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Daily News - Tuesday, 09 January 2007

President to visit Nicaragua
President Leonel Fernandez sets off for Nicaragua at 10am tomorrow to attend the 4pm inauguration of Nicaraguan President-elect Daniel Ortega Saavedra. Fernandez will depart from the Air Base at San Isidro. He is traveling with Environment Minister Max Puig, Insurance Superintendent Euclides Gutierrez, Minister without Portfolio Miguel Mejia, and Pro-Comunidad director Jose Gonzalez Espinosa.

President discusses economy
Last night President Leonel Fernandez met with members of his economic team and others to discuss the current state of the Dominican economy. During the 2-1/2 hour meeting that began at 7pm Fernandez discussed the country's economic growth, the exchange rate and inflation, among other key economic issues of national importance. Present at the meeting was Presidency Technical Minister Temistocles Montas, Treasury Minister Vicente Bengoa, Central Bank head Hector Valdez Albizu and the Superintendent of Banks Rafael Camilo. During the meeting the President approved the 2007 Budget. The budget is for RD$258.5 billion.

Constitutional reform debate all set
Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado says that everything is ready for the last of the Public Consultations for the modification of the Constitution, which will be headed by President Leonel Fernandez. The discussions begin at 9am today at the PUCMM University campus. Along with Collado, representatives from the Dominican Journalists Association (CDP), the Lawyers Association of the Dominican Republic (CDA), environmental campaigners and representatives from the productive sector will be present at the meeting. El Caribe newspaper reports that the CDP held a four-hour meeting yesterday to discuss the constitutional reform in detail and will be presenting their conclusions today.

Getting documentation
A total of 2,256 people in the northeast of the country are to receive birth certificates through the Solidarity Program for Dominicans with Names and Last Names (Dona). Solidarity is working in conjunction with the Salcedo Women's program in order to carry out the task. Salcedo is the first province in which the project will take place. Solidarity is taking on the task of helping people identified by the System of Beneficiaries (SIUBEN) as not having birth certificates. In the DR, parents who delay more than a month after birth have to undergo a lengthy procedure, which has resulted in approximately 25% of Dominicans not having their birth certificates.

Rockash case to be heard
The Dominican government's case against the AES Corporation is set to go to trial in a Virginian federal court on 5 March 2007. The case will be heard by Judge Gerald Bruce Lee. However, an out-of-court settlement could be reached tomorrow during a meeting scheduled by the judge. Quoted in Diario Libre, Environment Minister Max Puig said that the government is willing to settle if AES recognizes its responsibility and removes the 80,000 tons of rockash from Monte Cristi and Samana. A Ministry of Environment document explains that Judge Lee would meet the parties separately and hear each side's case. The Dominican government is asking for US$80 million in compensation for the rockash that was deposited in those provinces during the previous administration.

FTZ new companies
In 2006 the National Export Free Trade Council (CNZFE) approved permits for 83 new businesses in the free trade zones, of which 62 are operating in the various free trade parks and 21 operate as individual free trade zones. CNZFE estimates that these companies provide a direct investment of RD$4.9 billion into the country and will create an estimated 10,976 jobs. CNZFE director Luisa Fernandez announced in Diario Libre that plans for a new free trade park have been approved. The park will cost an estimated RD$220.3 million. Free trade zones are one of the most important generators of hard currency for the Dominican economy, along with tourism and remittances, providing jobs for 150,000 Dominicans. In 2006, thousands of jobs were lost in FTZs, especially in apparel companies, due to competition from China.

Harmonizing legislation to international rules
The technical director of the Customs Department, Eduardo Rodriguez is warning that a nation's sovereign rights to impose tariffs as established in the Constitution are in today's supranational world subject to global conventions that the country has signed. In a contribution to today's Hoy newspaper, he points out that these international agreements supersede internal laws and have a supranational character. He calls for the government to be vigilant to harmonize the international law with domestic legislation and application of laws.
Rodriguez points out that country imports are subject to:
1) The goods to be imported and taxed need to be declared according to nomenclature established by the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS), based on an international convention of which the DR is part since September 2006.
2) Custom valuation needs to be determined as per methods established in Article VII of GATT 1994 of which the country is a signatory, established in Resolution No. 2-95 of the National Congress.
3) The tariffs are limited by World Trade Organization consolidated tariffs.
Rodriguez also pointed out that the country joined the World Customs Organization (OMA) in 2005 and thus all customs legislation needs to adhere to this entity's regulations and principles, as well as international best practices recommended by the organization. http://www.wcoomd.org/ie/index01.html
Rodriguez recommends that to avoid issuing legal dispositions that breach the international agreements the DR has signed, these accords need to be studied. If not, "we will be creating legal conflicts," he says. He also recommends studying the experience of other countries with agreements similar to ours, and learning from decisions already adopted by the World Trade Organization's dispute settlements division.
"For this one does not have to be an expert on tax or international matters," he concludes. "Only basic knowledge is needed, because today all this information is a click away."
Rodriguez warns: "All the bodies involved in creating taxes or any legislation need to do their homework before devising regulations, because if we fail to do this, we risk harming the country's international image, and what's worse, we could be subject to trade penalties."

Verizon charges less
Telecommunications company Verizon will only charge 50% of the bill for products and internet services to the internet centers (CCI) that have been installed by the Dominican Telecommunications Institute (Indotel) in 32 provinces and municipalities around the country. Indotel president Jose Rafael Vargas made the announcement yesterday and said the decision would benefit 250 centers.

CDEEE house in Jarabacoa
The State Run Electric Companies (CDEEE) is denying that a RD$10 million house in Jarabacoa is being built as a vacation home for CDEEE administrators. They claim that when the current administration took office in 2004 they were forced to continue the contract to build the house, which had been signed by the previous administration. That particular contract was signed eight weeks before the end of the previous administration. The CDEEE also points out that three months ago they rescinded a RD$4.9 million contract that the former head of the CDEEE, engineer Cesar Sanchez had with architect Darina Custodio for breach of contract. Diario Libre points out that the first phase of construction was to take approximately eight weeks, the amount of time left before the change of government. For this, Custodio's firm received an advance payment of 75% on the contract, or the cash value of RD$3.7 million. The CDEEE denies that the actual cost of the house is around RD$25 million, saying that the government has owned that particular property for decades and that it was remodeled in the 1996-2000 period, the first Fernandez administration.

Conatra and Fenatrano join forces
Transport bus companies Conatra (led by Antonio Marte) and Fenatrano (led by Juan Hubieres) have put aside their traditional differences and united to demand that the government subsidize their bus fares by the the same amount received by the public bus company, OMSA (RD$12-17 depending on the route). The pact comes after both Conatra and Fenatrano had clashed violently over rights to transport routes in December.
According to the transport leaders, otherwise they would have to increase fares to RD$27, following the implementation of increases stipulated in the 2007 fiscal reform. The transport spokesmen said that they would not raise their fares while the talks are ongoing. They did announce however that they would resort to picketing and other forms of protest to exert pressure on the government.
Hubieres pointed to the strength of the transport associations, mentioning that his members alone transport over two million passengers per day in the capital city alone.

Gas price increase
The effects of the fiscal reform are being felt in the price of fuel locally. While international prices for fuel are down, premium gasoline has increased by RD$4.27 and regular gasoline was up by RD$4.18. Diesel fuel now costs RD$3.20 more. As of January, the government is levying an additional RD$5 tax per gallon on premium and regular gasoline and a RD$3 tax on diesel fuel. Also, the ad valorem price on parity of imports was up from 13% to 16% or an additional RD$1.77 on the price of premium gasoline, RD$1.68 on regular gasoline and RD$1.70 on diesel fuel. Premium gasoline at the pumps now costs RD$133.50 per gallon, while regular gasoline costs RD$121.40 and diesel fuel now costs RD$96.90 per gallon.

PUCMM and Sorbonne sign agreement
The PUCMM and the Sorbonne (France) Universities have signed a cooperation agreement that will begin in September 2007 with the offer of a post-graduate degree in international business. Quoted in El Caribe, Sorbonne Dean Pierre-Yves Henim explained that European universities have begun to develop bilingual programs to attract students from Latin America and added that both universities are in the process of creating an accredited diploma with the seal of both schools. Paris I, the name of the cooperation agreement, will try to increase the flow of Latin American students to Europe and they will try to make studying in Europe more attractive.

Jorge Blanco leaves hospital
Former President Salvador Jorge Blanco has left the Abreu Clinic and will continue his recovery at home after being entering the private medical facility and undergoing surgery to insert a valve to enable efficient drainage of cerebral fluid. Jorge Blanco suffers from hydrocephaly.

Back to school
After close to 20 days on vacation, almost 2.5 million Dominican children are back at their school desks today. Though the official return date was scheduled for yesterday, many public schools opened their doors today instead. Listin Diario writes that several private institutions didn't have high attendance rates because children were still enjoying their gifts from the Three Kings Day celebrations.

Minors caught with drugs
The Department for Drug Control (DNCD) has announced the arrest of a young American citizen at Santo Domingo's Las Americas International Airport with a large quantity of cocaine as she tried to board a plane to New York. The under-age girl, whose name wasn't released for legal reasons, is reported to be eight months pregnant and was carrying the drugs in a double lined bra and in the lining of her jeans. The teenager has been taken to a hospital in the meantime due to her condition. Listin Diario is also reporting that a 14-year old was caught in Santiago with 338 portions of crack/cocaine. The youth, whose name wasn't released, was found in the company of Dario Acosta Garcia. Police and DNCD officials have expressed concerns about the continued use of children as mules because a child can only receive a maximum five-year penalty for drugs. The DNCD has also announced the arrest of 45 people in drug-related activities during a 48-hour session of raids around the country. A total of 60 raids were conducted. In the city of Mao 379 portions of crack/cocaine, 36 portions of cocaine and 82 portions of marijuana were found.

Baseball update
With only seven games left in the semifinals of the Dominican Winter Baseball League there is no telling what can happen. All teams are playing great post-season baseball, and no team seems to have that decisive edge, making this arguably one of the most competitive post-seasons in recent memory. Last night Licey stayed in the playoff hunt with a 5-2 victory over the Azucareros. This victory kept Licey in third place, two games out of first, but proved extremely important as the Aguilas lost, keeping Licey within striking distance of second place. The Gigantes made it clear yesterday that they weren't giving in to anybody as they beat the Aguilas 6-4. The win moved the Gigantes into a first place tie with the Aguilas. Tonight's games look to be exciting as Licey goes head-to-head against the Aguilas in a match up of rivals, and the Gigantes meet with the Azucareros. If the Azucareros manage to squeeze out their first victory of the post-season they could add some more drama to this already exciting post-season.
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