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Daily News - Wednesday, 01 April 2009

Fernandez inaugurates roads and bridges
President Leonel Fernandez was in Sanchez Ramirez (Cotui) and Monsenor Nouel (Bonao) provinces to head the opening ceremonies for the new bridges over the Maimon and Yuna rivers, the reconstruction of the Maimon-Caballero highway, the El Caribe-El Verde roadway and the Los Cocos roadway, as well as the Jayaco highway. The public works projects cost RD$539 million. During his speech to the crowd, Minister of Public Works Victor Diaz Rua said these projects were his response to all the groups holding strikes and protests. The Minister announced that more new public works projects would soon be inaugurated in the area.

Quisqueya project imminent?
The Fernandez administration has authorized the transfer of the 118,000 square meters where the Quisqueya Stadium is located to the National Housing Bank (Banco Nacional de la Vivienda - BNV). In his 27 February state of the nation address, President Leonel Fernandez mentioned that the government was backing the construction of a new sports center including a four-star hotel, shopping center, 200 apartments and a baseball museum, as well as the remodeling of the stadium. The US$115 million project is due to be completed in time for the city to host a round of the World Baseball Classic games in 2013. Joaquin Geronimo, general manager of the BNV said that details would be forthcoming.

Central Bank lowers rates, again
The Central Bank's Monetary Board has announced it would, effective today, lower interest rates, once again. The annual interest rates on short-term paid deposits (overnight) will now be 5%, a one- point drop. Lombarda interest rates will also be lowered, going from 11.5% to 10.5%. The Monetary Board also lowered rates on long-term direct certificate investments to between 2% and 3%. Hoy reports that rates for 180-day deposits will be 7%, 365-day deposits 8%, 18-month deposits 9%, 24-month deposits 10%, 30-month deposits 11% and 36-month deposits 13% annual rates. This reflects a 2% decrease in one-year deposit interest rates and a 3% decrease in 36-month deposit rates. Interest rates on certificate investments with expected retention or automatic renewals will also be lowered, meaning that 180-day deposits will have 5% rates, 365-day deposits will have 6% rates, 18-month deposits 7%, 24-month deposits 8%, 30-month deposits 9% and 36-month deposits 11%.

Professionalism on a diet
The DR's business sector is taking aim at the low quality of professionals coming out of the nation's universities, saying that many businesses have to spend extra money in order to help bridge their educational and work deficiencies. During a recent meeting, Higher Education (SEECYT) Minister Ligia Amada Melo and representatives from the business sector criticized so-called "light professionals" who barely have the basic grasp of professionalism. Ivette Caceres, speaking on behalf of the National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE), said that of 17 professionals interviewed by ANJE only three met the basic criteria. Caceres, quoted in Hoy, described the lack of spelling and writing skills by students studying for their Masters degrees as shameful. "The business sector does not need what is coming out of these universities," said Caceres. Andres Pedraza, also from ANJE, commented that there is a total disconnect between business and college graduates. Ramon Porfirio Baez, from the Dominican Graphic Arts Association (ADICA), said that it was not possible to have college graduates who were unable to use certain types of programs or equipment because their English was inadequate. National Business Council president Lisandro Macarulla summed it up when he said that, "all the nation's problems are based in a lack of education, from driving to corruption and bad political practices".

Public Health starts TB campaign
The Ministry of Public Health is launching a new campaign, "Stop Tuberculosis," with the support of national and international organizations. Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez, quoted in Listin Diario, said that one of the most important aspects of stopping the spread of tuberculosis is working with governmental, non-governmental and international organizations. He added that while the disease is still a major problem in other countries, the DR is working hard to stop the spread of the disease. Rojas says that increased efforts are needed in order to fulfill the Millennium Development Goals, which call for a 50% reduction in tuberculosis rates by 2015.

Claim Law 70-09 violates Constitution
Lawyers Ramon Negro Veras, Luis Gomez Perez and Luis Scheker Ortiz have presented a recourse to the Supreme Court of Justice against Law 70-09 that convenes the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies to meet to study a proposal for a new Constitution. The lawyers say that this law violates articles 4, 116 117 and 118 of the Constitution. They also request that legislators be declared incompetent, on the understanding that the intention is to create a new Constitution because all the proposed changes cannot be called an attempt to "modify" the Constitution, as reported in Listin Diario.

Hold on to those jobs!
Leading business associations are lobbying to update the Dominican Labor Code in order to preserve and create jobs. The National Business Council, the DR Industries Association (AIRD), the Free Zones Association (Adozona), the Exporters Association (Adoexpo), the National Hotel & Restaurant Association (Asonahores), the Business Confederation (Copardom), National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE), and the Agribusiness Board (JAD) presented yesterday the reality that provisions in the Labor Code that dates back to 1992 have become obsolete and are an obstacle to competitiveness when it comes to doing business in the DR, especially now that the DR is one of the most open economies in the Americas.
Consultant Roberto Despradel stressed that the DR needs to look towards ways of making the most of its free trade agreements. The DR is only the sixth country in the world to have FTAs with Europe and the United States, he explained. This provides us with the opportunity to make internal changes in order to maximize this circumstance and reverse the present trends. He said that so far, the country stats show that the DR has a real problem with the current account of the balance of payments. Despradel indicated that the DR now is showing a 10% deficit of the Gross Domestic Product in the current account, a situation that had not occurred since 1980.
The sectors that showed growth in 2008 were services that do not generate foreign exchange, such as commerce, warehousing and telecommunications. "Because this is a country that does not export," he said. "The message is clear: "We have a competitiveness problem."
Marisol Vicens of Copardom said that formal jobs are being lost and more and more people are now employed in the informal sector. Roberto Capellan of Adozona stressed that the effects are being felt across the board, and are especially hurting the small business sector, which represents the largest number of companies. He warned that the same situations that have affected the apparel industry would go on to affect other industries. He said the sector had been cushioned because of a mechanism that allowed them to liquidate severance payments on an annual basis, but this is no longer allowed. He explained that severance payments escalate into the fifth year of a hired worker, which could lead industries to close down operations as they approach their fifth year given the escalating costs. Capellan said that 25,000 more jobs could be lost if the Labor Code is not modified.
Capellan warned that the closure of more free zone industries would have a strong impact on the cost of shipping, as major ships that travel here move to serve other countries, for instance in Africa. Capellan said that residents of Santo Domingo have been cushioned from understanding the real situation in the provinces, where the dynamism of the commerce sector in the capital is not felt.
Capellan forecast better times are ahead but called for adjustments now so that the companies do not leave.
The business leaders warned that the social benefits add up to 65% in the DR, compared to 37-30% in competing Central America. A recent study by human resources company Adecco Dominicana indicated that the social benefits are the highest in the Dominican Republic. The business organizations have identified specifics within the law that need to be changed regarding severance benefits, penalties for taking a labor case to court, working hour constraints, among others.
Vicens said that times have changed. When the 1992 legislation was passed, there was no social security system in place in the country and the Dominican Republic was practically isolated from international trade. Today, the DR has a broad based social security system and is probably the most open economy in the region, with FTAs with Central America, the Caribbean, the United States and Europe.
Capellan says that small business is hurting even more than big business due to the provisions in the Labor Code. He concluded that the present labor code "works against work".
Business representatives said they are also working on other major areas that affect competitiveness, such as expensive and not reliable power and transport monopolies, among others.

Williams a no-show
Once again Senator Alejandro Williams (PLD-San Pedro de Macoris) was a no-show at the Senate. The excuse relayed on behalf of the Senator was that he could not fly down because he was carrying out a poll on the upcoming constitutional reform in the US. Williams works a full-time dentist in New York. Senate president Reinaldo Pared Perez expressed regret at William's absence, saying he has continuously tried to contact the Senator. Though Pared has promised to open an investigation into Williams's controversial absence from Congressional work, the Senate president said he would like to hear Williams' version of the latest controversy involving his bodyguards visiting local journalists and trying to pass themselves off as FBI inspectors inquiring into the Medicaid fraud case and his alleged involvement, as featured in the local press earlier this year.

Backlash against prosecutor
Members of the public and private sector are coming out in defense of journalist Felivia Mejia and denouncing the actions of Puerto Plata Court of Appeals prosecutor Felix Alvarez Rivera, who called Mejia asking her where she got the Police report with information about alleged complicity between 32 cops in Puerto Plata and drug dealers. It is believed the call was made in an attempt to pressure Mejia into self-censorship. Mercedes Castillo, president of the Dominican Journalists Association, highlights the fact that the prosecutor has no right to ask any journalist to reveal their sources. Foundation for Institutionalism and Justice (Finjus) vice president Servio Tulio Castanos says the act by Alvarez is an attack against not only investigative journalism in the DR, but on freedom of communication. Civic group Citizen Participation (PC) also spoke out against the prosecutor's actions, and called on Attorney General Radhames Jimenez to investigate and ask for an explanation. Director of El Nacional newspaper and Clave Digital journalist Gustavo Olivo also voiced concerns about what the calls by Alvarez represent for journalism in the DR. In response to the accusations, AG Jimenez wrote a letter to El Caribe repudiating Alvarez's actions, adding that he had been contacted and asked for an explanation for his actions. In the letter, published in today's edition of El Caribe, the AG apologizes to the paper and Mejia. Interviewed on the Huchi Lora radio show, Felix Alvarez confirmed that he made the call, but denied that he had tried to intimidate the journalist.

Bill Gates visits Casa de Campo
The world's largest yacht, Octopus recently docked at La Marina de Casa de Campo, with Bill Gates of Microsoft on board. The yacht was built in 2003, and belongs to Paul Allen of Microsoft, who according to Forbes is the third richest man in the United States and seventh in the world. Octopus cost Allen over US$200 million and has a permanent crew of 60. On board are two helicopters, seven boats, a 10-man submarine and a remote-controlled vehicle for crawling on the ocean floor. Reports are that Bill Gates toured the Casa de Campo residential complex by bicycle. Other reports are that Paul Allen may also be visiting.

Man and Woman of the Year
TV producer Freddy Beras Goico and charity for the disabled Rehabilitacion founder Mary Perez have been selected as Diario Libre's Man and Woman of the Year. Goico was awarded the title for his work on the show "Con Freddy y Punto," and his work with health charity Corazones Unidos. Perez was selected because of her work with the Dominican Rehabilitation Association, which she founded more than 40 years ago.

EIU: Green management pays off
The Economist Intelligence Unit is publishing the story of Grupo Puntacana and its work towards sustainable tourism development in the east of the Dominican Republic. The EIU discovered the many ways the corporation has generated substantial cost savings and boosted their bottom line by managing their environment in a sustainable way. EIU says this is a step beyond capitalizing on their good corporate citizenship and green image. Jake Kheel, environmental director of the Grupo Puntacana and head of the Puntacana Ecological Foundation explained that innovative environmental management forms an integral part of the company's corporate strategies and sets it apart from many competing Caribbean resort complexes. "We derive multiple benefits from our efforts, only some of which are monetary." The group is most interested in a sustainable, environmentally friendly business model, and has shared its know-how with other companies in the industry. Among the green mechanisms implemented are: water management, energy conservation, garbage recycling and incineration, organic recycling and natural resources preservation. This is in addition to supporting community development through educational programs, environmental education for community members, community-based water-quality monitoring systems and support to rural clinics to improve free health services in the area.
Grupo Puntacana and the Ecological Foundation have received several awards for corporate social responsibility and excellence in environmental protection and sustainable tourism. Most recently, in January 2009, the group was a finalist for the prestigious World Tourism and Travel Council's "Tourism for Tomorrow" award.

Bosch film: Fortunato's best
"Bosch: President on the Imperial Front", a documentary about the Juan Bosch presidency (February - September 1963) will be showing at theaters nationwide as of Thursday, 16 April. The 95-minute film on the story of the founder of the two leading political parties in the DR, the PRD and the ruling PLD, premiered at the National Theater in the presence of the board of the ruling PLD political party and government cabinet members, including Vice President Rafael Alburquerque. El Caribe reviews the film, saying that it is director Rene Fortunato's best documentary, and also provides an anecdote about the audience reaction.
On screen, when the late Bosch comments: "I do not have anything, I do not have money or a house in the country or abroad, nor does my wife, Carmen Quidiello have assets," the audience burst into enthusiastic applause. More applause came when in the film Bosch ordered an investigation into corruption denounced by businessman Celso Perez, resulting in the dismissal of a government official. In the DR today, multiple cases of corruption are denounced by the press, often backed up with evidence, yet officials continue in their posts despite the irregularities.
The film will also be shown at the Lincoln Center in New York on 8 May.
El Caribe reports that the film chronicles the main political and social events during the first months of 1963 - the military coup, US foreign policy under President John F Kennedy and the links with military coups in Latin America.
"I am presenting a film that may serve as a reference of a model of government for our society, and on the country Juan Bosch envisioned. So that this and the future generations can understand the vision for the country that Bosch had conceived and the men who worked with him and drafted the Constitution of 1963, when these principles, values and those dreams were incorporated, " Fortunato told El Caribe.

World Archery Cup
Santo Domingo is hosting the World Archery Cup from 31 March to 5 April at the Parque del Este. This is the second consecutive year the event is being held in Santo Domingo. Archers from 27 countries from five continents are taking part, with around 200 competitors in total. The lead Dominican competitors are Paris Goico (ranked 58th in the world) and Tony Betances. Top world ranking competitors are Sergio Pagni (Italy), Diezmar Trilus (Canada), Patrick Coghlan (Australia) and Dejan Sitar (Slovenia) who are competing for points towards their participation in the World Cup, which is being held in the Danish capital Copenhagen later this year. Competitors have come from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Denmark, El Salvador, France, Great Britain, Germany, Guatemala, India, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Puerto Rico, Slovenia, Switzerland, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, the United States, Ukraine and Venezuela. The event is organized following the International Archery Federation (FITA) rules for the 2009 World Cup, in both divisions: recurve and compound.
To follow the event, see www.archeryworldcup.org

Rosario Flores returns
Rosario Flores, the Spanish Flamenco pop singer is returning to the DR for the "Parte de mi" concert at the Teatro La Fiesta at the Hotel Jaragua. She is booked for 22 April at 8:30pm. She will perform her own Flamenco-style version of legendary songs by Juan Luis Guerra, Roberto Carlos, Camilo Sesto, Nino Bravo, Joan Manuel Serrat and her mother Lola Flores in a two-hour production. Tickets are RD$2,500, RD$1,800 and RD$1,000 and are for sale at the Hotel Jaragua.
For more on upcoming events, see www.dr1.com/calendar
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