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Daily News - Thursday, 01 October 2009

VP gets involved
Vice President Rafael Alburquerque and Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal have announced that they will go and see for themselves the encroaching deforestation over the border with Haiti. Listin Diario has been featuring reports showing that Haiti's barren hills are moving east.
The VP and Fernandez plan to tour the area by helicopter to get a better idea of the severity of the problem. Alburquerque acknowledged that "slash and burn" methods are common and not just an issue of the border's Haitian community. Fernandez added that the Ministry has been working on increasing forestation efforts with families on both sides of the border and also contacting international organizations for help and advice.
Increased media coverage and efforts for forestation initiatives come on the heels of National Reforestation Month, which begins in October. Two million trees will be planted throughout the DR during 400 events in October, as part of the Quisqueya Verde program.

Better days ahead for Haiti
Economic improvements in Haiti are the best of news for the DR. A business mission visiting Haiti this week bodes well. Former US President Bill Clinton is optimistic that Haiti is well placed to pull itself out of its current state of grinding poverty. Clinton, who is the UN Special Envoy for Haiti, is leading a conference of investors that could make the difference.
Part of Mr. Clinton's mandate as UN Special Envoy is to help encourage more private sector investment in Haiti. The 2-day business mission with 200 businessmen now in Haiti is part of this effort. The meeting is sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank to analyze opportunities in tourism, textiles, farming and alternative energy generation in Haiti. Clinton mentioned that Miami-based Royal Caribbean has plans for a nearly US$55 million investment in Labadee on the northern coast.
"Haiti is open to business," Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis told participants today.
Clinton told the Miami Herald in an interview about the initiative: "Now there is a determination that sweeps right through Latin America and the Caribbean to do what can be done to bring Haiti into the family of Latin America, to bring Haiti into our hemisphere's future, not to have it isolated out there as the poorest country."
Investors attending this week's trade summit include Rolando Bunster, who is working with the Haitian government on clean energy. The plan is to install an initial five windmills with eight megawatts of capacity. Bunster is a major investor in power generation in the DR.
See: www.daylife.com/article/07FQ1VX0Xd4Pk?q=Haiti

Government presents card to IMF
The DR government will officially present the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with its letter of intent for a new Stand-by Arrangement today. The letter describes the policies that the Dominican government plans to implement in the context of its request for financial support to fund budget deficits. It needs to be reviewed by the IMF executive board.
The government is expecting US$990 million in international funds for this year. The funds, coming from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, will not be released until the DR signs its letter of intent with the IMF.
The WB will give US$300 million, IDB will give US$390 million and the IMF will give an additional US$300 million. US$600 million will be disbursed in 2010.
The IMF forecast that the DR economy would grow 0.5% in 2009 and 2% in 2011. This is considerably lower than the 5.3% growth registered in 2008. Inflation is expected to be 0.9% in 2009 and 5.4% in 2010.

Public debt is US$17.39 billion
Clave newspaper highlights that the public debt is now at US$17,396.2 million, according to figures from The Economist. In other words, every baby born in the DR comes into this world owing US$1,845.
Journalist Edwin Ruiz points out that the Ministry of Hacienda only acknowledges a government debt of US$11,358.2 million. He writes that the Dominican government stats do not account for accumulated obligations and debt payments to electricity companies, or the so-called Central Bank quasi-fiscal debt. Clave newspaper says that from January to September 2009 alone, the government approved new loans for US$897.2 million and EUR18.5 million, for US$924.14 million in US$ dollars.
The Economist also forecasts that the debt is rising. It indicates that for 2011, the public debt will have risen to US$19,355.2 million. By then the public debt will have grown from 41.22% of the Gross Domestic Product (2009) to 43.6% of GDP by 2011.
Ruiz says that the Ministry of Hacienda stats report that the debt at US$11.2 billion is 24.3% of the GDP. The Ministry indicates that of this, the foreign debt is US$7.14 billion and has grown 13%, or US$844.5 million, compared to 2006. The domestic debt is estimated in US$4.2 billion. This does not take into account arrears with the electricity sector. The new CDEEE executive vice president Celso Marranzini says the overall debt is US$590 million.
Economist Carlos Asilis told Clave that the levels of debt are a cause for concern. He told the newspaper that the "levels are very close to the ceiling of what the country can bear in the long term." He said that conservatively speaking, the debt could be at 50-55% of GDP. He says that this means that, "the days the Dominican state can continue improvising and applying patches to the Dominican economy will soon be over. He said the government only deals with public finances when its back is against the wall.
"The role of the state in our economy needs to be redefined", he said, "especially with regards to an injection of a high degree of transparency and rationality in public spending, a more proactive approach to the economy and greater economic freedom for the productive sector, by way of less financial repression," he said.
Miguel Ceara Hatton of the United Nations Development Program office said that taking on debt could be good or bad. He said that the country has a serious problem when it comes to the quality of government spending. "There is not enough information about where the money is going," he told the newspaper. He says there is "an institutional framework that does not allow for transparency or accountability." He says that in these circumstances, to go on taking on debt generates many concerns.
For The Economist report, see http://buttonwood.economist.com/content/gdc

Beaches privatized
The Constitutional Revisory Assembly has announced that the Constitutional article on protected areas will include private property rights. This legalizes the de-facto privatization of beaches, rivers, lakes and coastline that has taken place over the years. Senator Francis Vargas (PLD-Puerto Plata) submitted the request. In the past, the Constitution established all these areas as fully accessible to the public.
The new Constitution will read: "The high basins of the rivers and areas of endemic, native and migratory biodiversity are subject to special protection by the government to ensure their management and conservation. The rivers, lakes, beaches and coastline are in the public domain and subject to free access, but the right to private property will be respected. The law will regulate the conditions, rules and pathways for the public to enjoy these areas.
The day before the legislators voted to maintain that these areas were public, but this was overturned in yesterday's session.

Elections unified
Yesterday legislators also approved changes in the Constitution to enable presidential, congressional and municipal elections to be held in the same year. This will start in 2016. The presidential and congressional election will be held on the third Sunday in May. The municipal election will be held on the third Sunday in February.
The new amendments also dictate that when a presidential candidate does not receive at least 50% + 1 of the vote to be elected president, a second round of voting will take place on the last Sunday in July of the same year. In this case, only the two candidates with the most votes can participate in the second round vote.
The Constitutional Revisory Assembly also agreed to reduce the number of judges at the Central Electoral Board to 5. In the second reading, they also agreed to create the Higher Electoral Court that will be responsible for reviewing possible constitutional violations. That court will be made up of 3 to 5 judges and their replacements. Earlier, legislators revoked citizens' right to challenge constitutional violations.

Marranzini asks for patience
Celso Marranzini, the recently recruited executive vice president of the State-Owned Electricity Companies (CDEEE), is asking the public to give him time to resolve the power crisis. He had good news, though. He says citizens will begin to notice a reduction in blackouts beginning today.
Marranzini says that the government is awaiting shipments of fuel to power the generators, adding that the Los Minas 6 generator, which can produce 85 MW, has now entered the system. San Felipe, which has been off because it had no fuel, would be back on the grid soon. He said the government has dished out US$3 million to reduce its arrears with the generators. Marranzini stated that he hoped that enough fuel would arrive to keep San Felipe online until 1 November, when it will be turned off for maintenance.

Haitises report postponed
The United Nations committee that is studying the legality and environmental implications of building a cement factory near the perimeter of the Los Haitises National Park says it has postponed the presentation of that report until further notice. The report had been promised from 20-30 September, but committee members now say that the delay is due to the high volume of information they have had to process.
The UN report is intended to provide information for the pending legal battle in Dominican courts. The court has postponed judgment in the case, pending the completion of the UN report.
Los Haitises hit the headlines several months ago, when the media and the Internet came alive with a mass rejection by large sectors of Dominican society of the plan to build a factory in the vulnerable ecological area. In contrast, media coverage against the cement factory has been muted because at least one of the largest media groups belongs to the same owners as the planned factory. A major protest concert was held at Plaza de Espana, and individual protests have been held at the proposed site and in Santo Domingo. Public rejection of the project was registered in a recent Gallup poll, which found that 85% of Dominicans were against the cement plant's chosen location.

Guido still at it
You can't blame the man for trying. But by the looks of it, legal advisor under former President Hipolito Mejia, Guido Gomez Mazara's chances of being the PRD's Secretary General have passed him by.
Yesterday, Gomez once again faced the cameras brandishing proof of fraud in the PRD internal electoral process. But at this point it seems as if his claims are falling on deaf ears. The PRD has officially proclaimed Geanilda Vasquez and Orlando Jorge Mera as winners of the election.
Gomez is now pointing fingers, saying that Miguel Vargas Maldonado, Peggy Cabral, Orlando Mera, Mario Torres and Ana Maria Acevedo all conspired in a plot to sabotage his and Tony Pena Guaba's candidacies. He is calling for them to answer within a week and has challenged them all to follow him into a courtroom.
Gomez showed the media a transcript of an alleged Blackberry conversation between Acevedo and Cabral, where they discuss the fraud. As transcribed by Hoy, part of the conversation from Acevedo to Cabral: "Remember, this was planned in advance. Do you follow me? Robert told me that the fraud would be done and when the electoral documents arrived at the Central Electoral Board (JCE) everything would be ready. Andy did it with some people who know a lot about that."

One-legged golf star is Dominican
Golf is hard enough when you have two legs, but imagine if you only had one. This is the reality of Dominican Manuel de los Santos, who is taking the golf world by storm, despite the fact he has a real handicap. The 25-year old rising star had his leg amputated after a car accident when he was 18. He has opted against using a prosthetic leg and walks around the greens on special crutches. A former baseball prospect, de los Santos now dreams of conquering St. Andrews and will play at tournaments there and at Carnoustie and Kingsbarns.
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