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Daily News - Monday, 02 February 2009

High quality debates at Summit
Initial reports from the first few days of the Summit convened by President Leonel Fernandez indicate that the talks so far have been constructive and positive. The summit is divided into seven sections and is being held at three city hotels (Jaragua, Hilton & Dominican Fiesta) where designated moderators led discussions on the proposals that are being submitted.
Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado described the start as "impressive". He said the challenge now is for the working groups to harmonize concrete proposals on ways of resolving the problems in the short term, or an action plan for 2009. The organization of the Summit had been highly criticized for being just more talk, when what is needed is government action.
During the weekend talks, majority decisions were reached on matters such as proposing that no government official should make more than the President, for priority to be given to exports, austerity in government spending and the European modality of "jus sanguinis" (law of descent or right of blood that defines citizenship according to parents) for granting Dominican nationality to anyone born in the DR.
One government official told a reporter from Hoy, "Really everything has already been written up, in all areas there are laws that encompass what needs to be done. What is needed is for these laws to be implemented, and to determine where the money will come from for this," he said.
The summit was launched as a wave of frustration with a series of recent unpopular government decisions favoring corruption and impunity hit Dominicans in December.

A look at the Summit
More than 400 proposals were presented at the working group dealing with "Economy and Competitiveness" at the National Summit last week, of which 100 ended up being taken to the discussion tables.
According to Hoy, the group moderated by National Competitiveness Council executive director Andres Vanderhorst Alvarez and coordinated by National Business Council (CONEP) president Lisandro Macarrulla worked hard to divide the workload and created three sub-groups: Agriculture, headed by former Agriculture Minister Amilcar Romero, Macro-Economy, headed by Circe Almanzar and a third one on Competitiveness.
Listin Diario says that as a result of their work the group will suggest a reduction in public spending and the promotion of investments aimed at allowing the local production apparatus to be more competitive. The working group even took into consideration proposals received from PRD former presidential candidate Miguel Vargas.
Proposals sent to the agriculture discussion group were reduced from 57 to 24 and included agrarian reform, food security, financial matters and taxes.
At the competitiveness sub-group, discussions were led by access to financing along with support for small and medium-scale businesses (PYMES). The macro-economic group discussions included a reduction in government spending and lower interest rates.
The work group dealing with Territorial Development, Municipal Management and the Environment looked at 180 proposals and decided to accept 150 for discussion, although this forced them to extend their session until five in the afternoon on Saturday.
They also divided the work into three broad areas: the transformation of the Dominican Municipal League, clarification of municipal taxes and a proposal for a National Regulatory Plan. Watershed management, reforestation, protection of aquifers and soil and water use were discussed at another table. A third table talked about waste management, especially garbage and hospital waste. Emmanuel Castillo from the Santiago Development Association is coordinating this working group.
At the table that worked on Institutional Consolidation, headed by Servio Tulio Castanos Guzman, the proposal that hit the headlines was one that said that no public official should earn more than the President. Other proposals discussed were the creation of a Judicial Police force, a four-year term for the Attorney General and some rules for the political parties. Also under discussion were the obligation to comply with the Social Security Law, and the clean up of the Justice Department.
The group that worked on Migration and the Frontier ended up proposing that "jus sanguinis" should be the only way to achieve Dominican nationality. Work group coordinator Pedro Justo Castellanos told El Nuevo Diario reporters that also discussed were ideas relating to the strengthening of those organizations that deal with frontier development, and the increase in projects geared towards social improvement in the frontier region, including schools, hospitals and churches.
The work group that dealt with "the fight against crime and corruption," proposed another reform of the Penal Process Code, salary increases for members of the armed forces and the police as well as other benefits. The sub-group that worked on preventive policies pushed for the extension of school hours as a way of reducing young people's free time.
The discussion group tackling Education met at the Hilton Hotel and worked on items that could be implemented this year. The lead item was the budget request, pegged at 2.67% of the budget for 2009. The group also proposed improving teachers' educational level, the creation of new methodology, and the eradication of illiteracy.
The social policy working group agreed on proposals aimed at strengthening the Social Security system as well as creating new jobs through small and medium-sized businesses (PYMES). Suggestions for easing private construction regulations and the creation of industrial parks were also accepted by the group, which is being coordinated by Fabio Herrera and Max Puig.

Protecting wetlands
The Ministry of Environment has continued its forceful environmental recovery programs for 2009 by turning it focus to the wetlands of the Ozama National Park. As part of World Wetlands Day celebrated on 2 February, Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal, together with other government officials, made their way to the wetlands to observe conditions on site. During their visit, fish were released into the wetlands and according to Hoy these fish will multiply within six months, allowing for them to be fished. The Ozama wetlands are the second largest in the country, after the ones at the Lower Yuna river basin. They cover an area of 47 square kilometers, or 12% of Santo Domingo province, and are one of the most important natural sites in the greater Santo Domingo area. According to the Ministry of Environment, the Laguna Manati is the second largest of three lagoons in the wetlands that act as habitats for endemic birds of the DR, as well as migratory birds including ducks and geese. The other lagoons are Flamenca and La Enea.
Since Fernandez Mirabal's appointment to the Ministry of Environment there has been a noticeable change in the Ministry's willingness to protect the DR's environment. Over the weekend the Ministry completed an operation to remove illegal fishing traps in the Bay of Samana. Four people were arrested for illegal fishing operations and officials seized other illegal fishing contraptions. Among the equipment seized were "blenders," fishing nets and illegal fishing boats that threaten the ecosystem. Environment Ministry officials explained that the "blenders" are nets with small hooks and knives that are dragged along the ocean floor, killing any animal in their path and damaging the ecosystem.

DGII plays tricky
The government has remained adamant that it will not raise taxes or add new taxes, but according to Listin Diario the Tax Department (DGII) is finding ways of increasing collections for taxes already on the books. To this end DGII has updated the way assessors value a property with the intention of increasing collections on taxes on real estate properties (IPI) or taxes on homes or plots considered in the luxury residence category (IVSS) for the 2009 fiscal year. This IVSS and IPI only affect properties valued at more than RD$5 million and assessors take into consideration the size of the property, its location and the surrounding conditions. This measure was initially passed in 2005, when the value of the IVSS and IPI was only applied to properties with a maximum value of RD$3 million. The DGII has announced that the first payment of the new quota will be made on 11 March 2009. According to Listin Diario, once the adjustments are made by the DGII a house that was valued at RD$4 million in 2005 could now be valued at RD$6 million, and will have to pay 1% of its value in taxes. The IPI is paid in two payments, the first in March and the second on 11 September. Failure to pay on the given dates results in a fine of 10% on the value of the taxes paid per month, 4% for every month not paid and a 1.73% interest rate.

Customs leverage for lower prices
President Leonel Fernandez met with importers yesterday to discuss comparative pricing on several imports in the hope that importers would pass on these new savings to consumers. The comparison clearly showed that the importers are paying less for products but have not been passing the savings on to consumers. As a result of the meeting, importers announced a 15% decrease in the price of many products.

Metro news
Formidable competition from the fast, comfortable and safe Santo Domingo Metro has led to price cuts by drivers of carros publicos (shared taxis) that service the Metro routes, primarily the Maximo Gomez corridor, as reported in Hoy. The newspaper reports on the number of commuters who chose to leave their vehicles at the Metro parking lots to board the train to work. Several businesses have changed their name to piggyback on the popularity of the new transport system. Hoy newspaper reports that businesses along the route now sport names like Minimarket Villa Metro and Metro Fast Food. News reports indicate that people love the metro and have been quick to forget its high construction and operation cost.
Metro trains start running northbound from Centro de los Heroes at 6:35am. The station opens at 6am. The last train departs southbound from the northernmost Villa Mella station at 10:03pm. The schedule for the train is Mon-Sat from 6:30-9am, with trains running at 3-5 minutes intervals. From 9am to 3:30pm intervals are 4-7 minutes; from 3:30-7pm, intervals of 3-5 minutes, from 7-9pm, 7-10 minutes and from 9 to 10pm, 10-15 minutes. On holidays, the stations will operate from 6:30am to 8pm, with trains running 6-10 minutes, and from 8-10pm at intervals of 10-15 minutes. Life has improved considerably for commuters who are now using the metro, and the experience is giving everyone a good feel for the modern transport system. The government has announced plans to go ahead with the second line that will run from Los Alcarrizos under the Duarte and J F Kennedy routes to Ave. San Vicente de Paul, with 20 stations. Four further lines are planned. The first line of the metro at 14.5 kms has 16 stations and was built in what was considered record time, or 40 months. The government says the metro cost US$700 million, or about two thirds of the entire national budget for 2009. In 2005, Pena had said the metro would cost "US$327-US$370 million." The government has said it will cost RD$105 million a month to operate the metro. The Madrid Metro was a leading advisor on the project, under a US$16.6 million contract, and its director Ildefonso de Matias was one of the guests at the inauguration event.

Interest rates decline again
The Central Bank has again cut the interest rates it is paying on deposits. Overnight deposits are now at 7%, down from 8.5%, and Lombarda deposits at 12.5%, down from 14%. It also reduced 2% from interest rates on all certificates of deposit. This is the second cut in less than a month.

Taxes by decree, are they legal?
In a contribution to Hoy, businessman Jose Antonio Martinez Rojas is questioning the legality of Decree No. 655-08 that imposes a US$15 charge on every passenger traveling to or from the DR as of 1 February. The money collected will be used down as follows: US$7 will go towards travel advertising and the Dominican Institute of Civil Aviation (IDAC) will get US$5.50 for improving aviation controls. The Specialized Security Corps (CESA) will get US$1, another US$1 will pay for the Super Tucano airplanes recently purchased by the government to fight drug trafficking, and US$0.50 will go to the Civil Aviation Board (JAC). Martinez Rojas says that only Congress can legislate to rule for taxes that only later require Presidential sanction. He expresses disapproval of the fact that the Supreme Court of Justice has not intervened to annul this disposition, commenting that perhaps it is time to create the proposed Constitutional Chamber now that the SCJ "in most cases has given in to requests from the Executive Branch."
He goes on to say that something similar to this would happen if the Banco Nacional del Fomento de la Vivienda (BNFV) begins to use pension funds to invest in development projects, violating their nature as secure deposits.
As of yesterday, the government began to charge travelers an additional US$5 in departure tax. Travelers who had bought their ticket earlier and had only paid US$10 were being billed the difference upon departure.
The measure, though, only affects passengers traveling on scheduled flights. Charter flight passengers will not have to pay the additional fee until 1 May.

Who's telling the truth?
Senator Wilton Guerrero's claim that an airplane had dropped drugs at Playa de Los Tumbaos in Salinas near the Bahia de las Calderas naval base in his native Peravia province are again being denied by Navy Chief Julio Cesar Ventura Bayonet. Since the mass killing of seven drug dealers in Peravia last August, Guerrero has been speaking out on the prevalence of drug trafficking in his province and the complicity of the authorities in the province. Last week Guerrero said he had received an intelligence report proving that the drug-dropping airplane incident had indeed taken place. But Ventura Bayonet continues to insist that the airplane was an Air Force flight patrolling drug operations. Que Se Dice columnist Claudio Acosta asks, "Who should I believe?" in his column on Saturday.
Cardinal Nicolas Lopez Rodriguez said that the confirmation of this allegation would support recent claims by President Leonel Fernandez that drug traffickers had permeated the armed forces.

Novo Centro opens
The new Novo Centro shopping mall on Santo Domingo's Lope de Vega Avenue has opened its doors. The building is considered among the most modern and luxurious in the DR and is aiming to establish itself as one of the most exclusive shopping centers in the country. The center, which has a total area of 55,000 square meters, has 14 floors specifically for office space, exhibition halls and conference rooms, three levels for shopping and a boutique hotel with 100 rooms. There are also plans to build an added 25,000 square meters dedicated to shopping. The first three floors at Novo Center are filled with bars, cafeterias and restaurants. The center will have a total of 1,400 parking spaces, of which 720 have already been built. The center's motto is "Novo Center has it all," and the panoramic views of Santo Domingo are one of its leading attractions.
For more information go to www.novo-centro.com

Serie del Caribe 2009
The paint is dry, the grass cut, the scoreboard powered and the players are ready as the 2009 Serie del Caribe kicks off with Venezuela going up against the Dominican Republic at 6pm today. The DR, represented by the Tigres del Licey, is a strong candidate to take this year's tournament. The country has won the largest number of Serie del Caribe tournament victories, with 17, and Licey has notched up the most victories by a representing team, with 10. The tournament will also include the participation of host country Mexico, and Puerto Rico, which is making an appearance after withdrawing from last year's tournament. Mexico and Puerto Rico will take the field at 10pm. The Dominican squad is still missing some key figures like Miguel Tejada, who has become a mainstay of this tournament, but late additions Ricardo Nanita, Julio Manon, Victor Mercedes, Alfredo Simo, Julio Mateo, Nerio Rodriguez, Jailen Peguero and Fernando Martinez could prove beneficial for the team. This year's Serie del Caribe kicks off a busy baseball season, which is followed by the World Baseball Classic 2009 and then the 2009 MLB baseball season.

Miss Spain 2009
The contest to select this year's Miss Spain will be held in the DR. Miss Spain 2008 Patricia Rodriguez confirmed the information during her visit to the Dominican Republic stand at the Fitur tourist trade meeting being held in Madrid. She said the event would take place at the National Theater in Santo Domingo in May. A total of 52 candidates representing the 52 provinces in Spain will compete, according to a report in Hoy.

Theater Festivals for 2009
The Ministry of Culture is announcing the celebration of three major theater festivals in 2009. These are the Festival Emilio Aparicio, the Festival Nacional de Teatro and the VI Festival Internacional de Teatro.
The Festival Emilio Aparicio is the warm-up event. It will be held from 1-15 March at the Teatro Monina Sola of the Centro Cultural Narciso Gonzalez in Santo Domingo with the participation of emerging drama groups.
Next is the National Drama Festival that will take place from 16-31 March at the newly refurbished Palace of the Arts in Santo Domingo and the Gran Teatro del Cibao in Santiago. The festival is being coordinated by Radhames Polanco.
The main theatrical event of the year follows in June. The VI International Festival of Theater (FITE) will take place from 17-24 June and will include the staging of several world-class plays. Event organizers are actress Karina Noble, who is serving as executive director, and playwrights Basilio Nova, Dulce Elvira de los Santos, Carlota Carretero and Elvira Taveras. Freddy Ginebra will act as the commissioner and adviser.
Professor Bernarda Jorge, deputy minister in charge of creativity and collective participation at the Ministry of Culture is in charge for the Ministry of Culture.

Carnaval is here
The sights and sounds of the Carnival season are here, with the cities of Santiago and La Vega launching their celebrations this weekend. The Carnival atmosphere also saw light in the National District, as residents of San Carlos began preparing for the annual festivities. Yesterday thousands of onlookers braved drizzling rains and light winds to enjoy the first day of Carnival de Santiago 2009. Also, during yesterday's activities Marleny Rodriguez was crowned queen of the Carnival de Santiago 2009. She was accompanied by Ginette Silverio, Ivanova Fana Martinez and Licelot Encarnacion who were crowned Carnival Princesses. In the National District 45 groups from several neighborhoods in Santo Domingo paraded through San Carlos as part the build-up to the Gran Carnaval 2009, which will be held on Santo Domingo's Malecon seafront boulevard on 2 March. Local streets were lined with people in colorfully designed costumes and flanked by the sounds of horns, drums and the laughter of families enjoying the afternoon. Although Carnival is celebrated with various parades and activities in many cities, La Vega's Carnaval Vegano has become the nation's most popular carnival event.
For more information: www.carnavalvegano.com
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