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Daily News - Monday, 12 January 2009

Constitution discussions
President Leonel Fernandez summoned a special session of Congress from 14 January to 25 February to study the major reforms he is proposing for the Constitution. The discussions are expected to take up most of legislators' time. Constitutional reform talks have been under way for the last three years, and the 2009 undertaking would be the broadest in 40 years. Fernandez is proposing that the Constitution should include 273 articles, up from the current 122. There have been some concerns that the continued revisions weaken the Constitution, while others would have preferred specialists to reform the Constitution, instead of leaving it up to the legislators. The ruling PLD party is majority in Congress.

Colombian Minister on official visit
Colombian Foreign Relations Minister Jaime Bermudez is in the DR today, on an official state visit. He is in the DR at the invitation of Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso. Bermudez will attend a luncheon with local business leaders, following on from activities organized by the Dominican Embassy in Bogota in December 2008. The Dominican Republic Center for Export and Investment (CEI-RD) director Eddy Martinez was present at that event. During his official visit, Bermudez will discuss issues of regional integration as well as increased cooperation in the area of fighting drug trafficking, education, culture and science. Officials will also discuss the possible exploitation of coal found in Samana and the construction of a natural gas and petroleum marine platform in the DR.

Green nation
Directors of the Plan Nacional Quisqueya Verde say that the DR's forestation levels have increased from 27% in 1997 to 33% in 2008. This means the DR is on track to exceed its goal of 35% forestation by 2015. Technical director Elias Vargas said that new tree planting was proceeding at a faster rate than expected. Plan Quisqueya Verde director Jose Enrique Baez said that almost a million trees are being planted around the DR during planting season. Baez says that Costa Rica, Chile and Bolivia are interested in learning from the experience of the Dominican project with a view to replicating it in their countries, and have sent officials to study its implementation. The Plan Nacional Quisqueya is operating in 70 communities across three provinces of the DR and it is expected that Quisqueya Verde will receive RD$70 million in 2009 to continue its forestation projects.

DGII gives reminder
The Tax Department (DGII) is reminding the public that the 15th and the 31st of January will be the last days to sign up for the Simplified Tax Process (PST), a new initiative that will ease the process of paying taxes for small and medium-sized businesses. The PST allows for businesses to declare taxes based on purchases (companies with sales up to RD$30 million a year) and revenues (companies with income under RD$6.5 million), with considerably reduced bureaucratic requirements, such as bookkeeping and multiple filing throughout the year with the tax department.
Those interested can go the a DGII for questions or log on to their website, www.dgii.gov.do.

Private JCE?
According to Listin Diario, RSM BEPAM, the company contracted to audit the business agreement between the Central Electoral Board (JCE) and the Modern Solutions Consortium (SOMO), has suggested that the JCE should privatize some of its services. RSM says there could be scope for privatizing some of the JCE's services as a way of continuing the automation of the civil and electoral registries while also making the process financially profitable.

We need your help
Education Minister Melanio Paredes says that parents need to do their bit if the "1,000 hour" education plan is to be a success. He added that the country could not develop if students only receive 400 hours of education each year. Paredes was critical of the fact that such a low number of students turned up for classes that resumed on Wednesday last week.
According to Paredes, Dominican students receive an average of 400 hours of class per school year, while schools in other countries in the region teach almost 800 hours per school year. Paredes said that in the month of January students would only receive three days of schooling because of the number of national holidays and the lack of cooperation from parents in ensuring their children go to school.
In related news, the government is studying the possibility of removing families from the Solidarity Program if children in the household aren't going to school. The Program assists low-income families and one of the requirements for receiving government assistance is that children must be attending school. The School Attendance Incentive (ILAE) is one of the three components of the Solidarity Program.

Time for more bicycles?
Cyclecity (Ciclociudad) is trying to persuade Santo Domingo residents that the city would be more pleasant if more people used bicycles to get around. Huayna Jimenez and fellow supporters of the movement say that the city is perfectly doable by bicycle. According to Jimenez, people spend too much money using their cars, and often spend up to 40 minutes in traffic jams. Jimenez says the movement is "an appeal to reason." On Sunday, the group organized a 22-rider "cicletiada" passing by the main monuments in the Colonial City.
For more on the initiative, see http://ciclociudad.wordpress.com/

DR depends on foreign labor
Arturo Pichardo, president of the Dominican Engineers, Architects and Surveyors Association (CODIA) says that 85% of all construction jobs are now filled by Haitian laborers. Quoted in Hoy, Pichardo says that construction companies prefer to employ Haitian laborers, as it is considerably cheaper to Dominican labor. Pichardo claims that this influx of Haitian laborers has greatly hurt the Dominican labor market and can be blamed for an increase in unemployment.

60-year old pipe burst
The Duey water system is experiences difficulties after a 30-inch pipe was damaged on the 40th kilometer of the Duarte Highway. CAASD officials are advising residents in Pantoja, Los Alcarrizos, Los Girasoles, Arroyo Hondo III and surrounding areas to stock up on water while crews fix the damage. Hoy reports the system is in a very vulnerable state because of its location and because the water network in the area is more than 60 years old.

Student gets invitation
Dominican-American student Carolina Torres has received the invitation of a lifetime, according to Diario Libre. The daily is reporting that the Santiago-born resident of Queens, New York received an invitation to this month's US presidential inauguration. Fifteen-year old Torres will spend five days in the nation's capital and will be attending some special activities during her week-long stay. Dominican Ambassador to the US, Flavio Dario Espinal, will represent the DR during the ceremony.

Life doesn't stop young woman
The story of Catherine Flete is quite inspiring. Flete lost her sight at the age of four and by the age of seven, after several operations, doctors said there was nothing else to be done. The young girl slumped into a deep depression to the point where she would not even lift her head. But not all was lost and with perseverance the young woman, now 17, is on a path to success. Flete is currently the "mayor" of the Bani Youth Municipality and recently won a reading contest sponsored by the First Lady's Office. Now in her senior year of high school, Flete takes computer classes and has won a scholarship to study law at the UNPHU University.

Upcoming shows
Juan Luis Guerra's "La Travesia Tour" will reach Santo Domingo's Olympic Stadium on Saturday, 14 February. Tickets are already on sale at Orange telecom offices and through Solo Tickets and Uepa ticket offices. General admission is RD$550, but there are ground tickets for sale for RD$1,500 and RD$2,000. Orange cell phone clients get a 10% discount. The tour made waves in Europe and the United States last week.
Also, on the agenda for this spring is Spanish singer Jose Jose and friends. He will go on stage with 10 local bachata, merengue and ballad singers, and present a collection of his popular songs at the Teatro La Fiesta of the Hotel Jaragua.
Wisin & Yandel is booked for Santiago's Gran Arena del Cibao on 13 March.

Baseball update
Aguilas fans might want to put their pennants away for the season. Barring a miracle of grand proportions the Aguilas's post-season is over. Last night the Aguilas suffered a 9-3 drubbing at the hands of the Gigantes. Though the Aguilas have done almost nothing right during this post-season, the Gigantes have been almost unstoppable. Gigantes player Juan Francisco has been having a torrid post season, ripping through opposing pitching, and last night he hit a homerun and a three-run hit. With this win the Gigantes have keep their lead atop the standings. But the lead is not safe as the Toros and Tigres keep battling it out, with neither team willing to give up an inch. Last night the Toros caged the Tigres with a 6-1 victory.
The Standings
Team W-L Avg. Games Behind
GIGANTES 9 - 4 .692 --
LICEY 8 - 5 .615 1.0
TOROS 7 - 7 .500 2.5
AGUILAS 2 - 10 .167 6.5
Santiago, Estadio Cibao : 8pm, Licey v Aguilas
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