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Daily News - Monday, 16 June 2014

Haina-Duarte Highway link ready for December
The Ministry of Public Works has announced that 50% of the work on the first phase of the bypass of Santo Domingo (from Haina to Boca Chica) has been completed. The complete bypass, which involves a US$340 million investment, will link Duarte Highway's Km. 23 with the Caucedo Multimodal Port in Andres, Boca Chica, near the Las Americas International Airport. Minister of Public Works Gonzalo Castillo said that the first phase from Haina to Km. 23 of Duarte Highway has involved an investment of US$75 million and would be completed this year. The completed bypass will be 72.63 kilometers in length:

Haina-Km. 23 Duarte Highway 16.9km

Km. 23 Duarte Highway-Boca Chica 45.10km

Av. Penetracion Higuero 2.83km

Av. Penetracion Ozama 7.80km


Santiago business backs San Juan-Santiago mountain road
The Santiago Development Council (CDES) board of directors, chaired by Carlos A. Fondeur has described the Cibao-Sur highway proposed by the Medina administration as highly important. The entity has a Strategic Plan 2020 proposal for Santiago. The CDES says it has the backing of Monsignor Jose Dolores Grullon Estrella who is the bishop of the province of San Juan de la Maguana, the bishop of Santiago, Monsignor Ramon Benito de la Rosa y Carpio, Santiago Governor engineer Aura Toribio, and commission members Julio Vinas and Ramon de la Rosa. The commission says that the road would be executed with transparency and all the environmental, technical and financial guarantees. The highway route has not yet been officially announced by the Ministry of Public Works.

Fondeur, a leading Dominican builder, says that the road should start at the San Juan Dam, reach Moncion in Santiago Rodriguez and then reach Santiago.

He stressed the road would improve farm competitiveness for the Cibao and San Juan de la Maguana agricultural regions, with a combined population of 3.5 million.

In his comments, Fondeur did not mention that the proposed mountain road that would cut through vulnerable national park forests would provide road access for several mining exploration concessions and dozens of exploration concession requests in the border provinces, especially in Santiago Rodriguez, Elias Pina, San Juan de la Maguana and Dajabon, according to maps of these areas on the Ministry of Energy and Mines website (Department of Mines). Mining is a controversial issue in the Dominican Republic after early experiences of Pueblo Viejo and Falcondo mines have affected farmland and community health. The Medina administration has backed mining seeing it as a major revenue producer for the government.




RD$1 billion for organic banana plantations
Minister of Agriculture Angel Estevez, Minister of Environment Bautista Rojas Gomez, and deputy Minister of Economy Juan Reyes have announced an agreement to provide RD$1 billion in financial support to organic banana producers. The Dominican Republic is the world leader in organic banana exports.

An estimated 20,000 farmers from Azua in the southwest and in the country's northwestern provinces will benefit from the cooperation agreement, which is aimed at increasing farmer competitiveness and productivity. The program objectives are to increase productivity from 1.8 to 2.5 boxes per tarea (629 square meters) per week, a 10% increase in national exports, a 50% reduction in agrochemicals and a 20% increase in labor force.


President Danilo Medina tells journalist his term ends 2016
Despite one of the highest popularity ratings ever enjoyed by a Dominican President during the second year in government, President Danilo Medina recently confirmed he has no plans to continue after his term is over.

During his visit to Rome late last week, President Medina told reporters that Pope Francis had accepted his invitation to the Dominican Republic. The President went on to say that he hoped this could happen during his term. When asked when it ended, President Medina clearly stated: 2016.

Presidents in the Dominican Republic have always sought re-election, but the 2010 Constitution now bans consecutive re-election. It has also been customary for Presidents in the Dominican Republic to change the Constitution so they can remain in power. This has led President Medina's supporters to encourage him to find ways to convince the PLD-majority Congress to vote on a change in the Constitution so he can run for re-election for the party in the 2016 national election. President Medina has repeatedly stated that his term ends in 2016.

Gift exchanges between President Medina and Pope Francis
Rome Reports has released a video on the Catholic Church's contribution to education and health and the recent laws on immigration.

The video shows the exchange of gifts. President Medina gave Pope Francis a rosary made of amber and a box made of coconut shell. Pope Francis gave President Medina a medallion with the original design of St. Peter's Basilica and copy of the Aparecida document and his Apostolic Exhortation: Evangelii Gaudium.

Danilo Medina is the third Dominican President to have held a private meeting with a Pope.


President Danilo Medina explains naturalization law to Pope Francis
President Danilo Medina visited Rome last week for a private audience with Pope Francis on Friday, 13 June. President Medina said that he and the Pope shared many points of view. He commented that he took time to explain the Naturalization Law to the Pope. He said that the Constitutional Court Ruling 168-13 was not a decision by the administration, but by the court. He said his government accepted that in some situations Dominican institutions, not the individuals concerned, were to blame, because they had not acted according to the law when granting citizenship. He acknowledged that these people have lived and are registered as Dominicans. The law orders special consideration to be given to regularize the status of people who already have Dominican documents and who qualify.



Extra time to validate pre-paid phone lines
After the deadline expired on Friday 13 June, telecom companies said that 40% of pre-paid mobile phone users still hadn't approached their service providers to validate ownership of their phone lines. As a result the telecom companies were ordered to suspend the service. The telecom companies are now giving users an additional 90 days to register online or at any of the telecom company shops nationwide. The Dominican Telecommunications Institute (Indotel) issued Resolution 027-14 authorizing the telecom companies to give their customers an extra 90 days before the accounts are conclusively closed.

An estimated five million of seven million pre-paid phone lines have been confirmed, in compliance with Indotel Resolution 039-13. The measure is considered essential for national safety plans, as it has been established that anonymous phone lines are frequently used in crimes.

Eduardo Valcarcel, spokesman for the Dominican Telecom Companies Association (Adomtel) that represents the leading telecom providers estimates that 55 or 60% of clients had already validated their lines. He said that approximately three million users still needed to register.

He estimated that on average 200,000 people regularized their status and expects the process to be completed in few days. Valcarcel says it is not true that some five million phone lines were anonymous. "We know that organized crime is going to have activated mobiles and they are not going to have them in the name of the criminal," commented the communications vice president for Orange telecom. He said the companies are giving their customers an extra 15 days before suspending the service.



IMF report card for the Dominican Republic
In a press release dated Friday 13 June, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund announced that the latest program monitoring with the Dominican monetary authorities has been completed, with a series of recommendations. The IMF commended the government for keeping inflation below the Central Bank's target range of 5%+/- 1%, and partially reversing the large increase in fiscal deficit accumulated in 2012 at the start of the Medina administration. The IMF highlights that the deficit of the consolidated public sector declined by almost 3% to 5%, owing to lower public investment, the revenue from the 2012 taxation increase law and negotiations for better revenue terms with the Pueblo Viejo-Barrick gold mine company, leaving public debt-to-GDP at end-2013 at 48%, still high when compared to 35% in 2008. Mining revenue from gold exports helped the external current account deficit to decline from 6.8% of GDP in 2012 to 4.2% of GDP in 2013.

The IMF says that medium-term growth prospects are broadly favorable. According to the international financial institution, monetary policy was eased substantially in May 2013 to stimulate credit growth and support economic activity after a slow year start.

The IMF reports that net capital inflows remained large, reflecting both government borrowing and foreign direct investment. Gross international reserves closed the year at US$4.7 billion, and as of May 23, 2014, they stood at almost US$5 billion.

The banking system stands solid when taking into account private loans, with nonperforming loans at less than 2%. Nevertheless, the IMF reports that the banking system's exposure to the public sector increased to the equivalent of 5.5% of GDP by end-year. Government recapitalization transfers to the central bank were kept below the amounts envisaged in the 2007 law.

The IMF also points to the downside and says that risks stem from uncertainties in the global economy and large domestic fiscal and external financing requirements. To reduce these vulnerabilities and enhance long-term economic growth, the IMF directors recommend: tightening the policy stance, building policy space, and speeding up progress in structural reforms. In their conclusion, they state that additional measures "may be needed to mitigate vulnerabilities stemming from large financing needs and put public debt on a more sustainable path. The IMF recommends eliminating the deficit of the non-financial public sector over a three-year period, reducing tax exemptions, tightening public expenditure controls, and curbing transfers to the electricity sector.

The directors encouraged the authorities to establish a mechanism for intervention in the foreign exchange market and to increase international reserves by making the most of favorable balance of payments developments.

The directors underscored the importance of monetary policy credibility of Central Bank recapitalization, in line with the 2007 law. They welcomed the authorities' plan to adopt governance reforms that would increase the independence of the state-owned commercial bank, strengthen its capitalization, and limit its exposure to the public sector.

The IMF directors supported the authorities' commitment to structural reforms, specifically mentioning the labor market and tax system where they called for elimination of tax exemptions. They caution that the government plans to invest in electricity generation should not undermine public finances. In addition, they saw room to encourage private investment in the electricity sector by reforming the regulatory framework and to enhance efficiency and reduce the budgetary cost of electricity transfers, especially by allowing tariffs to adjust in line with energy costs.


Failing in competitiveness
It would seem that the Dominican government answer to the demand for increased business competitiveness has been to create more government institutions, while competitiveness indicators for the country have stagnated or worsened since 2006.

Of 189 economies around the world studied for the World Bank Doing Business 2014 profile, the Dominican Republic is ranked 117th. Starting a business in the DR is ranked 144th, dealing with construction permits 121st, getting electricity 127th, registering property 115th, getting credit 86th, protecting investors 98th, paying taxes 106th, enforcing contracts 81% and resolving insolvency 159th.

In today's El Dia newspaper, Monday 16 June, Victor Bautista comments on what he describes as the main obstacles to competitiveness, mentioning lack of continuity in government, atrophied political vision, political patronage, populism, business sector indifference, and macrocephaly in government competitiveness institutions. He comments that now there is a deputy minister for competitiveness, a National Competitiveness Council and a Competitiveness Roundtable. He says they step on each other's toes, generating many personal attacks and intrigues, while taxpayers have to pay their high payrolls.



Gay activism is a priority on US ambassador's agenda
US Ambassador James (Wally) Brewster has constantly been in the media spotlight for his gay activism in the Dominican Republic, observes El Dia today, Monday 16 June.

El Dia comments that when Brewster, a leading US gay activist, was appointed, charge d'affaires Daniel Foote stated that Brewster was coming to the Dominican Republic as a US ambassador, not a gay activist.

El Dia reports, nevertheless, that the US ambassador is controversial for using the US Embassy platform to promote gay equality. A six-minute video posted on the US Embassy website this month promotes the celebration of gay pride month in June, a first for the US Embassy. Brewster said in the video that he and his husband Bob Satawake speak for the promotion of universal human rights through inclusion and equality.

The US Embassy and Consulate opens at its new location at Av. Republica de Colombia in northern Santo Domingo today, Monday 16 June. US Vice President Joe Biden is expected on Wednesday, 18 June for the formal dedication of the new US mission compound. He is scheduled to return to the US on the 19th.



More on the Jordi Veras attempted murder
For those following the attempted murder of TV host and lawyer Jordi Veras, acento.com.do publishes a detailed description by his father, Negro Veras with details on the plan to murder his son. The case is being heard in a Santo Domingo court and the prosecutors asked for 30 years for the material killers. During the case evidence was presented about the mastermind of the crime. Jordi Veras survived the murder attempt, but lost his sight in one eye.


Tribute to Sonia Silvestre at the Alcazar
A tribute to the late Sonia Silvestre is planned for the closing night of the Long Night of Museums at the Alcazar de Colon off Plaza de Espana in Santo Domingo's Colonial City this Saturday, 21 June as of 10pm. Ballerina Patricia Ascuasiati will dance with the band and two singers. Saxophonist Sandy Gabriel will play famous boleros best performed by Dominican singers from 1979 to 1989 starting at 8pm. Giuseppe music band is in charge of the music. Songwriter Manuel Frias will lead a discussion on the serenade in the Dominican Republic from 7 to 8pm.


Ismael Miranda at Jet Set
Salsa maestro, Ismael Miranda is booked for Jet Set discotheque on Santo Domingo's Av. Independencia starting at 10pm tonight, Monday, 16 June. The former member of the arch-famous Fania All Stars, now 64-years old, will play several of the group's greatest hits. Also performing that evening is Alex Matos.


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

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