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Daily News - Wednesday, 02 April 2014

New Education Reform Pact
The Pact for Education Reform signed yesterday, Tuesday, 1 April, seeks to improve the quality of public education for all children from the age of three. The Pact calls for extending the school day to the afternoon and implementing major improvements in teacher-training programs. It also incorporates a sex education curriculum for all grades.

As of June of this year, entrance exams will be required to study education at the universities. Standardized tests will also be required for those who want to work as regional and district directors in the public education system.

The Dominican Teachers' Association (ADP) will require that that their members arrive to school on-time, and that meetings and other union activities be incorporated into the official Education Calendar, approved by the National Education Board. In the past, teachers often took school days off for these activities.

The Pact brings back civic studies to the general curricula and requires that music, art, theater and dance be taught at schools

The Pact is the product of an extensive development and review process that included proposals from and consultations with 9,000 individuals. This Pact is the first of three that were ordered as part of the National Development Strategy Law passed in 2012. Pacts dealing with the fiscal and electricity sectors are still pending.

Upon making the announcement of the start of the implementation of the pact, President Danilo Medina said that many of the actions contained in the signed document are already being implemented. The President cited the establishment of pre-school education programs and the construction of day care centers nationwide. He also stated the goal of his administration is that 80% of public school students will be enrolled in full-day programs before the end of 2016.




Close the UASD, give the funds to private universities
In an opinion piece in today's edition of Diario Libre it was claimed that the country would do better if the RD$7.12 billion budget allotted to the state university UASD was distributed among private universities. The author of the opinion piece (signed Castillo), stated that recent statistics provided by the university indicate that the UASD graduates 10,794 students per year at a cost to taxpayers of RD$660,366 per student. But the author points out that the cost of graduating from the private Santo Domingo Technological Institute (INTEC), the alma mater of President Danilo Medina, is only RD$450,000. The author suggests renting out the UASD installations to private schools and providing Dominican students scholarships to study where they choose. The author suggests that the same academic rules and standards should be applied in this university system, stressing that good students making adequate progress will remain academically eligible to continue their studies and productive professors will be encouraged to stay in the system. "There will not be strikes, there will not be hooded vandals roaming the campus and there will no longer be 20-year professional students "studying" and wasting my taxes," he comments in the open letter.


Changes to Penal Code, ruling to make corruption easier
Yesterday, the initiative was passed unanimously by 129 legislators on its first reading, and in the required second reading with 126 votes. The bill now moves to the Senate for further study and debate. The president of the Chamber of Deputies, Abel Martinez, said that the Penal Code had been in Congress for ten years in Congress and that the Executive Branch had set up a special committee of lawyers to introduce the changes.

The deputies approved the draft that now establishes a accumulated prison sentence of up to 60 years, increases the maximum sentence from 30 to 40 years and punishes femicide and the use of "devil's acid" to injure someone with a sentence of 40 years in jail. Other changes make it difficult for a person who has been caught trafficking in drugs to get out of jail by simply posting bail. Participation in a group or gang with the intent of committing a serious offence is also punishable by 30 to 40 years in jail.

Article 100 of the Penal Code draft states that convictions for domestic violence now carry a sentence of 30 to 40 years in jail plus a fine of 30 to 40 minimum salaries when it causes death. The prison sentence is reduced to 20 to 30 years when the outcome causes permanent incapacity and 10 to 20 years when the incapacity is not permanent but is more than 90 days.

Article 131 states that those who use a firearm unnecessarily will be sentenced to a year and a day in prison with a fine of one or two salaries, and if someone is injured during the crime, the sentence imposed will be higher.

Article 207 calls for two to three years in prison for minor offences, increasing to four to 10 years for more serious crimes. For example, if someone is killed during a robbery the sentence is 20 to 30 years, plus the corresponding fine.

Receiving stolen goods is punishable by two to three years in jail with a fine of seven to nine salaries.

The deputies also approved Article 85 of the Penal Code that now disallows citizens to sue government officers for corruption. This change is being roundly criticized. The National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE) calls this change unacceptable. The most controversial part of Article 85 states that from now on, no citizen can issue a writ against any public servant for violations committed in office.

According to Laura Pena Izquierdo, president of ANJE, it is an embarrassment that the Penal Code has been approved with the elimination of the third paragraph of Article 85 that backed the right of any citizen to issue a writ against a public servant who may have committed a crime or for violations of human rights while on the job.

ANJE highlighted other parts of the Code that affirm that all people are equal under the law, while urging the Executive Branch not to support the modification of the Code as it was unconstitutional, illegal and sent the wrong message to society, especially coming from a government that has vowed to confront corruption.

The Senate has called for open hearings to the revisions made by the Chamber of Deputies for 22 and 29 April.



Renovation of coconut plantations
The Minister of Agriculture Luis Ramon Rodriguez has announced that the Ministry is carrying out a project for the redevelopment and renovation of the country's coconut plantations to increase production.

He explained that around two million new plants were cultivated last year, and that another two million will be planted before the end of 2014. The program aims not only to introduce new varieties, but also to maintain the native species, which are considered an essential part of the Dominican Republic's tourism landscape.

Coconut plantations, which have been affected by both disease and weather, are owned and operated by more than 5,000 producers from different production areas.

Rodriguez said that the ministry has 72,000 germinating seeds in nurseries located in the regions of Nagua, Sanchez and Samana and that the renovation program also includes weeding and application of pesticides, among other cultural practices intended to keep the plants healthy.

The program will address the recovery of all damages caused by Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, which destroyed 30% of the plantations.


Drought starts to hit water supplies
According to Alexander Montas, director of the Santo Domingo Water Corporation (CAASD), the drought is causing a water deficit water of around 75 million gallons a day. He said that the availability of water has decreased from 400 million gallons a day to 325 million, and that CAASD is now distributing water in trucks t in Santo Domingo West.

He went on to say that for the moment there were no problems in the National District or Santo Domingo province as the Valdesia aqueduct and the Ozama River had not been affected by the seasonal drought. But Montas urged the population not to waste water.

On the brighter side, the National Meteorological Office forecasts rains for the end of this month.

Those areas worse affected are Los Alcarrizos, Miraflores, Los Girasoles, Pantoja, El Invi, Obras Publicas, Herrera, Herrera Industrial Zone, Las Caobas, Manoguayabo, Alameda, and other areas that depend on the Haina, Isa and Duey rivers that have been most affected by the drought.


DR-CAFTA meeting in New Orleans
The Environmental Affairs Council (EAC) of the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) is holding their eighth meeting 2-3 April in New Orleans, Louisiana.

US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, Judy Garber, and Assistant United States Trade Representative for Environment and Natural Resources, Jennifer Prescott, will lead the US delegation. In addition to the United States, participants will include Environment Ministers and other officials representing DR-CAFTA EAC countries: the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

Since 2004, the United States has allocated almost US$90 million to support environmental cooperation with DR-CAFTA countries. Through this cooperation, DR-CAFTA governments are working to strengthen the implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, protect biodiversity, increase market-based conservation, and improve private sector environmental performance.


Investment in organic bananas
The Agriculture Minister Luis Ramon Rodriguez has said that the government's investment in the Cruz de Manzanillo Project is strengthening the country's status as the biggest exporter of organic bananas in the country in the world. He said that the project will plant another 25,000 tareas (1 tarea = 629 square meters) of organic bananas to be sold to export markets. He said that the project promises to be one of the success stories of the government's revitalized social agrarian policies and that the 2,500 new quality jobs generated will dynamize the northwest part area of the country.

He reminded us that last year the export organic banana market was valued at more than US$140 million.


Lawyer has bail conditions imposed in Margarita Cedeno suit
Yesterday, 1 April, a Santiago judge set bail at RD$800,000 and imposed an exit ban and periodic court appearances for the lawyer and presenter, Marcos Martinez, who was sued in 2012 by the then First Lady, Margarita Cedeno de Fernandez for falsifying documents. The documents alleged showed that Cedeno had 43 million euros in a Danish bank account.

Judge Clara Vargas deliberated for almost an hour and a half before reaching her decision whilst the defendant's lawyers, Manuel Sierra Perez and Francisco Hernandez alleged that she was influenced by her supposed friendship with Cedeno de Fernandez, the current Vice President.

The lawyers representing Martinez warned that they might take the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.


82 Dominicans in MLB
For the tenth year running, the Dominican Republic heads the list of overseas Major League Baseball players. The 82 players who started the 2014 campaign are seven less than last year's total. The most Dominican players in the Major League happened in 2007 with 99. This year Venezuela is in second place with 59, followed by Cuba with 19, four more than last year. Puerto Rico has 11, two less than 2013, Canada 10, Mexico and Japan each have nine, Curacao five, Colombia and Panama four, Nicaragua three and Australia and South Korea each have two. Xander Bogaerts (Boston) has become the first player to represent Aruba since Sidney Ponson in 2007 and Yan Gomes (Cleveland) is the first Brazilian to start the Major League season. Texas has the largest number of foreign players with 15, followed by San Francisco (13), Seattle (11) then Chicago (Cubs)and Milwaukee, with 10 each. The figures show that overall 26.1% (223 out of 853) of the players were born outside the United States, a decrease from 28.2% in 2013 and 28.4% in 2012.


Jazzy Thursdays at the Hostal Nicolas de Ovando
The setting, music and food and drink are recommended especially on Thursday evenings at the historic Hostal Nicolas de Ovando of the Colonial City. Enjoy free music with the Piano Jazz of Gustavo Rodriguez and his quartet. The activity takes place from 6 to 10pm in the pool area of the Hostal. There is a happy hour with drinks 2 x 1 from 6 to 8pm.


For more on upcoming events, see www.dr1.com/calendar

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