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Daily News - Friday, 13 February 2009

Fernandez in Tamboril
President Leonel Fernandez visited the devastated area of Tamboril in the northcentral Cibao Valley yesterday and promised flood victims government aid for re-housing and to rebuild their homes. The region has experienced nine days of heavy rains. "Temporarily, because you can't stay here indefinitely, as refugees, the government will pay for rented homes until there is a definitive answer to the housing situation. The financial part is being discussed at the moment, but we promise to find a solution in a reasonable timeframe," said Fernandez. He added that a land study of the Carlos Diaz community would be done to evaluate the level of danger for residents and that three new bridges would be built, to replace the ones recently damaged. Fernandez also promised the 700 students in the community that the Ministry of Education would provide two buses to take schoolchildren to different communities, so they could go on attending school.

Roads cleared
Traffic has been restored on the Puerto Plata-Imbert highway, near the community of Los Cacaos. The road had been closed due to damages caused by the continued rains over the past two weeks. Traffic has also been reopened on the Luperon Touristic Highway between Santiago and Puerto Plata that had been closed on Wednesday due to dangerous landslides.

We need trees
Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal says that recent flooding and landslides in the Cibao Valley is proof that more trees need to be planted in order to contain erosion. He added that officials have to increase their awareness of the importance of forest cover. He also said that the Cordillera Septentrional mountain range is especially vulnerable because a continental fault line runs through it. "This means we have to be ever more conscious in order to prevent further environmental damage."

CB announced measures
The Central Bank's Monetary Board has announced a set of new measures aimed at freeing up credit in the market and stimulating the economy. Central Bank (CB) Governor Hector Valdez Albizu announced the relaxing of commercial bank legal reserves up to RD$10.5 billion. Of the total, RD$7.3 billion will be made available for financing industry, agriculture, construction and small and medium-sized businesses. RD$3 billion chapter would be used by banks to purchase of government-backed bonds for assistance to flood victims and to repair damage to infrastructure in affected areas.
Following suggestions from the financial institutions, the Monetary Board authorized the Superintendence of Banks to implement temporary measures to relax Evaluation of Assets (REA) banking norms in order to facilitate credit. These measures will come into effect on 16 February 2009. The overnight interest rate was cut to 6%, and Lombarda to 11.5%, announced the bank. The CB has reduced the Overnight rates by 3.5% and the Lombarda rates by 4.5% since 1 January 2009. Interest rates for preferential loans will also be reduced to 12% and 10%. The decision to try and free up the credit markets was made following lengthy debates at the National Unity Summit to Face the International Financial Crisis convened by President Leonel Fernandez.

Economic growth
The DR's GDP grew 5.3% in 2008 as a result of a 19.5% growth in communications, 13.7% in the financial sector, 55% in the commercial sector, 10.3% in the water and energy sector, as reported in Listin Diario. Agriculture was down 3.4%, free trade zones by 1.1%, construction by 1.2% and mining activities by 30%. Central Bank Governor Hector Valdez Albizu says the DR ended 2008 with a US$318 deficit in the balance of payment. Valdez Albizu says that the DR was the country in the region with second lowest level of currency depreciation and that the DR managed to obtain US$340 million in reserves. Valdez Albizu predicts the DR will receive US$2.35 billion in direct investment in 2009. Though high, this figure is considerably lower than the US$400 million projection made in 2008.

Where are the numbers?
The president of the Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE) Ricardo Bonetti is calling on the government to make its finances more transparent. Bonetti says that the government is behind in pushing the allocation of funds. He said that Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa has already commented that fiscal revenues for January fell below what had been budgeted. The government only collected RD$19.1 billion, and had budgeted RD$20.4 billion. Bonetti says that this means it is even more important to control government spending. As reported in Hoy, he highlighted the importance of accountability by the authorities when it comes to expenditure, and the implementation of austerity measures to cut unnecessary spending, especially at a time when the population and the business sectors are making great efforts to survive the financial crunch. Bonetti urges the Ministry of Hacienda to publish the government's income and expenditure statements. ANJE has been monitoring government spending for years now.

DGA collection drops
The Customs Department (DGA) has announced that it collected RD$3 billion in January 2009, a 30% drop from the DGA's original estimates. Miguel Cocco, director of the DGA said that a reduction in the import of vehicles is to blame, considering that vehicle imports account for 26% of all DGA collections. He added that distributors have not imported vehicles since December because of decreased economic activity. He also said that since September the Tax Department (DGII) has collected tax on imported vehicles, which has also affected the DGA's collections.

Crying onions
Farmers will harvest more than 300,000 quintals of onions this week, but many producers fear the crops will be lost because of a measure passed by the government. This concern was expressed by the Horma Horticultural Producers Association (ASOPROHORMA). Cesar Mendez and Wilson Suazo, president and secretary general of ASOPROHORMA, say the 300,000 quintals are enough to supply the local market this coming summer. They added that the sector still hasn't recovered from the last harvest, when the government purchased 43,000 quintals of onions, but the sector lost 250,000 quintals because of a market surplus. Hoy reports that the government still owes onion growers RD$7 million.

DR needs to react to WEF Report
The Global Competitiveness Report 2008-2009 directed by Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum and Michael E. Porter of Harvard University has been released, and reads like an ice-cold shower for the Dominican Republic.
In the Global Competitiveness Index Rankings, the DR is ranked 98th, with a 3.72 score. In Latin America it has only fared better than Suriname, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, Bolivia and Nicaragua (Haiti is not ranked). The DR's score dropped from 96th in the previous report. In the region, Chile is 28th, Puerto Rico 41st and Barbados 47th. Then follows Panama in 58th place, Costa Rica in 59th, Mexico in 60th, and Brazil in 64th, also in the top half of the rankings.
The Dominican economy is presented as made up of 12.4% agriculture, 10.3% non-manufacturing industry, 15.1% manufacturing industry and 62.1% services to GDP.
The DR's Global Competitiveness Index has been dropping consistently. The GCI 2008-2009 rank is 98 out of 134, compared to 96th in GCI 2007-2008 and 93rd out of 122 for GCI 2006-2007.
The DR ranks 99th in basic requirements, the result of a breakdown of: 119th in institutions, 81st in infrastructure, 78th macro-economic stability, 106th in health and primary education. In the area of efficiency enhancers, the DR is in 90th place. It is 99th in higher education and training, 86th in goods market efficiency, 86th in labor market efficiency, 101st in financial market sophistication, 73rd in technological preparedness and 72nd in market size. In areas of innovation and sophistication factors, it is 86th overall, the result of being 75th in business sophistication and 103rd in innovation.
The main obstacles to doing business in the country are corruption, tax rates, an inadequately educated workforce, tax regulations, inefficient government bureaucracy, policy instability, poor work ethic in national labor force, access to financing, inadequate supply of infrastructure, inflation, poor public health, crime and theft, restrictive labor regulations and foreign currency regulations.
The report focuses on key factors that determine economic growth, and explains why some countries are much more successful than others in raising income levels and opportunities for their people, and provides policymakers and business leaders with an important tool in the formulation of improved economic policies and institutional reforms. The 2008-2009 Report features 134 economies and is acknowledged as the most comprehensive assessment of the productive potential of nations worldwide, with global rankings covering 100 indicators. The Global Competitiveness Index provides a comprehensive picture of all the factors, institutions and policies that determine a nation's productivity and prosperity.
See the report at http://dr1.com/news/2009/021309_competitiveness_report.pdf

USAID fund for sustainable tourism
The United States Agency for International Development has created the Fondo Destinos, making available RD$17.8 million for investment in sustainable development projects. The fund seeks to stimulate innovative products, improve visitor satisfaction and promote a good image for the country abroad. It can serve as an incubator for small and medium-sized tourism companies that guarantee economic benefits and improve the quality of life of communities, while promoting local participation in the management of the tourism destinations. USAID director in the DR, Richard Goughnour says that the fund strengthens strategic alliances between government and private sector at local community level to promote sustainable tourism that protects the environment and Dominican cultural values. The initiative is part of the Dominican Alliance for Sustainable Tourism (DSTA) program that USAID launched in September 2007. Projects can bid for up to RD$2 million, but participants need to secure one-to-one counterpart funding.
The deadline for submitting project proposals is 10 March 2009.
The funds may be used for tours to communities, natural areas and bird watching, improving the finishing, packaging and distribution of local products, including arts and crafts sold at gift shops, hotels and restaurants. Projects may also be devoted to developing cultural attractions, local identities and historical contributions at a local level, or enhancing the value of archaeological, historical, neighborhood and architectural values. They may also be used to support small community efforts to provide lodging, arts and crafts, folklore, ethno-botanical trails, horseback rides or adventure tourism. Projects may also consist of facilitating direct sale of products and services to tourists by people in a small community, creating and improving tourist routes (agriculture, ecology, archaeology and culture).
For more information, call 809 221-9192 or email [email protected]

Williams gets support
Senators are supporting the decision to rescind the sanctions against Senator Alejandro WIlliams. Senator Rene Canaan said that there was no reason to uphold the sanctions considering that US authorities have not provided any proof that the Senator was being investigated for Medicaid fraud. Senator Noe Sterling Vasquez (PRSC) says that the Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Wilton Guerrero was never presented with any proof of the accusations. Although the case of William's Medicaid allegations has calmed there has yet to be an investigation into reports that Williams spends most of his time in the US practicing dentistry and not doing his job as a politician in the DR. In recent reports, which Williams has never denied, the Senator is said to spend as many as four days a week in New York and is rarely, if ever, found in his office in San Pedro or at Congressional meetings in Santo Domingo.

Juan Luis Guerra for Valentine's
Dominicans take Valentine's Day very serious. It is a big night for restaurants, and to tell by the traffic jams, everyone seems to be out shopping for a Valentine's Day gift.
Many times Grammy award winner, Juan Luis Guerra will be on stage for a Valentine's Day concert at the Olympic Stadium. Guerra is recognized as one of the most romantic composers of all times and is presenting his Travesia Tours, after a successful year in the US and Spain. Rhina Ramirez will be singing boleros at Plaza de Espana facing the Alcazar in the Colonial City, in a free concert as of 9pm. She will be accompanied by pianist Miguel Leclerc. Anthony Rios and Camboy Estevez are booked for the Maunaloa Night Club.

Cyber love turns bloody
A Spanish woman who was killed by her Dominican lover had met him on the Internet. According to a report in Hoy, Monica Rubio met Freddy Valdez de los Santos online and fell in love. She moved to the DR with her daughter to pursue her interest, but the relationship did not last. The woman broke up with de los Santos and has now filed charges against him for the theft of RD$20,000. Hoy writes that earlier this week de los Santos walked into the office where Rubio worked and shot a man named Evaristo, who threatened to call the police. Rubio fled, but was shot by de los Santos. The community of Las Flores in San Cristobal was shocked because de los Santos was considered to be a responsible man who worked to prepare children for their first communion.

Offerman's ghosts
An incident that marred the reputation of former big leaguer and current Licey manager Jose Offerman is coming back to haunt him. Offerman is being sued, in a Bridgeport, Connecticut court, by John Nathans for US$4.8 million for injuries sustained during a game that allegedly ended the catcher's baseball career. Offerman was playing with the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League in 2007 when he stepped up to the plate. Offerman was hit by the pitch and lost control, charging the mound with a bat, swinging twice at the pitcher and catcher. "It was one of those moments that you want to forget. I lost it for about 10 seconds," Offerman told the Connecticut Post after the incident. Offerman was arrested at the time, forced to pay Nathans's medical expenses and take anger management courses. Nathans says he still suffers from headaches and vomits as a result of his injuries.

DR's chances drop at WBC
Despite the DR having what is arguably the best baseball talent on the planet, whether the country will be able to put together the best baseball team come March is another story, as reported in Hoy. With only a month left before the 2009 World Baseball Classic, the final squad for the tournament is still undecided. Part of the problem is that some of the players on the team, including Carlos Pena, David Ortiz and Albert Pujols are recovering from injuries that hampered them during last season. Another issue is whether Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriguez and even Sammy Sosa will play on the team because of steroid talk. Though Rodriguez and Tejada have both been linked to performance enhancing drugs, sending shocks through baseball, Sosa's guilt by association and the thought that no one wants to take on an aging player have kept him out of baseball for a year. Vladimir Guerrero and Alfonso Soriano, who would have shored up weaknesses in the outfield and at the plate, will not be allowed to play because of contractual obligations that limit the amount of baseball they play. Jose Guillen has supposedly declined to play because of a feud with manager Felipe Alou. Ronny Paulino opted out so that he could ensure himself a roster spot with the Philadelphia Phillies. Fausto Carmona, who would have been the anchor on the pitching staff, has declined an invitation to play, and now aging pitcher Pedro Martinez will lead the young, unproven rotation.
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