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Daily News - Tuesday, 08 September 2009

Talks with Russia
Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso arrived in Moscow on a four-day diplomatic mission yesterday. The mission is expected to lead to the signing of cooperation agreements between both nations, as well as creating stronger ties between Russia and the DR. Listin Diario reports that Morales Troncoso was greeted by Russian Latin America Department sub-director Victor V. Koronelli and Alexander Grachev, who works in the Russian Foreign Ministry's Department of Protocol. The Minister was also met by the DR ambassador to Russia, Jorge Luis Perez Alvarado.

DR WEF scorecard
The DR jumped up three spots in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2009-2010, going from 98th on the list to 95th of 133 countries. The news was announced by Andres Van der Horst Alvarez, who is the director of the National Competitiveness Council. Van der Horst said that of the 12 pillars of the WEF Report, the DR made significant improvements in 8 areas.
The report identified that the most problematic factors for doing business in the DR are corruption, access to financing, tax rates, inefficient government bureaucracy and an inadequately educated workforce.
The DR is ranked in the top half of the 133-country list in the areas of:
Institutions: Business costs of terrorism 55
Infrastructure: Quality of port infrastructure 58, quality of air transport infrastructure 36, available seat kilometers 50
Macro-economic stability: Government surplus/deficit 65, government debt 40
Higher education and training: tertiary enrollment 64, local availability of research and training services 63
Good market efficiency: Total tax rate 49, No. of procedures to start a business 60, time required to start a business 56, prevalence of foreign ownership 29, business impact of rules on FDI 62, Burden of customs procedures 45
Labor market efficiency: Cooperation in labor-employer relations 35, flexibility of wage determination 37, rigidity of employment 49, hiring and firing practices 60, female participation in labor force 63
Financial and market sophistication: Restriction on capital flows 65, soundness of banks 59
Technological readiness: Laws relating to ICT 62, FDI and technology transfer 36, Internet users 62
Market size: Domestic market size index 66,
Business sophistication: Local supplier quantity 65, state of cluster development 63, value chain breadth 62, control of international distribution 56, extent of marketing 50,
Innovation: Government procurement of advanced tech products 63
The DR is ranked in the bottom 10 in:
Diversion of public funds 127, favoritism in decisions by government officials 133, wastefulness of government spending 132
Infrastructure: quality of electricity supply 130
Health and primary education: Quality of primary education 132
Higher education and training: Quality of math and science education 131, Quality of the educational system 129
The scorecard rates the performance of the Fernandez administration that has been in office since 2004.
For the DR scorescard, see dr1.com/news/2009/090809_competitiveness_index_report.pdf
To download the entire report, see www.weforum.org/en/initiatives/gcp/Global%20Competitiveness%20Report/index.htm

RD$800,000 at the ball park
Despite the fact that Santiago is a smaller city than Santo Domingo, it has not escaped the practice of creating special payrolls for making so-called extracurricular payments and including non-essential personnel on the payroll.
An audit by the Chamber of Accounts (CC), which examined a two-year period, revealed that Mayor Jose Enrique Sued's administration had a "2nd payroll." The payroll included payment of checks totaling RD$51 million and an estimated RD$800,000 spent on the best seats at the Cibao Ball Park.
Sued's 2nd payroll, which was apparently created without council approval, included payments to people who did absolutely nothing. Hoy reports that Sued claims that the 2nd payroll was created after an agreement with council members. The CC audit also reveals that payments in excess RD$4,633,242 were made out to contractors, much more than the city government paid out for any public works project during the two-year period under scrutiny.
According to the CC audit the city government had registered costs of RD$50,510,339, but the checks totaled RD$55,143,581. There was also an extra RD$1,192,800 for sanitation programs.
The report by the CC reveals that many of the payments made by Sued's 2nd payroll were made without transparency since many payments were made in cash.
The audit also exposes high levels of nepotism in Sued's administration with nieces, nephews and in-laws receiving payments through the city government's payroll. There were also expenditures of RD$378,162 on security for Sued, without council approval, as well as RD$973,220 on holiday gift baskets for city officials. There was also the spending of RD$297,405 on plane tickets, RD$120,707 on dental services for employees and RD$50,919 on bicycle purchases for the children of government employees.
An editorial in today's Listin Diario criticizes the RD$16 billion managed by city governments with little control, as revealed by the recent CC audit, indicating these cannot be deemed merely "weaknesses" as President Leonel Fernandez recently described proven corrupt practices in his administration brought forward by investigative journalism reports.
"Too much money is allocated and spent without controls, and this country, we believe, cannot continue with his luxury, when there are so many communities that want to develop and the government is under pressure to build public works that should be built by the city governments using their own budgets," writes the editorialist.

Senate fires family members
Senate president Reinaldo Pared Perez announced the dismissal of 23 workers who are related to senators, in response to an investigative report by TV journalist Alicia Ortega.
Pared announced that dismissals of family members on the public payroll would continue. The move to fire these family members was made after it was revealed that many senators had been using public funds to employ their relatives in non-essential positions or were receiving money without doing anything in return. Nepotism is common in branches of government in the DR.
The Monday TV update on the senators' practice of employing their relatives also revealed the frequent practice of issuing checks in the names of people who were not aware of the payments being made. These checks are then cashed by others. On the show, it was revealed that while nepotism is not a penal offense, forging the endorsement of a check is.
Ortega has made a series of reports on wasteful government spending.

Internet too expensive for students
A survey carried out four years ago by graduate students Alvaro Belmar, Enilda Garcia and Maria Diaz Solis and only now being circulated, shows just how poor many students at the state university are.
Although Internet and phone connectivity has become a fixture in many Dominican homes over the last 10 years, these basic telecommunications services are considered a luxury for 90% of the public UASD University students.
According to a UASD survey of its students, only 10% have Internet service at home and only 40% have a phone line at home.
Hoy writes that many students depend on Internet centers at the university and don't buy personal computers.
The survey reveals that at least 6% of students don't have a TV but 32% have paid for cable service.
Only 75% of homes have running water, and 33% said they did not have electricity where they lived.
There are also financial difficulties for UASD students where in 11% of homes no one works, increasing the amount of pressure on students.
Forty three percent of students live in homes with two bedrooms or fewer and 78% of homes only have one bathroom.
Of those surveyed, 6.6% are responsible for the household's finances and 60% have no dependents at all.
More than 74% of UASD students use public transport and at least 70% of those students have never left the country.
In the DR, charges and taxes on Internet service raises its cost by 28%. The service is regarded as probably the most expensive in Latin America.

Deadly roads
In 2008 there were a total of 198 deaths on the nations highways, and through September 2009 a total of 363 people were killed.
August was the deadliest month with 179 total deaths. Between January and July a total of 184 people were killed on these highways with the Duarte Highway being the most dangerous, with 55% of all deaths occurring on this road. There have been 28 deaths on the Samana highway, with 50% of them in August.
The increase in highway deaths has led the Metropolitan Transport Authority (AMET) to create the Transport Accident Department (DIT), which will study the reasons behind the increase in the number of accidents, working in cooperation with the Highway Organization Department (DOCA) as well as the Attorney General's Office.

Leading PLD member shot
PLD vice secretary general and Central Committee member Rafael Antonio "Cheche" Luna has been shot in the chest and is in intensive care after emergency surgery. Hoy reports that Luna was shot by a man named as Leocadio Mejia Puello following a heated argument. Details of the shooting are still coming to light, but Hoy is reporting that the incident occurred after Luna insulted Mejia's daughter. The men were at a colmado in the Gazcue sector of Santo Domingo. Doctors say Luna was shot in the chest and arm, and had to have his lung drained as a result.

Big blow to drug trafficking
Columnist Leo Hernandez, writing in El Caribe, says that the recent confiscation of US$4.6 million, 4 SUVs, including one armor-plated SUV, weapons, cell phones and several confidential documents expected to lead to drug dealers, is being regarded as the biggest blow to narco-trafficking in the DR since Captain Quirino Paulino Castillo was arrested in 2004, with the change of government from Hipolito Mejia to Leonel Fernandez.
Hernandez explains that the detection of Cristian Almonte Peguero at a restaurant, who was able to escape, leaving behind a Grand Cherokee SUV in which a laptop with confidential information was found that lead to the vehicle with the cash. Furthermore, the National Department of Investigations ID card in Cristian Almonte's name has also resulted in new leads, as reported in Listin Diario.

Colombian operation?
The increase in drug trafficking and the growing links between the Colombian drug cartels and the DR has led Marino Vincho Castillo, the presidential advisor on drug issues, to call for a census of Colombians resident in the DR, estimated at close to 4,000. Castillo estimates there are 25,000 Colombians living in Haiti. Lawyer Castillo speculates that the case of the US$4.6 million could lead to the exposure of a Colombian-run operation.

Sobeida Feliz denies drug links
Sobeida Feliz Morel is denying ownership of the SUVs in the parking lot of the Esperilla apartment building. She said that only the Rover is hers. The judiciary ordered her temporary arrest for a year, as the case is heard in court. She says that she lives in Apartment 14B with her children, and not in Apartment 15B of the Torre Alco Paradisso. She says nothing was found in 14B, as reported in Listin Diario.
However, the prosecutors are accusing her of being in possession of a gun with three loaders, US$139,000, luxury watches and five cell phones.
Diario Libre reports that Sobeida Felix Morel was employed at a travel agency, earning RD$66,000 a month. She has to her name a Land Rover Sport, 2008 model and a Hummer 2006 model. She is linked to fugitive suspect drug dealer Cristian Almonte.

Piantini honored
Former director of the National Symphony Orchestra Carlos Piantini will have the main hall at the National Theater named in his honor by presidential decree. Piantini, who was the Theater's first director, is currently in the US undergoing medical treatment and says he is happy at the recognition. He has thanked President Leonel Fernandez and Minister of Culture Jose Rafael Lantigua for the honor. Piantini says he will return to the DR next month and that his health is in a stable condition.

Tremor in Higuey
An earthquake registering 4.1 on the Richter scale was felt in the eastern province of Higuey yesterday, according to the director of the Seismology Department at the UASD University, Eugenio Polanco. Polanco said that there is constant seismic activity in the DR due to the country's geographical location, but that often people don't even feel the shakes. The tremor was recorded at 133km below ground, yet no casualties or damage to property was reported.
For weather updates, see http://www.dr1.com/forums/weather-beyond/...
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