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Daily News - Monday, 04 March 2013

Presidency upholds juridical security
Administrative Minister of the Presidency Jose Ramon Peralta says that the Medina administration will never take any action that would threaten judicial security in the country. He made the statement after commenting on concerns expressed by the president of the Council of Business, Manuel Diez Cabral following the state of the nation speech on 27 February where President Medina said that the government could submit a bill for a law to tax extraordinary earnings of Barrick Pueblo Viejo gold mine. Peralta says that as well as guaranteeing Barrick's investment the government guarantees all foreign investment in the country. He said that in making the statement the President had gone public because talks between the government and Barrick had been going nowhere. Medina's statement was aimed at opening up the discussions as a way of pressing the company to be more flexible when it comes to sharing earnings. He said that the President never spoke of suspending the contract with Barrick, but rather of talks to achieve equity in the distribution of the mine's earnings.


Teachers face stiff battle
Prospects of an agreement on a salary increase for public school teachers seem to be ever more distant due to the tougher stances being adopted by the government and the Dominican Teachers Association (ADP). In a paid press notice published today, Monday 4 March, the government reiterates that the general increase that will be applied is for 20% and has been in effect since last 1 February. However, ADP president Eduardo Hidalgo said last night, Sunday 3 March, that in the face of the government media onslaught, the national plenary meeting of teachers delegates called for tomorrow, Tuesday 5 March could approve a much larger scale strike and an increase in teachers demonstrations. He described the figures presented by the government outlining the expense involved in a salary increase as "false," and called on the government to stop spending Ministry of Education funds on these paid announcements in the newspapers.

The document, paid for by the Ministry of Education, says that the 100% pay increase that the ADP is demanding "is not economically possible or feasible, because it would absorb nearly 50% of the budget increase for Education." They argued that complying with the teachers' demands would sacrifice the construction of 10,000 new classrooms and put a halt to the acquisition of new school desks. The government has published full-page ads in newspapers depicting newspaper clippings talking about a lack of sensitivity (on the part of the ADP) to seek a salary increase at the expense of the funds from the 4% of the Gross Domestic Product.

Admiral: a few should not ruin our work
The Minister of the Armed Forces (FFAA), Admiral Sigfrido Pared Perez, says that 98% of the members of the military are doing their jobs, and they are always trying to do their best while carrying out their duties, "and we are not going to allow two or three to damage this hard work." Pared Perez said that during his term in office he has not heard of any military officer with a sugarcane farm, thousands of head of cattle or luxury apartments.

He said that since the "Paya Case" he has never again heard of a military officer involved in drug trafficking. "In the Armed Forces and in any military institution in the entire world there are always going to be people who are corrupted. Now, it is in the hands of those who lead to know how to respond to those officers, to those enlisted men who commit this type of crime and, naturally, in the Armed Forces they are now discharged and sent to stand trial," he said. Nevertheless, he said that there have been many cases lately and he added that each branch of the military now has an Internal Affairs Department that is permanently monitoring officers to see what they are doing, and "in this way we know if they go outside the lines."

He also referred to the large number of generals in the Armed Forces with nothing to do, noting that there is a legislative proposal in the National Congress that seeks to reduce to 10 the number of generals in each institution.

Doctors alarmed: ITBIS on heart meds
Dozens of items relating to cardiovascular problems and their treatment are becoming scarce on the Dominican market since the government levied an 18% value added tax called the Tax on the Transfer of Industrialized Goods (ITBIS in Spanish) and other tariffs on these items when they were imported. Directors of the cardiovascular centers at hospitals and clinics have called on the government to revoke the decision because it is affecting cardiac patients who already have difficulties getting access to good healthcare.

Leading doctors in the field, including the head of the Dominican Society for Cardiology and doctors at the Salvador Gautier, Cedimat and Cecanot hospitals also raised red flags about the implications of this tax.

Congress abolishes jail terms for defamation
The president of the Chamber of Deputies Justice Commission, Demostenes Martinez, says that custodial sentences for defamation or slander have been removed from the Penal Code. He said that he thought that it was unconstitutional for anyone to go to prison for these types of offenses. He said that from now on, fines but not prison sentences would be imposed on anyone convicted of either of these crimes. The editors of Listin Diario, El Dia and El Caribe had appealed to the Constitutional Court to declare the prison sentences unconstitutional.

Fuel subsidies eat up RD$3.2 billion
In just a year and nine months, the state has spent RD$3,222,809,331 on delivering 76,450,000 gallons of subsidized fuel to public transportation drivers, with no sign of any improvement in the services that they provide to the public. A group of transportation business owners have benefitted enormously from this tax break. They receive around 3,350,000 gallons of tax-free regular diesel fuel each month. The situation is caused by the drivers using the issue of the fuel subsidy as a way of putting pressure on the authorities, when, at the mere mention of withdrawing it, they threaten to halt transportation and increase their fares and cargo rates.

In order to increase the pressure, the transportation unions hold wildcat strikes at peak hours, causing chaos for thousands of commuters. After the mess there is always a process of talks and the transport unions get what they want and continue to be the beneficiaries of the compensation, which began "temporarily" in 2007 in order to prevent a fare increase. According to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, in 2011 the government delivered 33,185,000 gallons of regular diesel (beginning that March) and in 2012, the number grew to 43,265,000 gallons. According to these figures, from March to December 2011 they spent RD$1,352,716,782 and then for 2012 the resources increased to RD$1,870,000,000, equal to an increase of over RD$500,000,000 in one year. On average a sum of RD$155,800,000 is spent each month on subsidizing the regular diesel fuel for the truck and bus drivers.


National Library opens tomorrow
The Pedro Henriquez Urena National Library (BNPHU) in Santo Domingo will finally begin to provide services to the public tomorrow morning, Tuesday, 5 March. Leading figures from the cultural and educational worlds have been invited to the launch, which will begin at 9am, headed by the Minister of Culture, Jose Antonio Rodriguez, according to a press release sent out by the BNPHU director, Diomedes Nunez Polanco.

"The resumption of library services will strengthen the government strategy for developing quality education in the country since books, in their different formats, are fundamental tools for achieving the great goal that President Danilo Medina has set for education," said Nunez Polanco, who went on to announce the imminent launch of the BNPHU website "Alexandria 2.0" an interface between the catalogue and the digital bibliographic collections, which would also allow for real time interconnection with the world's most prestigious libraries and the development of academic and intellectual communities on a broad range of topics.

Barrick seeks to compensate losses with DR profits
Despite suffering some losses, Barrick Gold Corporation is doing fine. The gold mine that Barrick Gold is administering in Dominican territory is one of the businesses that the Canadian company is depending on in order to improve its profits, given the decrease in earnings in 2012 and investor demands for a change in the gold industry.

In a report dated 14 February and published on the mining company's webpage, which contains the results of the company's performance in 2012, the company reports a net loss of US$3.06 billion (US$3.06 per share) in the fourth quarter of the year, "including a US$4.2 billion after-tax impairment charge primarily related to our copper business unit." For all of 2012 Barrick reported a net loss of US$0.67 billion (US$670,000,000) and US$0.66 a share, "including after-tax impairment charges of $4.4 billion." (NT: "Adjusted net earnings of $3.83 billion ($3.82 per share) were the second highest in the company's history.") The high costs, beyond what was foreseen, led the company to decide to sell Barrick Energy and not expand the copper mine at Lumwana, Zambia. For the full Barrick report: www.barrick.com/investors/news/news-details/2013/Barrick-Reports-Fourth-Quarter-and-Full-Year-2012-Results/default.aspx)

On 27 February, President Danilo Medina issued a "last" call for Barrick Gold to sit down with the government to review the fiscal aspects of the Pueblo Viejo mining contract, since he considers the current gold sales income distribution scheme to be "unacceptable." The mining company has stated its willingness, but says that it faces limitations due to the commitments undertaken with the institutions that are financing the project. A mediation specialist and negotiation consultant, Nelson Espinal Baez, says that the fact that the mining company lowered its global earnings "is not an objective criteria for opposing a renegotiation (process) with the Dominican government."

In an editorial today, Diario Libre comments that the Barrick situation can be strategically put to work for the Dominican Republic in the negotiations the government seeks to advance with the mining company.


Deputy says PN to get major reforms
The Chamber of Deputies Interior and Police Commission chairman, Elpidio Baez, has told reporters from El Nuevo Diario that Congress is studying a proposal for implementing major changes in the National Police, including promotions and salary increases. The deputy, who represents the National District, repeated the observation that many police agents have second jobs outside the force, despite being paid wages. He said that the Police force has twice as many generals and colonels than it needs and high-ranking officers are performing tasks that should be done by lieutenants or captains. He noted that the President would be announcing details of the salary increase for members of the Police and the Armed Forces before the middle of this month when he releases the National Public Safety Plan, which takes into consideration the police reforms.

Over two dozen kids with dengue symptoms in Santiago
A total of twenty-seven children with high fever and other dengue symptoms were hospitalized at the Arturo Grullon Children's Hospital in Santiago over the weekend of 2 and 3 of March. Hospital director Dr. Rosa Maria Morel said that blood samples were being taken in order to determine whether or not the children have the disease. She said that the children were out of danger and they were being treated for high fever and being rehydrated. She added that at this time of the year they usually see a fall in the number of dengue cases due to the cooler temperatures, but poorly stored water and refuse in the streets has led to a higher instead of lower caseload. As is usual in these cases the health official called on all residents to ensure there is no stagnant water around their homes, and to keep water tanks tightly covered.

Prosecutor appoints state lawyers in Bahia de las Aguilas case
The Prosecutor General Francisco Domingue Brito has asked lawyers Laura Acosta Lora and Roger Vittini Mendez to represent the government in the Bahia de las Aguilas case. The lawyers will not be paid and will do so as a service to the nation. Dominguez says their participation will expedite the case. The case will again be heard at the Supreme Court of Justice on Monday, 4 March. Although the government recently announced they had reached a deal with property titleholders in the province of Pedernales near Bahia de las Aguilas, the administration later accepted criticism and is letting the case run its course in the courts.

Hundreds of thousands watch Carnival Parade along Malecon
The National Parade for Carnival 2013 came to a close yesterday evening, Sunday 3 March with hundreds of participants in over 200 floats and groups showcasing this lively and colorful expression of the Dominican people's magical and religious traditions. The parade, which took place in Santo Domingo, was dedicated to the city of Bani. It began at 4pm and went on for over five hours. The event was headed by Vice President Margarita Cedeno and the Minister of Culture, Jose Antonio Rodriguez. Both praised the organization and the representation of the 31 provinces in the parade. This year's Carnival king and queen were merengue stars Fernando Villalona and Milly Quezada who led the procession down George Washington Avenue (Malecon). Some 2,500 police agents monitored the carnival.

Feria Ganadera set for 9-17 March
The cattle ranching and farming sector in the Dominican Republic announces that this year's Feria Ganadera will be held at its Malecon location in Santo Domingo from 9-17 March. The weeklong agricultural fair is a showcase for national farming, attracting an estimated one million visitors every year. Rene Columna Guzman, president of the Patronato Nacional Ganadero that organizes the event, said that this year organized visits by public school children have been coordinated and are part of the program. The fair is also a good place for families to go shopping for products at reduced prices as they are sold directly by the producers.

Teatro por un tubo is back at Teatro Guloya
Now in its sixth year, the traditional March month of theatrical productions is back at the Arzobispo Portes "off Broadway-style" theater in Santo Domingo's Colonial City. This year, 25 actors and 12 new plays are being staged. They feature actors including Patricia Ascuasiati, Paula Disla, Henry Mercedes, Rafael Morla, Donis Taveras, Claudio Rivera, Reynaldo del Orbe, Berenice Pacheco, Ramon Guzman, Tomas Rubio, Ingrid Luciano, Doraysa de Pena and Awilda Polanco. The plays will be on stage through 17 March. Each weekend, there will be one or two different plays for the delight of the public. Shows are Friday and Saturdays at 8:30pm and Sundays at 7:30pm. Teatro Guloya is located on Calle Arziobispo Portes 205, Colonial City, Santo Domingo.

For more on ongoing and upcoming events, see http://dr1.com/calendar

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