company hasn't secured the necessary flight permits and clearance. Diario Libre writes that the Turks & Caicos and Venezuela have not cleared the flights. Reports indicate that internal squabbles and indecision on how to divide up revenue has also delayed AD's launch. Insiders suggest that purchasing that particular plane, a Boeing 737-800, and at that price, was not the best way to launch the airline. Technical problems have also added another level of concern. AD bought the plane from Air Europa, which has a 35% stake in Air Dominicana.

Winter winds are here
There has been a noticeable drop in temperatures in recent days, marking the arrival of the Christmas season for Dominicans. Strong breezes have made once-smoldering hot afternoons more pleasant. Residents of Santo Domingo can be seen walking around at night with light sweaters to keep them warm. Meteorologists say temperatures will oscillate between 21 C and 29 C. Meteorologists are also forecasting moderate to light rains throughout the country. The cooler temperatures make Santo Domingo a most enjoyable city, especially for pedestrians.

Baseball updates
A timely walk by Jake Fox was all the Tigres needed for a 6-5 victory over the Gigantes. The Tigres have come roaring back into the playoff picture and are now in first place in the Winter League standings. The Aguilas also kept pace last night with a 7-2 smashing of the Estrellas. Though the Aguilas have continued their upward climb, the Estrellas are continuing to be the league's doormat. Last night's game between the Escogido and Toros was suspended and will be played at a later date.
Team W-L Avg. Games Behind
LICEY 17 - 11 .607 --
GIGANTES 16 - 11 .593 0.5
TOROS 16 - 11 .593 0.5
AGUILAS 16 - 11 .593 0.5
ESCOGIDO 11 - 16 .407 5.5
ESTRELLAS 6 - 22 .214 10.5

Busy weekend
As usual there are a dozen very worthy events happening in Santo Domingo, the cultural capital of the Caribbean. The II Global Film Festival is taking place in Santo Domingo (and also in movie halls in Santiago, Puerto Plata, Higuey and Nagua), Haitian legendary painter Sacha Tebo is exhibiting at Arawak Art Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art is hosting the IX Biennial of International Architecture, internationally-acclaimed Jaime Colson opened at the Bellapart Art Museum, Johnny Ventura has a nostalgia night at the Teatro La Fiesta on Friday, Masters & Friends is at the Centro Dominico-Aleman with music of the 60s and 70s, and there is car racing at the Mobil 1 Autodrome off Las Americas Expressway, among other events.
For details, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
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