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Daily News - Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Bills pass in Congress
The Chamber of Deputies has approved a bill that authorizes the operation of financial free zones in the DR. Also passed is the Ley de Sociedades Comerciales, which seeks to simplify the company formation process. The Ley General de Archivos, which sets up and regulates a national archive system, also received the green light from the deputies. These bills had already been passed by the Senate, and now move on to the Presidency for signing and publication.

7 long weekends in 2009
There will be seven long weekends in 2009, most resulting from movable holidays, according to the new vacation days schedule released by the Ministry of Labor. These include the long New Year's Eve to Three Kings holiday at the end of 2008 and start of 2009, Independence Day (27 February), the long Easter weekend in April, Labor Day long weekend in May, and then Constitution Day long weekend in November, as well as Christmas long weekend and the subsequent New Year's Eve holidays.
For a complete list of all the holidays, see http://dr1.com/travel/prepare/holidays.shtml

Where's the Metro?
The operation of the first 14-km line of the Santo Domingo Metro, an underground and elevated rail system, has not yet received international certification and still has no definite date for opening. Officials have said that the Metro would be open for November, but the date was then pushed back so that it could be open for the holiday season. According to El Caribe, without these international permits the Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET) cannot officially open the Metro to the public. According to El Caribe, OPRET should have secured the permit by the end of October and would have then gone through with a 'dry run' of the trains without passengers on board. But the trial has yet to happen, in part because to complete such a trial OPRET needs all 57 cars. Only 36 of the cars have arrived. Eighteen of the remaining cars should have been delivered by November. Once up and running, the Metro is expected to employ 3,000 people. The first line of the Santo Domingo Metro will operate from Villa Mella in the municipality of Santo Domingo Norte down Maximo Gomez Avenue, with a turn west to the state university and then continuing under Correa y Cidron Avenue to end at the Centro de los Heroes government building area, off Independencia Avenue.

Treasury keeps salaries
The Treasury Department has retained the salaries of 247 government employees for failing to declare their assets. An asset declaration is required when a government employee either takes or leaves a government post. No ministers were on the list of the officials whose salaries were retained and as of yesterday 330 employees had declared their assets. For decentralized government institutions retention of salaries is the responsibility of each departmental director, so there is no guarantee that all government employees who have failed to declare will be punished. There is no precedent on controls or accountability on what was declared at the start of the government officer's term in government and what is the officer's worth after the term.

Rabies warning
Santo Domingo residents are being warned about recent cases of stray dogs found with rabies. Hoy is reporting the death of two people as a result of rabies and 332 cases have been reported so far this year. The Public Health Ministry is calling for the municipal authorities to eradicate stray dogs. Officials are asking residents to be careful when seeing a stray dog. Some critics are claiming that the Public Health Ministry's Anti-Rabies Center has failed to do its job. Others point out that the Center's budget of RD$20 million per year is barely enough to do its job properly.

No guns for holidays
The Ministry of Interior and Police will be implementing a pilot program banning civilians from carrying guns during the holiday season, even if they have legal licenses to do so. Minister Franklin Almeyda made the announcement yesterday. People found with guns from 1 December 2008 through 1 January 2009 will have them confiscated by the authorities. The resolution, nevertheless, does not prohibit civilians from carrying their guns from home to work, or vice versa. The resolution states that the guns should be kept in a vehicle glove compartment or in a handbag, but it would not be available for use. Those found in violation will also have their license revoked, after three faults. According to Listin Diario, 73.4% of people polled agreed with the resolution while 80.6% of those polled agreed that only police officers should be allowed to carry arms. Exempt from the resolution are people described as "at high risk" and eligible for protection by government-authorized personnel.

Get your stickers asap
Friday will be the last day that drivers can get their stickers without paying late fines. Those leaving the purchase of the stickers for the last minute now have to endure long lines. Listin Diario reports that as of yesterday, 100,000 car owners had not secured the stickers for their cars. The stickers cost RD$1,200 for cars 2003 or earlier or RD$2,200 for 2004 and beyond.

UNESCO education report
Despite a great deal of progress since 2000, millions of children, young people and adults in Latin America still lack access to good quality education and the benefits it brings. According to UNESCO, this inequality of opportunity is undermining progress towards achieving the Millennium Goal of "Education for All" by 2015 and is a serious concern for the Dominican Republic. The report indicates that the region is close to universal primary education (UPE). Some 69 million children were enrolled in primary education in 2006, the gross enrollment ratio (GER) stood at 118% and the net enrollment ratio at 94%. However, in countries like the Dominican Republic enrollment ratios have declined since 2000. Learning achievement remains low in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Guatemala where half or more of third grade students have very low reading levels. Lack of funding from the international community cannot be blamed for this lag in Dominican education. Aid for education targets a small number of countries. In 2006 the five largest recipients got 48% of the total share, including Nicaragua (US$113 million, including US$81 for primary education), the Dominican Republic (US$88 million, including US$41 for primary education), Peru (US$66 million), Brazil (US$62 million) and Haiti (US$53 million).
The report's publication coincides with a complaint by Education Minister Melanio Paredes who says that the proposed budget allotment for his department falls short of the funds needed to add new classrooms in 2009 and meet department goals for the year, as reported in Listin Diario. The budgeted allotment was kept at RD$30,935,878,260, the same as in 2008.

Strife in the PLD
There are rumblings of dissent within the PLD ranks, but a recent gag order imposed on members by the party political committee will make it hard for outsiders to learn details about differences between party members. Most of the political committee members are in government.
The conflict within the ruling party has been brewing for a few weeks now, but in order to avoid a public lashing and spilling internal matters into the public debate, the PLD hierarchy has ordered its members to keep tight-lipped on any internal issues and only discuss PLD issues within the party. As protest against the censorship PLD Deputy Elso Segura Martinez sat throughout an entire Congress session with a large piece of tape over his mouth. PLD members Miguel Andujar and Luis Ynchausti agreed with Segura, saying that PLD internal issues cannot be resolved by censoring its members.
Recently, PLD Senator for Peravia, Wilton Guerrero protested against the fact that "those in government have kidnapped the party". Furthermore, Elso Segura had criticized the "greasing" that went on within the PLD majority Congress to push forward several loans, including the US$93 million loan for Brazilian Super Tucano planes. Prominent party member Euclides Gutierrez Felix also warns that if corruption in government is not stopped, even President Fernandez would have to face charges in the future.

CONEP will consider
The National Business Council (CONEP) has agreed to consider a 40% wage increase proposed for workers who make RD$20,000 or less and a 25% increase for workers who make between RD$20,000 and RD$30,000 per month. The decision was made after protesters marched on CONEP's headquarters in Santo Domingo. They began their march at the Lira Park, making their way down Lincoln Avenue, until they reached CONEP headquarters in Torre Empresarial at the corner of Lincoln and Sarasota Avenues. Without specifying details, a spokesperson for the protestors warned that if CONEP doesn't submit a valid offer there would be more protests. Members of CNUS, CASC and CNTD unions all took part in the march.

Cap Cana gets reprieve
Cap Cana, the southernmost luxury development on the Punta Cana beach strip has announced that the composition of the lenders under its US$100 million Bridge Loan, dated as of November 20, 2007, has changed and that the default for non-payment of principal that occurred on 19 November 2008 has been waived.
The holding company also announced that the final maturity of the Bridge Loan has been extended until 29 December 2008, giving the company more time to define restructuring alternatives. Cap Cana was advised by the Weston Group on this transaction and represented by Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP.
Cap Cana was relying on US$250 million in financing from Lehman Brothers that didn't materialize after the bank's recent collapse.

Kidnappers caught
Brothers Hipolito and Jose Luis Caba Tineo have been arrested for kidnapping San Pedro de Macoris businessman Luis Manuel Lantigua, who was taken from his home on 3 November. Lantigua was held by his captors for 17 days before they released him in Bonao. Juan, Jose and Ruben Cisneros are being sought for questioning in connection with the case. Listin Diario reports that Hipolito has already admitted to taking part in the kidnappings. The media reported that a ransom was paid for Lantigua's release, but no concrete details of any sum were ever revealed.

From the gossip mill
It seems that initial reports of Alex Rodriguez's "relationship" with songstress Madonna turned out to be true. But A-Rod's Turkey decision has irked his ex-wife. The New York Post is reporting that A-Rod has decided to celebrate Thanksgiving in New York with Madonna and her kids, instead of staying in Miami with his soon-to-be ex-wife and their two young daughters. According to the Post Cynthia sent an e-mail message to a confidant saying that her ex-husband to-be does not have a soul in his body, preferring to spend Thanksgiving with Madonna. Reports also indicate that Rodriguez has already presented Cynthia with divorce papers and is just waiting for her to sign.

More ferocious fencing
The DR continued its success during the Central American and Caribbean Fencing Tournament being held in Boca Chica. Ten countries are competing in the event. Rossy Felix and Hector Castro won gold medals giving the DR a total of fourteen medals, including four gold, two silver and eight bronze medals.

Baseball update
Could the Leones be making that improbable push out of the cellar and into the hunt for the post-season? Sure looks like it as the Escogido pulled off another win last night, making four wins in a row. Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a game-tying homerun while Tony Batista hit a double, which turned out to be the game-winning run. Playing against the Toros, the Escogido took the lead in the third inning and never looked back.
Juan Francisco, Victor Mendez, Nelson Cruz, Kendry Morales and William Venable hit seven homeruns between them to guide the Gigantes to a 16-8 thumping against the Tigres del Licey. The game was decided early on thanks to the Gigante's bats and continued play by the Gigantes could get them a championship season.
In last night's final game the Estrellas Orientales pulled off an improbable late inning win after Michael Martinez hit a game-winning single past the shortstop giving the Estrellas a 3-2 win over the Aguilas. Though the win doesn't do much for the Estrellas' post-season chances, each game they win gives them the title of season spoiler assuring they have a final say on who plays in the post-season.
Team W-L Avg. Games Behind
GIGANTES 18 - 12 .600 --
LICEY 19 - 13 .594 --
TOROS 18 - 14 .563 1.0
AGUILAS 17 - 13 .567 1.0
ESCOGIDO 15 - 16 .484 3.5
ESTRELLAS 6 - 25 .194 12.5
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