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Daily News - Tuesday, 07 July 2009

Fiscal revenues up
The government's economic team is optimistic that the measures adopted by the monetary authorities to try and diminish the impact of the financial downturn are already having a positive effect on the economy.
The team said they are seeing signs of improved economic activity. The worldwide economic recession caused a marked economic slowdown in the first quarter of the year, but the measures taken appear to have improved tax collections.
Rafael Camilo, the new director general of Customs, reported that in May the non-collected revenues deficit was RD$1.1 billion and in June this had been reduced to RD$790 million. He said that July's collections are expected to continue to reduce the gap between what was estimated and what was collected. He attributed the increase in collections to the collection of outstanding credits.
At the same time, Central Bank Governor Hector Valdez Albizu and Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa said that for the first time since January, collections were up both at the Customs and the Department of Taxes (DGII).
Valdez Albizu called the results at the end of last month highly positive as he reminded everyone that private borrowing during the first quarter of the year fell by some RD$9 billion, and this had affected the entire economy.
Valdez Albizu announced that this decrease has been overcome and surpassed by an additional RD$2.5 billion in private sector credit. He said, "RD$900 million in loans has been placed for home building during the past three weeks, which means that the economic activity is picking up pace."
The officials spoke to the press at the Presidential Palace, after the meeting of the economic team with the President was over. The meeting looked at the different aspects of the local economy.

Cabinet met yesterday
The Fernandez administration cabinet met yesterday at the Presidential Palace, amidst major criticisms for corruption scandals in government, most disclosed by TV journalists. The many government institutions that were created to combat corruption in government - Chamber of Accounts, Commision of Ethics, Department for the Persecution of Administrative Corruption (DPCA) have remained mute regarding the proofs of corruption presented by Nuria Piera and Alicia Ortega.
Previously, President Leonel Fernandez had held a meeting with representatives of the business sector. The Presidency did not disclose details of the discussions.

Minimum wage approved today?
Rafael Abreu, spokesperson for the National Council of Syndicate Unity (CNUS), said that if management and government impose a 15% increase in the minimum wage, retroactive to last 1 June, the labor sector would challenge it immediately. Labor wants the wage increase for minimum wage earners to be retroactive to 1April.
Today at 9:30am, management, labor and the government will meet again seeking to agree on the salary raise issue. Abreu said that he hoped that the government solution to the conflict is not the one offered by management. He commented that the management representatives say that after the increase to the minimum wage, they will have to do the same with other wage levels, but they do not want to make the overall increase part of a labor pact.
According to the Diario Libre, Abreu said that labor presented a scheme of wage increases for different wage earners, so that each level received an increase. He added that the legal element had to be mixed with what was fair in order to benefit all workers.
Meanwhile, Marisol Vicens, the president of the Copardom (the Dominican Management Confederation), said that a 15% increase in the minimum wage would reactivate the economy with the injection of RD$27 billion in new earnings. She underlined the fact that the increase is within a level that will preserve jobs in these difficult economic times.
The management leader also congratulated Vice President Rafael Alburquerque and Minister Max Puig for their efforts during the discussions.
On the other hand, Labor Minister Max Puig told reporters from the Listin Diario that he felt that things were good and he thought that today might be the day that would see the 15% wage increase for minimum wage earners approved by all sides. Of course, labor syndicates refuted this statement by saying that 15% is not enough.

Duarte Corridor has 6 overpasses
John F. Kennedy Avenue will be closed this Wednesday between Nunez de Caceres and Dr. Defillo, and President Leonel Fernandez will head the ceremonies to start the US$163 million Duarte Corridor project. The project is slated to take 2 years.
The Public Works Ministry reported that the roadway will be closed to traffic from 8am until 8pm tomorrow in the East-West direction. The other lanes will remain open.
Alternate ways, such as the 27 de Febrero extension and Los Rios avenue should be considered to avoid traffic jams. The government is recommending taking a detour at Dr. Fernando Defillo, Av. Jardines de Fontainbleau and Av. Proceres down to Av. Luperon. Also, taking the Calle Amelia Francasci and Calle F through Los Prados towards the Av. Luperon exit to Duarte Highway.
The Duarte Corridor will extend from Los Alcarrizos to the Charles De Gaulle Avenue in East Santo Domingo, and will include 6 overpasses.
The project is financed by a loan obtained from the Brazilian export financing agency, the National Bank of Social and Economic Development of Brazil (BNDES). Construction will be by Odebrecht of Brazil and Estrella construction group of the DR.
The first overpasses will be built on Ortega y Gasset and 27 de Febrero and John F. Kennedy at the intersections of Nunez de Caceres and Dr. Defillo.
The Ministry of Public Work emphasizes the savings in time and money that users of the corridor will enjoy. Currently, an estimated 800,000 vehicles a day transit the John F. Kennedy Avenue.
The entire project also includes elevated overpasses at the Monumental Avenue and Duarte Highway, and the Charles De Gaulle Avenue and the Las Americas Highway.

Sustainable tourism in Puerto Plata
The government of Japan will have up to US$3 million available through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for funding a sustainable development and training tourism project in Puerto Plata. The Project for Sustainable Tourism is a pilot program that unites the private sector with the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Economy (SEEPYD) and the Institute for Professional Technical Formation (Infotep).
The four-year project has a strong training component, announced Tourism Deputy Minister Radhames Martinez Aponte.
As part of the program, products and services that are attractive to visitors will be identified.
The program will benefit the city of Puerto Plata and eight nearby communities.

Castro is new ambassador to Ireland
Last week the DR took another step in the process of extending its diplomatic relations beyond the limits of the Caribbean and Latin America. Dominican ambassador to the UK Anibal de Castro presented his diplomatic credentials to Irish President Mary McAleese.
De Castro is the first Dominican ambassador to Ireland.
The ceremony was held at the President's house in Dublin, Aras an Uachtarain. The ceremony included full protocol and pomp and circumstance, including a toast and a military procession, followed by the singing of the Dominican national anthem.
President McAleese congratulated de Castro on being the first DR ambassador to her country and expressed an interest in mutual cooperation between both nations.

Eliminate the Pruebas Nacionales
Writing in Hoy, Miguel A. Paredes suggests the elimination of the standardized National Tests.
The Ministry of Education obliges the exams for 8th and 12th grade students as a requisite for moving up to the next grade. They have been tested in language, social sciences, math and natural sciences since the 1990s. However, according to the writer, while the budget is RD$85.7 million, these exams have been traditionally plagued by fraud.
"However transparent they have tried to make the process, it has only served as a waste of money and to facilitate fraud. If the results of the national exams show reduced averages it is because the quality of teachers is below par and that is where the Ministry needs to use its innovations, not on additional tests".
He makes the point that test averages have declined and the money would be better spent on training teachers. In 2004, the Spanish language test average score was 62.5, and in 2008 it had declined to 52.9. Math in 2004 average score was 58.8 and in 2008 it was 45.1. Natural Sciences average grade dropped from 54.0 in 2004 to 47.3 in 2008. Only the Social Sciences average improved, going from 57.2 in 2004 to 58.3 in 2008.
Education Minister Melanio Paredes, nevertheless, said the tests would continue.

AILI airport shows huge overruns
Construction of the International Airport at La Isabela (AILI) is a casebook study on how improvisation, legal and contractual violations, as well as very serious financial irregularities can bring construction of a government project costs to run 229% over budget, according to the audit by the Chamber of Accounts (CC).
One of the most scandalous parts of the report shown by the experts from the CC has to do with the access road to the air terminal. The road is 5.1 kilometers long. It was budgeted at RD$212,858,665, but improvisations and the lack of a feasibility study drove the cost to RD$478,858,628, making the cost per kilometer RD$95.7 million.
The scope of the wastefulness in the construction of the road is put into evidence as experts from the Chamber of Accounts compare the total for the access road with the total costs of all of the other constructions of the airport: Terminal building, Control Tower, main landing strip, taxi ways, ramps, hangars, service building, parking lots, and military quarters. The total for all of these was RD$997,950,244 compared to the RD$478 million of the access road.

US$3.5 per tarea rent in Los Haitises
The State Sugar Council (CEA) leased 23,822 tareas (14,980,789 square meters) of the land outside the Los Haitises National Park to the Consorcio Minero Dominicano for cement plant operation for US$83,376 a year, or US$3.5 per tarea (tarea=629 square meters). The mining company is authorized to install its plant and extract material from the area, as reported in El Dia.
The construction of the cement plant is widely contested for its effects on the vulnerable karst underground water supply and general pollution to the Gonzalo community in the area.

Customs goes after Cemex and Itabo
The Department of Customs (DGA) has ordered an investigation into the operations of Cemex Dominicana and the Itabo electricity generation operation. The Listin Diario and other newspapers are headlining this story. The DGA reported yesterday that both of these major businesses are involved in serious infractions involving the import and final destination of fuels. DGA says that these operations affect the national treasury.
In a rare press release, the DGA says: "In a clear attempt at contraband, Itabo tried to transfer to Cemex Dominicana 644.78 metric tons of a fuel commonly called Pet Coke." (Pet coke is short for "petroleum coke, a form of carbon that results from oil refinery processes.)
At the same time, the DGA announced because of the litany of irregularities that were detected, they have ordered a full investigation into the activities of the two companies over the past two years, as mandating in the Customs Law.
The first thing cited by the Customs office is the fact that Itabo transferred fuels that were imported under the aegis of the exonerations granted by the Dominican government which they say is a clear violation of Law 3489 and modifications.
All of this started when Customs inspectors appeared at the weighing station of Cemex Dominicana to investigate 17 trucks that were there. According to statement from both Cemex and Itabo, the trucks were sent to Cemex "by mistake" and returned to Itabo. As a result of the incident, DGA has sent an invoice for RD$1,143,649 in taxes and fines to Cemex. Both firms have denied any wrong doing.

IKEA electric conflict
Residents in the area around the giant IKEA store going up on Av. John F. Kennedy are protesting against the installation of a high-tension 69 volts line to feed the store. They published an open letter on Saturday to the Mayor of Santo Domingo, the Ministry of Environment and the general public listing their concerns.
The residents say that the electromagnetic field could cause diseases such as cancer, tumors and leukemia, especially in children, pregnant women and seniors. They warn that the installation is a cause for concern for people with hypertension and heart problems.
They also complain about the visual pollution and the high risk of one of the lines falling in the event of a hurricane, earthquake or traffic accident, leading to a possible human catastrophe.
They complain that there has been a violation of Law 176-07 that regulates the use of public spaces, and that they have blocked off all the sidewalks with large posts, forcing pedestrians to walk on the road.
Furthermore, they complain that this has reduced the value of their homes and properties in the area.

RD$31 million in exit bonds
Executives of the power distribution company EdeEste received exit bonds of RD$31 million prior to the transfer of the foreign-owned Trust Capital of the West shares of the company to the Dominican government, as reported in El Dia. The transaction was part of a deal signed by the Dominican government to end a legal case against the country that government spokesman deemed too costly.

Fernandez orders Maconi extradited
The Executive Branch issued Decree 482-09 that authorizes the extradition to the US of Bienvenido Guevara Diaz (Maconi). Diario Libre reports that Maconi will face charges in a New York court where he is accused of conspiracy and distribution of more than 10 kilograms of cocaine in US territory.
Maconi is accused of being an associate of the admitted drug trafficker Quirino Ernesto Paulino Castillo, from whom Dominican authorities seized 1,387 kilograms of cocaine that was being taken to the United States. Because of this Paulino Castillo was extradited and is in prison in New York.
The Presidential decree accepts the sentence handed down by the Penal Chamber of the Supreme Court. Last week the court ordered the extradition of the alleged drug trafficker. The Supreme Court took as its own a request from the US Embassy and from the Dominican Attorney General.
The decision is based on the charges stipulated in the formal accusation Number 08-CRIM.111, registered on 11 February 2008 in the Southern District Court of New York, and are not related to the charges that have been made in the country.
After the publication of the President's decree, it is expected that in the next few hours Maconi will be handed over to United States federal agents for transfer to New York to face charges.
The paragraph of Article 1 of Decree 482-09 says that the deliver for extradition is ordered under the condition that Guevara Diaz will under no circumstance be tried for any violation different from those that motivated his extradition. Guevara Diaz cannot receive a sentence greater than the maximum sentence in the Dominican Republic which is 30 years. He cannot receive the death penalty.

Public Health closes 68 water bottlers
The Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (SESPAS) closed down 68 small water bottlers that do not fulfill the necessary sanitary norms required to sell water to the public.
According to the newspaper Hoy, most of these bottlers were located in the province of Santo Domingo and in lower-income barrios of the National District. Others were located in provinces such as Espaillat, Sanchez Ramirez and Duarte.
The health authorities have reported that they will be continuing these inspections in San Pedro de Macoris, La Romana, Monte Plata and Sabana Perdida in the municipality of North Santo Domingo.
Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez said that the ministry will not permit the sale of any type of water that does not meet the necessary conditions for human consumption.
The minister said, "The health of the Dominican people constitutes the main priority of the authorities, and because of this I am warning those who process water to keep to quality regulations."
If the closed businesses try to operate in a clandestine fashion, their equipment will be seized, warned the director of the department of Environmental Health for SESPAS, Luis Emilio Feliz Roa.
Feliz Roa reported that below standard water was sold off the backs of pickups.

Dario Contreras measures violence
So far this year emergency cases due to violence are up at the Dario Contreras Hospital, compared to the same period last year. While the overall death rate has climbed, ironically, the death rate from violent cases is down 0.24%. The Dario Contreras is the nation's most important and oldest orthopedic and trauma center.
Injuries from fights with knives or machetes, firearms, motorcycle accidents, baseball bats, stones, baseballs, beatings or spankings, and different aggressions all increased according to the Statistics Department of the hospital.
Emergency Room physicians attended 27,084 patients in the first 6 months of the year. In 2008 the figure was 21,524, so this year represents a 25.83% increase over last.
The ER received 4,120 cases of violence during the first half of the year, and 64 persons died. Last year, the ER receives 3,588 cases with 82 deaths.
Motorcycle accident victims continue on the rise. So far in 2009, there have been 4,668 cases taken to "The Dario." Last year the number was 4,524. Many more men were hurt in motorcycle accidents than women, but still there were 776 women taken to the hospital as a result of motorcycle accidents.

Green alert for 14 provinces
A total of 8 houses were affected yesterday afternoon by the overflow of a creek in Monsignor Nouel (Bonao) province. The flooding was due to the heavy rains, reported the Center for Emergency Operations (COE). The houses that were affected are located in the Las Flores barrio of the town of Bonao and in the Quinto Centenario section. A total of 40 persons were forced to seek shelter with friends and relatives.
The province of Monsignor Nouel was put on green alert together with the provinces of San Pedro de Macoris, La Romana, el Seibo, Santo Domingo, Monte Plata, San Francisco de Macoris, Sanchez Ramirez, Maria Trinidad Sanchez, the National District, La Vega, San Cristobal, Samana and San Jose de Ocoa.
The 15 areas are located in the area most affected by a tropical wave that is located over the central part of the country, moving slowly to the west. This system, according to forecasts by the National Meteorological Office (Onamet) will continue today to bring rains accompanied by thunder and lightening and occasional strong gusts of winds.
Residents of low-laying areas and steep inclines are warned to be in the lookout for sudden floods and landslides.
For links to sites for a general overview on weather in the DR, see http://dr1.com/weather/hurricanes.shtml
 
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