Year of Juan Bosch|
The Executive Branch has officially named 2009 as the Year of the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Juan Bosch, the late poet, novelist and thinker who served as President of the Dominican Republic for seven months (Feb-Sept 1963) and founded the ruling PLD party. Decree 247-08 highlights that Bosch is an unsurpassable point of reference for politics and morals in the DR, a source of national pride, a political mentor and humanist of great sensibility and firm convictions. Bosch was born on 30 June 1909 and died on 1 November 2001. He was survived by his widow Carmen Quidiello.
Fernandez attends PR inaugural|
President Leonel Fernandez traveled to Puerto Rico on Friday, 2 January to attend the inauguration ceremony for the new Governor of Puerto Rico Luis Fortuno in San Juan. Fernandez returned home the next day. He traveled with Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso, Presidency Minister Cesar Pina Toribio, legal advisor Abel Rodriguez del Orbe and press secretary Rafael Nunez.
While in Puerto Rico, Fernandez held discussions with the new governor and both men agreed to resume the Puerto Rico-Dominican Republic Strategic Alliance to promote trade, investment and look into joint energy programs (natural gas and ethanol) in the framework of the DR-CAFTA free trade agreement.
Free rides on Metro over|
The free Metro rides program concluded yesterday, with officials labeling it a successful three-week test run during the holidays. Officials will now evaluate the three-week program and fine-tune the operation before officially opening the Metro to the public at a yet to be confirmed date. Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET) official Leonel Carrasco praised passengers' good behavior during the trial run, adding that it seemed as if many were already familiar with riding metros. It is expected to cost RD$25 per ride once open to the public.
Central Bank cuts interest rates|
As of Friday, 2 January, Central Bank announced cuts in the overnight deposit interest from 9.5% to 8.5%. The bank also announced a 2% drop in the so-called Lombarda interest rate, from 16 to 14%. In a press release, the Central Bank says the measure marks the start of a downward trend that will continue in February. The bank attributes the decline in interest rates to inflation closing at 4.52% for 2008, which is below expectations. The Central Bank says that the decline in the interest rates is consistent with the behavior of fuel prices and domestic demand, and that inflation in the DR was negative in October, November and December. Business sector spokesmen applauded the measure.
The Central Bank reports that inflation during the last quarter of 2008 fell by 5.63% due to the decrease in international petroleum prices. Due to this decrease in quarterly inflation, the accumulated inflation for 2008 registered at 4.52%, which is the lowest in seven years and almost half of the 2008 inflation rate of 8.8%. The Central Bank notes that single digit inflation represents great progress, despite the fact that September saw a 10.76% inflation rate. However, the report indicates the single digit inflation was a result of a -1.05%, -3.28% and -1.40% decrease in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) during the months of October, November and December.
Metal exports up!|
The headline is correct and Dominican metal exports are up, according to the Dominican Republic Center for Exports and Investment (CEI-RD). During the first 10 months of 2008 the DR exported US$44.6 million in metal for a 40.3% growth rate. In 2007 the DR only exported US$31.8 million worth of metals. Metal exports make up 6.6% of non-traditional exports, which totaled US$1.07 million. Metal exports are also the fourth largest Dominican export after steel rods, sugar cane, rum and cement. What's most surprising about these figures is that the metal being exported here is not mined in the DR. While some is legitimate scrap metal, the increase in metal exports coincides with an increase in theft of manhole covers and other metal installations from public and private property across the country.
More taxes for government|
The Department of Taxes (DGII) expects to collect upwards of RD$7 billion more in 2009 than in 2008, thanks to new programs that will be implemented this year. One of the new programs, involving the installation of cash registers directly linked to the DGII at leading stores nationwide will be fully in effect in July 2009. Tests are already under way.
This year the DGII is also establishing the Proyecto de Simplificacion Tributaria, a project that seeks to simplify tax reporting and is especially targeted to independent professionals and small businesses. Those adhering to the new program get a break from the tedious accounting and tax reporting schemes currently in place. Taxes would be paid on revenues at a fixed rate of 25-15%.
The DGII also expects increased collections to come from efforts of their new offices that are being opened in Santo Domingo city, Santo Domingo East, Santiago and La Romana. Tax collections are estimated to increase from RD$159 billion to RD$165 billion in 2009. Half of this increase is expected to come from the cash register program that is aimed at reducing tax evasion.
Government jobs up 43%|
The Dominican government continues to strengthen its position as the country's leading employer. El Caribe reports that while in December 2004, six months into the change of administration from the PRD to the PLD, the number of paid posts in central government increased from 287,275 to 410,861. According to the Social Security Treasury Department, another 123,795 are on decentralized department payrolls.
The PRD government has already been criticized for excess employment. This means the central government payroll increased from RD$2.3 billion as of December 2004 to RD$4.8 billion as of November 2008.
Decentralized institutions have a separate budget that adds another RD$1.95 billion to this total, for a total RD$6.75 billion on the government employee payroll. This does not include the multiple perks that government employees receive, such as a generous luxury vehicle purchase plans, fuel, cell phone and travel allowances.
El Caribe says the Controller General figures do not include employees in the Judicial Branch (Supreme Court, state prosecutors, among others), the Legislative Branch (Congress), the Central Electoral Board (JCE), the Chamber of Accounts, Customs and the Department of Taxes that have budgetary and administrative independence from the Central Government.
According to government statistics, the central government ministries with the greatest number employees on their payrolls are:
Education 92,423 or 22% (most are administrative not teachers)
Armed Forces 53,114 (13%)
Public Health 49,141 (12%)
Interior & Police 32,976 (8%)
El Caribe provides a sample of the number of employees on the payrolls of decentralized government institutions:
Dominican Social Security Institute 8,630
Banco de Reservas 6,976
Santo Domingo Municipality 6,063
National Potable Water Institute (INAPA) 5,582
Customs Department 4,950
Central Bank 3,415
Dominican Agrarian Institute 3,193
Santo Domingo Water Corporation (CAASD) 2,887
Tax Department 2,710
Chamber of Deputies 2,569
National Lottery 2,440
Government to pay for crashes|
The Dominican government will continue to pay RD$12.50 per affiliate to the health insurance provider plans (ARS). National Social Security Council (CNSS) president Max Puig said the government would keep the payments to the National Fund for Traffic Accidents (Fonamat) as it has been doing over the past 15 months since the start of the family insurance plans (SFS). Puig said that the Social Security Law 87-01 establishes that the government should guarantee the adequate operation of the plan. The ARS had threatened to not cover any traffic accidents suffered by their affiliates as of 1 January 2009. The government allotted RD$400 million to cover accidents between September 2007 and December 2008.
Fernandez explains pardons|
President Leonel Fernandez called a press conference over the holiday break to give his reasons for pardoning convicted Baninter banker Vivian Lubrano and four men convicted for the Plan Renove transport fraud. Lubrano had been sentenced to five years in jail for her active role in the RD$55 billion scam by the bank in 2003, and the pardoned transport union leaders were accused of billions worth of profiteering at taxpayers' expense, backed up by reports issued by the General Controllers office. The government spent millions in public money to prosecute the cases. President Fernandez said his decision was based on humanitarian reasons due to their delicate health conditions. President Fernandez had not called a press conference open to questions from the press in years.
The press conference came on the heels of reports that after being pardoned on 22 December, Lubrano left the Abel Gonzalez clinic where she had been staying instead of at the Najayo Jail and was spotted getting her hair highlighted at a beauty salon in Jarabacoa, a mountain resort area. Following the public uproar in the wake of the presidential pardons, Lubrano returned to the Abel Gonzalez clinic and is now reported to be considering an overseas trip for medical treatment for a heart condition.
From January to September 2008, 343 deaths occurred in exchanges of fire with the Police. Most of the killings took place in Santo Domingo, San Cristobal, Santiago, Puerto Plata, Espaillat (Moca) and La Altagracia provinces. The Police say the people killed were all criminals. El Caribe newspaper reports that 20 were killed in crossfire incidents last week alone.
Father Rogelio Cruz says that violence is not controlled by killing, but by providing young people with social and educational alternatives. He recalled the success of the sports, music and information technology educational programs he organized when he served as parish priest at the Cristo Rey slum area.
Sociologist Ramon Tejada Holguin said that these extrajudicial killings are wrong. He said there is evidence that people without criminal records have also died in the shootings.
But Police Chief Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin says, "I will continue to fight organized crime in a direct manner without a second thought for lawbreakers," he told El Caribe.
The Police deny reports that recent civilian deaths at the hands of police are extrajudicial executions. Police Chief Guzman, quoted in Hoy, is unapologetic about the shootings. He said that the criminals are known to shoot at police, military personnel and hardworking citizens. He said the police would not stop doing its job and that criminals must know that they will pay for breaking the law.
Farms to become jails|
The State General Prosecutor's Office has announced that farms once owned by former military captain Quirino Ernesto Paulino Castillo would be turned into jails. Two jails will be built on the properties formerly owned by the extradited drug trafficker in the province of San Juan de la Maguana, covering a total area of 3,800 tareas. No details on the size of the facilities or whether they would be high, medium or low-security prisons. Though Quirino was extradited to the US for illegally trafficking drugs, the US and Dominican governments agreed that the DR government would receive all properties and assets formerly owned by Paulino Castillo. Not all is bad news for the Paulino family though. Diario Libre reported last week that the Dominican state will return RD$200 million in assets and all of Paulino's properties in Elias Pina to the family. Eighteen of Quirino's relatives will also be allowed to leave the DR to live in the US, as part of a plea deal made by Quirino. The family begins its departure on 15 January.
Constitutionalists continue fight|
The hunger strike by Constitutionalist soldiers who were promised a pension by President Leonel Fernandez is now in its 12th day. Hoy reports that the protestors' health is quickly deteriorating. Originally 22 men started the hunger strikes and now only five remain. They claim that President Fernandez promised to give them pensions as former Armed Forces members. The men fought on the side of the Constitutional government during the civil strife in the DR in the 1960s.
UASD copycat found|
Advertising student Ibrahim Rodriguez has been identified as the creator of a fake UASD University webpage. Rodriguez, a Cuban national, is reported to be a web designer. No word on whether he will be charged with anything, however Rodriguez claims no wrongdoing and says he was only trying the help UASD students. It was originally reported that a webpage www.UASD.com.do with a similar layout to the UASD's official site (www.UASD.edu.do) was being used by students and was feared to have interfered with upcoming registrations. The copycat page is still up with a message from Rodriguez, where he defends his actions.
Things are getting interesting as the Dominican Winter League round robin tournament enters its final stages. The Gigantes, who in previous years have had monstrous late-year collapses, have maintained their status, winning five of their eight tournament games, and taking the top position in the standings. The Tigres have stayed on the heels of the Gigantes, also winning five of their eight games. The Tigres have looked strong as of late, after a shaky regular season. Surprisingly enough the Toros are still in the playoff hunt, being only 1.5 games out of the lead. And in an odd twist the Aguilas, last year's tournament champions, are sitting in the cellar with a 2-5 record. In last night's action the Tigres continued to add to the Aguilas' misery with and 8-2 pounding at the Estadio Cibao while the Gigantes gave the Toros a pounding with a 6-1 victory.
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