Fernandez’s state of the nation address

During his state of the nation address to mark Dominican Independence Day on Saturday 27 February, President Leonel Fernandez shared his satisfaction with the performance of the economy. He stressed that the economy had grown 3.5% in 2009. The country’s foreign debt is 18.2% of the GDP, which he says is below the level of most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, and according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), almost half of the debt in proportion to the GDP level in 2003. “All this serves to demonstrate the prudence which the present administration has exercised in its international borrowing,” he said.

Fernandez said that the Central Government deficit closed at around 3.5% of GDP, around RD$55 billion, at a time when government revenues have declined by around RD$22 billion. “Summing up, government spending has neither been excessive, nor the increase in debt unsustainable. On the contrary, we have met the circumstances with the sense of balance, maturity and good sense that has always characterized us,” he said.

President Fernandez highlighted measures that have reduced the cost of borrowing and made more funds available to the productive sector, based on suggestions made during last year’s Summit for National Unity. He said this resulted in an increase in loans for the private sector of RD$32.7 billion from April to December 2009 that benefited farming, construction, commerce and small and medium-sized business.

He said that the balance of payments had benefited from the US$3.7 billion fall in imports last year, including US$1.5 billion less in fuel imports. The balance of payments ended with a surplus of US$408 million.

Fernandez pointed out that inflation in 2009 was 5.76%, meeting the Central Bank year’s end projected goal.

He also pointed out that despite the global economic crisis, the DR was still a top tourism destination, ending the year with almost the same number of visitors as in 2008. Remittances also remained at approximately the same level.

Fernandez said that the country’s gross international reserves reached a record level of US$3.3 billion in 2009 and net international reserves were at US$2.8 billion. “Never before in the national history had we reached such a level of international reserves,” said the President. “Never had there been in the Central Bank so many reserves in hard currency; and this is even more extraordinary because it happened in a year of profound economic global crisis.”

President Fernandez forecast that for 2010 the Dominican economy would enter a year of growth, with more jobs created in an environment of low inflation and with an increase in social protection for the country’s poor that he says has reduced extreme poverty from 11.8% of the population in October 2008 to 10.4% in 2008.

Fernandez praised the DR pension system, which he said covered 2,193,890 workers and had accumulated RD$94.3 billion, or 6.05% of the Gross Domestic Product. The government plans for these funds to be used for construction of housing.

Among public works that were concluded or advanced, he mentioned several that promote education and cultural values, including the Bonao Regional University Center, the Popular Theater in Villa Juana, the Cultural Civic Center in Mauricio Baez, the Pedro Henriquez Urena Library, the Juan Bosch Cultural City in La Vega, the remodeling of the National Archives, works at the UASD, and the new Ministry of Environment headquarters.

Moreover, he mentioned the construction of the 70km Autopista del Coral linking La Romana with Punta Cana International Airport. Fernandez said this was the missing link in the 172km Santo Domingo-East corridor.

He also mentioned the construction of the Boulevard Turistico del Atlantico that will complete the northeastern tourism circuit, also facilitating traffic to the Samana area. He listed the ongoing repairs to the 51km road to Constanza, another prime tourism and farming destination and the 29km San Cristobal-Bani highway that is almost completed, the Viadom project to repave parts of Duarte Highway, the construction of the Avenida Circunvalacion in Santiago, a ring-road, expansion of the Navarrete-Puerto Plata highway with the construction of a new tunnel and repairs to the Santo Domingo-San Cristobal highway.

On the issue of the electricity sector, President Fernandez confirmed the launch of a prepaid meters program, and provided more information about joint plans between the Gulf State of Abu Dhabi and Ferrostal for the installation of a 600-megawatt plant and a natural gas terminal in Pepillo Salcedo, on the northwest coast.

President Fernandez dismissed the issue of corruption, saying it was only “isolated individuals who incur in those acts.” He said that in cases where corruption is detected, and if there is proof, the people concerned should be sent to justice.

He also addressed the issue of drug trafficking and its grip on the country. He said that to reduce the penetration of drug traffickers into drug enforcement agencies, “members of the National Drug Control Department would be contracted directly in the future”. He said the DNCD would no longer hire members of the police or armed forces. Furthermore, he said there was a need to limit the positions available for generals in the military and for their automatic retirement. “We cannot deny that illegal drug trafficking of is one of the greatest challenges the DR has had to confront in this first decade of the 21st Century. But I am sure that with political will, international cooperation, professionalization, equipping, and an adequate strategic plan and with the integration of all sectors of the nation, we will defeat it and extinguish it, as the Dominican family deserves and is demanding,” said Fernandez.

Fernandez ended his speech with words of praise for two events that made Dominicans proud – young Dominican singer Martha Heredia winning the Latin American Idol contest and the Leones del Escogido baseball team winning the Caribbean Series.

For the entire speech in Spanish, see www.presidencia.gob.do/app/pre_discursos_det.aspx?id=12022&e=2%2f27%2f2010