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Daily News - Friday, 15 August 2014

Medina facing challenges despite midterm success
These past two years have been a long honeymoon period during which President Danilo Medina has dealt with thorny issues and made about-turns on certain controversial measures, writes Diario Libre. In a feature, the newspaper feature highlights that Medina has maintained his image as an accessible and "all-terrain" President.

Tomorrow, Saturday 16 August 2014, the President marks the halfway point of his administration, maintaining his high popularity levels, with positive achievements in some sectors like education and farming, but with huge challenges remaining in the areas of public safety, economic management, public health and electricity.

The problems that could have caused a prolonged crisis in his administration included the renegotiation of the contract with the Barrick Gold gold-mining company, and all the national and international criticism in response to sentence 168-13 on the nationality of children of immigrants.

The President is seen as being close to the people, supervising and pushing for new measures and solutions to national and local problems in the country remotest areas. He has been criticized for changing his stance on some issues, like the proposed tourism development in Bahia de las Aguilas and the construction of the Cibao-South Highway, in apparent contradiction to his stated target of promoting the arrival of 10 million tourists to the country each year.

Read more in Spanish: Diario Libre

Back to school on Monday
The Ministry of Education says that 814,000 students, up from 200,000 at the start of the Medina administration, in 6,207 classrooms at 422 state schools will be attending the new extended school days this new academic year, which starts on Monday, 18 August 2014. This means that 40% of Dominican students in the public school system (1,997,218 in total) will receive at least five daily hours of schooling, in addition to extra-curricular activities including sports and the arts. The Medina administration is working so that 80% of all public school students can be enrolled in extended day schools before the end of its term in August 2016. Until now state schools have been divided in morning, afternoon and even evening shifts, and students received on average two hours of instruction. The government is adding 10,000 classrooms so the students can receive more hours of study and benefit from sports and arts activities.

Of the 2.7 million students in the Dominican educational system 1,997,000 are in the public sector, 664,382 go to private schools and 63,697 are in the semi-official sector distributed over 11,000 public and private schools.

Minister of Education Carlos Amarante Baret said the government has repaired 2,100 classrooms in 282 schools, an investment of RD$1.6 billion.

He said that math teaching would be reinforced, as would IT training and a focus on chemistry, natural sciences, biology as well as other subjects where students have displayed weaknesses. He said the students would have time for playing sports and enjoying arts and culture, including dance and theater instruction. "Many actors, and dance, music and art teachers who are idle can find their space in the extended school day," he said, as reported in El Nuevo Diario.

He said that workshops and courses have been organized to strengthen teacher training and criticized the universities for not fulfilling their role in preparing the teachers for today's world.

He said some 454,322 school uniforms were available for public school children, in addition to half a million backpacks. The minister said that no changes would be made to the curriculum as yet, but that the government wants to reinstate the subject of Morals and Civics that teaches students to be responsible citizens. The students will also receive around six million textbooks.

And 1,532,478 students will benefit from the school breakfast programs, while 814,474 will receive lunch and snacks in addition as part of the extended school day program.



Many families make sacrifices to send kids to school
Dominga Perez, an unemployed single mother who lives in Los Girasoles, took a RD$5,000 loan at 20% interest to buy school supplies for her six-year-old son who is going to preschool at a low-cost private school. With a long list of requirements in her hand, Diario Libre accompanied her on her trip along Santo Domingo's Duarte Avenue to buy her boy's school supplies. "These teachers think that we are rich," she complained. "I'm doing this because I missed the registration deadline for the public school... And I could not find a place."

Dominga had a budget of just RD$1,800 with the hope of stretching it as far as possible. The budget does not include the (four) books that she has to buy at the private school. "I still don't know how much they will cost," she says. She bought some blue jeans, a blue polo shirt, four 200-page notebooks, a lunchbox, a ream of white paper, two boxes of colored pencils, a pencil sharpener, two erasers, a bottle of glue, two sheets of craft paper, and three pencils. The total cost: RD$1,056. She has RD$744 left but still has to get colored thread, toilet paper, a backpack... "For now he will go to school with some old shoes, until some money shows up...."

Another example is Ana Rodriguez who was buying school supplies for her two daughters. In her shopping cart she had notebooks, pencils, ballpoint pens, white out, blank paper, a pair of khaki pants, book covers, a T-shirt, a set of rulers, a pencil case.... Total cost: RD$5,828. She said that she had already spent RD$6,004 on uniforms and backpacks. She estimates the cost of sending each girl to school at RD$15,000. Although she did not have to take out loans like other parents, Ana said that she did "have to cut back on several little things" to prevent affecting the family budget even more.

Customs takes Courier case to Attorney General, DNCD and the DGII
Customs director Fernando Fernandez has empowered the Attorney General, the National Drug Control Agency (DNCD) chief and the Tax Office (DGII) director with a request for an investigation into suspected money laundering regarding 2,308 checks retained over the last three weeks from companies that operate under the umbrella of "Express Mail". Meanwhile, at 9am today, Friday 15 August 2014, the Second Chamber of the Superior Administrative Tribunal will continue the process that seeks to declare the resolution ordering the collection of taxes on merchandise valued at less than US$200 purchased over the Internet as a fundamental rights violation.

During a press conference yesterday, Thursday 14 August 2014, attended by Attorney General Francisco Dominguez Brito, DGII director Guarocuya Felix, and DNCD chief Julio Cesar Souffront, Fernandez said that the seizures were part of the process of strengthening the controls that Customs is implementing in the fight against illicit actions related to cross-border trade. He added that the retention of these checks was linked to the particular case of the sector of the companies called "express mail," operating under the cover of decree 402-05, which regulates this type of transport. Only 389 of these checks specify the sum in dollars, and the total amount comes to US$5,638,792.96. He said that 1,845 checks were made out in Dominican pesos for a total of RD$18,314,432.32. "The other 74 checks in dollar accounts are signed but were left blank. We have also retained a financial certificate issued for the sum of RD$11,400,000." He said that converted into pesos the DGA has found undeclared assets for a total sum of RD$275,266,949.35.

World Bank questions more debt for the DR
A blog post on the World Bank website by Aleksandra Iwulska, Javier Eduardo Baez and Alan Fuchs joins voices that have expressed concern about the Dominican government's rising debt. The experts mention that debt levels in the DR are already close to 47% of GDP, with the maximum debt level estimated to be 56.7%. The non-financial sector public (NFPS) debt doubled from 18.3% of GDP in 2007 to 36.6% in the first quarter of 2014. Interest payments reached a peak of 2.4% of GDP in 2012-13 and the external debt is at 25% of GDP in 2013, levels only seen in the peak of the economic crisis of 2003.

But the authors recognize the DR of today is different. GDP grew by 4.1% last year and is forecast to grow 4.5% this year, and central government fiscal deficit has declined from 6.6% of GDP in 2012 to 29.9% in 2013.

The World Bank commentators observe that while the DR is a country with one of the highest economic growth rates in the region over the last decade, it faces one important challenge: to balance a higher level of indebtedness with its high poverty rates (40%) and its weak equity conditions.

The report states:

In addition to limited poverty reduction, people have had little opportunity to escalate socially and economically to reach the middle class, with just under 2% of the population in the DR experiencing upward socioeconomic mobility, in contrast to 41% in the LAC Region. Whereas the country has succeeded in recent years in providing greater access to a spectrum of basic services, there is still high persistence of people who are not only poor in monetary sense but also deprived of the basic goods and services to enjoy fully productive lives.

The authors press the point that what the government is doing by taking on all the debt is transferring the financial burden to future generations.


No stopping coal-fired plant construction
The construction of the Punta Catalina Thermoelectric Plant, composed of two coal-fired generating plants, will continue despite the suspension of the process of the international public tender for this project ordered by the Superior Administrative Tribunal (TSA) on Wednesday, 13 August 2014.

The executive vice president of the Dominican Public Electricity Corporation (CDEEE) Ruben Jimenez Bichara said that halting the construction of the two coal-fired power plants in Punta Catalina, Bani was not an option. "The decision is not for the project, it only refers to the tender process," he said. Jimenez said that the project has been implemented transparently and is essential for solving the country's power problems. "We are not going to go soft over threats of boycotting the construction of the plants," he said, as reported in Hoy. Yesterday, Thursday 14 August 2014, the president of the Second Chamber of the TSA, Delfina de Leon ordered the suspension of the tender carried out by the CDEEE for the coal-fired plants. Jimenez Bichara said the TSA order does not call for paralyzing the construction of the plant, but for the international tender to be verified. He described the TSA's position on the inconsistencies in the value approved by the General Budget Law and the cost of the project, as "nonsense." The budget assigned a maximum amount of US$1.5 billion while the tender provided for an amount of US$2.4 billion.

Bichara said that last year they assigned this project a disbursement of US$150 million, and of this amount they used US$100 million. "A project of US$1.94 5 billion cannot be disbursed in a year, or in the budget of a year. It would punish the allocations of the other institutions too, and because of this it is distributed over several years and the money is taken out slowly." He pointed out that the contract that awards the construction of the thermoelectric plant to the consortium made up of the companies such as Odebrecht, Technimont, and Estrella Engineering, specifies that the state's share as US$400 million.

During the same press conference, he said the power plants would not pollute the environment. He commented that Itabo, which is 30 years old, also runs on coal and that this demonstrates their low pollution levels.


DR makes the most of hydroelectric power
To optimize the power production by the northern hydroelectric and provide a better service to consumers, the Empresa de Generacion Hidroelectrica Dominicana (EGEHID) has signed an agreement with northern power distribution company EdeNorte. EgeHID and EdeNorte agreed to join forces to rehabilitate networks and build substations and infrastructure to improve the electricity sector. The agreement was signed by EgeHID manager Demetrio Lluberes and EdeNorte manager Julio Cesar Correa Mena.

As reported in HydroWorld, EgeHID administrator Demetrio Lluberes Vizcaino said the agreement with EdeNorte means that both utilities will evaluate optimizing production of EGEHID hydro projects 1.2-MW Baiguaque in Santiago, 800-kW Rosa Julia de la Cruz-Boba in Nagua, 700-kW Aniana Vargas in Bonao and 650-kW Salto de Constanza. They also will evaluate EdeNorte's operations in these areas in financial terms, emergencies, breakdowns and other issues.

Lluberes Vizcaino said EgeHID recently signed a similar agreement with the EdeSur power distribution company that covers the southern region and plans to do the same with the eastern distribution utility, Empresa de Distribucion Electrica del Este (EdeEste).

Last year, EgeHID took bids for dam design and construction of the 2-MW La Dos Bocas hydroelectric project. The National Water Resources Institute (INDRHI) also is building the 18-MW Monte Grande hydro project in the Dominican Republic.



Indotel to penalize financial entities for collection calls after 7pm
The Dominican Telecommunications Institute (Indotel) has warned that it will apply sanctions to financial companies and collection agencies making collection calls to customers in violation of the regulations set out in law 153-98. Indotel points out that it will not tolerate phone calls to customers outside the hours between 7am and 7pm as established by the regulations. Indotel told Listin Diario that they had received many complaints about the so-called "Turbo-collection" phone calls from debt collectors for financial entities around the country. Indotel based its measure on the application of Regulation 002-09 that regulates the use of telephone calls to collect debts. The fines will be between RD$175,630 and RD$878,150 pesos.

DR has captured 11 fugitives from Haiti
The Dominican state security agencies have arrested 11 of the hundreds of escaped convicts who broke out of prison on Sunday, 10 August 2014. The escape from the jail at Croix-des-Bouquets, just outside Port-au-Prince, was engineered to free Clifford Brandt, the son of an influential Haitian businessman, who was awaiting trial on kidnapping charges. Brandt has since been captured by Dominican Army officers. El Nuevo Diario reports that one of the latest fugitives to be found in Dominican territory was Lodo H. Cele who was captured on Wednesday night, 13 August 2014 in Las Baitoas in Duverge, according to Dominican army commander Major General Ruben Paulino Sem.

More than half of all water is wasted
Dominicans waste 54% of all the drinking water and this implies millions in losses for the state. Santo Domingo Water and Sewer Corporation (CAASD) director Alejandro Montas says that this is happening despite the prolonged drought affecting the country. He said that although international standards specify a daily use of 200 liters per person, water consumption in Santo Domingo is over 400 liters per person per day. Montas added that if the drought extends into November the situation would become unsustainable and citizens would face major inconveniences. However, the CAASD director conceded that the situation in many of the reservoirs has improved and that Santo Domingo's water supply systems were working at full capacity.

She persevered 25 years to find her father's killer
A 37-year old Dominican woman who had set her mind at the age of nine to take the killer of her father to justice one day, has succeeded. Using Google and social media and the services of detectives, Joselyn Martinez of New York City was able to track down the then 16-year old who gunned down her father outside his restaurant in Upper Manhattan in November 1986. The New York Times tells how she tracked down Justo Santos who had escaped justice in 1986 by traveling to the Dominican Republic and later moved to Miami where he lied about his criminal record to be awarded US citizenship.


African heritage in Dominican Culture
The Ministry of Culture is sponsoring six events aimed at contributing to a better understanding of African heritage in Dominican culture from 27 July to 25 September 2014. The events have also received sponsorship from the Taiwanese Embassy. Research has shown that 90% of the Dominican population is of African descent.

A Historical-Cultural route, "The route of African descendants: Santo Domingo-San Cristobal" will take place on Saturday 13 September 2014, departing at 9am from Santo Domingo to San Cristobal, within the framework of the so-called Caribbean Cultural Corridor. Organized by the Deputy Ministry for Institutional Development and the Deputy Ministry for Cultural Heritage at the Ministry of Culture, the activities began with a workshop, "Challenges and Perspectives of African Descendants in Los Mercedes" on 27 July 2014.

A workshop "The Celebration of La Dolorita de los Morenos: socio-religious practices of los Morenos del Chaparral" took place on 9 August 2014 in Los Morenos, Villa Mella, Santo Domingo Norte.

A lecture and historical-cultural route explanations: "The 'Liborista' cult, value and practice of a syncretic manifestation in the south-east region" takes place at the UASD University's southwestern campus in San Juan de la Maguana.

A workshop, "San Cristobal's Atabales de Sainagua Festival n its importance for sustainable development in the southern region" will be held at the Loyola Polytechnic Institute in San Cristobal on 20 September.

A meeting on "African descendants in the Dominican Republic: contributions and relevant aspects to Dominican identity today" will be held on 26 September 2014.

Miss and Mr. Dominican Models 2014
Miss and Mr. Dominican Models 2014 will be elected at 7pm this evening, Friday, 15 August at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Santo Domingo. The contest is being organized by the E&M Models modeling school and agency and is sponsored by the Ministry of Culture. Tickets are RD$1,500. Tel. 809 697-0504. Ticket sales close 15 minutes before the start of the show.

El Valor de Nosotros at the Fortaleza Ozama
The Ministry of Culture is sponsoring a concert with the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maestro Jose Antonio Molina with saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera as special guest on Friday, 15 August at 6pm at the Fortaleza de Santo Domingo, Calle Las Damas, Colonial City. Also La Gallera with the voices of Johnny Ventura and Maridalia Hernandez, with a focus on merengue. Jochy Sanchez and his band will be playing traditional music that evening. Hermanos Rosario and Sergio Vargas will also be on stage, as well as the Coro Caribe, and sessions with the National Dance School and the National School of Contemporary Dance.

Good... Bad Hair, photography exhibition at Altos de Chavon
Fashion designer Jenny Polanco and photographer Yael Duval present "Good... Bad Hair" a photo exhibition focusing on art and fashion. The exhibition opens at 7pm this evening, Friday 15 August 2014, at the Altos de Chavon art gallery in La Romana. It will be open from Thursday to Tuesday from 9am to 6pm until 8 September 2014. Closed on Wednesdays. For more information, call 809 523-8470.

Living Statues
Now in its fifth year, the Estatuas Vivas Festival bringing living statues to public spaces will be held on 29, 30 and 31 August in Santo Domingo and Jarabacoa. Fifty artists will be taking part, competing for prizes ranging from RD$45,000 to RD$20,000. The event is being organized by Guillermo Liriano Bass and Claudia Lizardo.

The mannequins will pose for several hours at a time at the Plaza de Espana from 6pm on Friday, 29 August. On Saturday, 30 August, the exhibition continues at the Parque Eugenio Maria de Hostos on Santo Domingo's Malecon seafront boulevard. The group will then travel to Jarabacoa on Sunday, 31 August where they will perform at the city's Parque Duarte from 3:30pm onwards.

See more at http://www.festevivas.blogspot.com

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

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