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Daily News - Thursday, 18 January 2007

JCE in shambles
The Central Electoral Board will make it a priority to resolve the problem created by the deterioration of the civil registry books, JCE president Dr. Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman told the press yesterday. Castanos says that of every 100 books in the civil registry 17 need to be restored. Taxpayers over the years have paid for automating the system, but this job has never got done due to fraud and misspent funds, while the much-handled books have continued to deteriorate.
Castanos also said the JCE is giving priority to correcting the present situation whereby of every 100 children born in the Dominican Republic, 22% are not documented in the civil registry books. He said that the JCE would create a separate registry for the children of Dominicans born outside the Dominican Republic who apply for Dominican citizenship.
Meanwhile, Castanos also said that the JCE is implementing an austerity plan to stretch its budget. Salaries for judges and high-ranking members of the JCE will be reduced by 5% to 15%, and according to Castanos, the JCE president used to make RD$227,000 per month but now will make RD$193,000 per month. The judges used to make RD$195,000 per month, but these salaries will now be reduced by 10%.

Taxes for political jobs
In today's Clave newspaper, editor Fausto Rosario Adames writes that there is a "curious coincidence between increases in the public payroll and the tax code modifications pushed through by governments over the years". He mentions that when Leonel Fernandez first became President in 1996, 281,844 people were on the central government payroll, according to the Central Bank. Four years later, this number had increased to 329,983, or up by 17%. President Hipolito Mejia then increased it to 359,874, or a further 9%. And so far, the Central Bank now says that central government employs 365,505 people, or 5,631 more than during the previous government. "We are talking about a super-employer, with a seemingly limitless voracity to spend on wages. A state to distribute the spoils, not social justice, where one goes 'to get my part', earned with the banner of the political party that won in the election."
He points out that taxpayers foot the bill for RD$3.09 billion a month in these wages, without receiving anywhere near a quality service. Jose Lois Malkun, when he was Minister of Finance under the Mejia administration, said that the state would be more efficient with 125,000 fewer employees.
It has to be noted that these numbers do not include all the advisors and temporary personnel who are contracted by government departments.

The DR will head Rio Group
Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso has announced that the DR will take on the presidency of the Rio Group on a temporary basis at the end of February. The Rio Group, founded in 1986, is a Latin American organization created as an alternative to the Organization of American States. The Dominican Republic became a full member at the 2000 Cartagena Summit. In related news, Morales Troncoso also announced that the Dominican Republic would be hosting the European Union members Foreign Ministers' Summit. Morales Troncoso was speaking during the SICA (Sistema de la Integracion Centroamericana - Central American Integration System) conference held in San Salvador, where he invited attendees to the conference in the DR.

DR-CAFTA around the corner
Though some steps still need to be taken in order to finalize the process, United States Ambassador Hans H. Hertell is assuring that President George Bush will, in the next few weeks, give the go-ahead for the Dominican Republic to officially enter the DR-CAFTA agreement. Hertell, speaking in Hoy, explained that the country has fulfilled almost 100% of all the necessary requirements and said that all remaining loose ends could be tied up in the next few days. This means that the free trade agreement that includes the United States, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Honduras could finally be in place. Hertell said that as well as being economically important for the Dominican Republic, DR-CAFTA would also help strengthen the country's institutions through the application of laws and governmental transparency.

USAID to give more money
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will donate US$27 million to various projects throughout the country in 2007. USAID director Richard Goughnour said that this sum would increase to US$32 million in 2008. Goughnour explained that most USAID funds are directed towards health, education, democracy, civil and judicial matters, and business, but did not give exact details on how much those sectors receive. He did say that local NGOs received between US$4 and US$5 million per year. Goughnour said that the current focus is strengthening the government and the justice system, but he announced that yesterday USAID gave the Public Health Ministry US$1.3 million to help in the fight against tuberculosis. USAID is responsible for most non-military foreign aid from the US, and has worked in the Dominican Republic for 45 years.

Conep's new leader gives speech
During his inauguration speech, the new 2007-2009 president of the National Business Council (Conep) Lisandro Macarrulla said that the country needs to get rid of policies that stand in the way of business development, but says that this needs to be done with caution. Macarrulla acknowledged that the country's biggest challenges are to reduce the Central Bank's debt, strengthen the energy sector, and reduce subsidy programs and government spending. Macarrulla addressed the challenges ahead with the implementation of DR-CAFTA and the need to ensure maintenance of economic stability. He says that DR-CAFTA, along with the IMF's Stand-by agreement are policies that demand the strengthening of the efficiency and transparency of public institutions. Conep's new president also said that the business sector needs to make politicians aware so they can reduce excess costs for business. Macarrulla says that Conep should be a negotiator or an intermediary for increasing trust between the private and public sectors.

AEIH on trade with Caricom
The president of the Herrera Industrial Association (AEIH), Jesus Moreno advocates that the Ministry of Foreign Relation's Trade Coordinating Office (CNC) should handle trade negotiations for increasing the two-way flow of trade with Caricom countries. Moreno made the request stressing the fact that five years after the implementation of the treaty with the Caribbean Community (Caricom) trading block many of the regulations for market access by Dominican products are not being observed. Moreno expressed concern about the fact that talks are to open for free trade of services when the country has not dealt successfully with the obstacles that exporters are finding when it comes to exporting products to Caricom countries. The free trade agreement with Caricom has been in effect since 2001.

EdeEste wants end to vicious cycle
Lack of trust between companies and consumers has created a vicious cycle of finger-pointing and poor service in the electricity industry, AES EdeEste head Jesus Bolinaga told Listin Diario. Bolinaga says that EdeEste took a poll last year that found that many consumers feel that the energy companies are stealing from them, that the costs are too high, and that service is of the lowest quality. On the other hand, the survey picked up on the fact that the energy companies complain that consumers steal energy and are delinquent clients.
Bolinaga says that the poll has taught them that trust is needed if the energy crisis is to end. He explained that the company has been interacting with communities while at the same time installing anti-energy theft systems and improving reliability and hours of service. He said that they have changed their vision and mission to become a company that provided electricity, not blackouts. Staff members who are not in tune with this new philosophy are being dismissed, said Bolinaga. As a result, many communities, such as El Milloncito (Sabana Perdida), and the towns of El Seibo and Hato Mayor are being supplied with 24 hours of electricity, and consumers there are paying their bills on time.

Cardinal's surgery a success
Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez is reported to be in a stable condition after doctors announced that his triple bypass surgery on Wednesday had been a success. The Cardinal is recovering at the Cedimat Cardiology Facility in Santo Domingo and will need at least two week's rest before he can get back to his duties. The operation was deemed urgent after doctors found blockages in three arteries during a routine check-up last week.

Reduced use of birth control
A recent EnHogar 2006 survey carried out by the National Statistics Office (ONE) shows that 39% of Dominican women of childbearing age (15 to 49 years) do not use birth control. Clave Digital reports that the figure is even higher in the cases of women who have not yet had children. In the case of women with one child, 53% said they did not prevent pregnancies. The survey was carried out to study contraception use so that the health authorities can draft adequate policies. A total of 10,300 women were interviewed.
The fertility rate in the country has declined, nevertheless from 5.6 per couple in the 70s to 2.6 today, following a similar trend across Latin America, where the average went from 5.1 to 2.5 over the same period.
Dr. Alejandro Paradas Caba, who heads the Department of Reproductive Medicine and Family Planning at La Altagracia Maternity Hospital, the country's largest, said that their greatest concern was the high number of teenage pregnancies. Recently, Hoy newspaper published a series of articles about teen pregnancies, revealing that 11,000 women were admitted for abortions in 2006, a third of who were 15 to 19 years old, at just two of Santo Domingo's public hospitals. Abortion is against the law in the DR. The mortality rate in the country is 35 per 1,000 births before reaching the age of five.
Fernando de la Rosa from family planning organization Profamilia, advocates increasing promotion and general access to contraception, which has been opposed by the Catholic Church.
Clave reports that according to specialists, the most commonly used methods of contraception are birth control pills and sterilization.
Clave also reported that a state university (UASD) survey indicated that use of condoms among students (ages 15 to 49 years) is up 20.6% and more women are requesting protection. The same study revealed that 39% of university students that had been pregnant at least once, had aborted.

Pensions thieves in jail
Judge Natividad Ramona de los Santos has ordered protective custody at Najayo jail for two of the people involved in the Pensions fraud scandal. Three others have been granted bail, while a sixth person, Angel Jose Castro, was found to be in contempt. The judged ordered this information to be published in the newspapers so that Castro can be located and arrested. Servio Tulio Suncar Liriano, Director of the Finance Ministry Pensions Department and Leonardo Alberto Rodriguez Cabrera, who worked in the computing department were both sent to Najayo while Isabel Soto Santana, Evelin Guzman Soto and Manuel Vidal Castro Martinez were granted RD$1 million, RD$500,000 and RD$300,000 bail respectively. The judge also placed exit restriction orders on the three to prevent them from leaving the country, and instructed them to make regular appearances at the Public Prosecutors Office.

Baseball looking to remove barriers
Of the 30 teams in major league baseball 29 have some form of representation in the Dominican Republic, but the MLB wants Congress to pass a bill that would exempt baseball players from certain Dominican labor law provisions, and validate the contracts signed between Dominican players and the US teams. The bill on the table suggests using the same set of rules that govern the Minor Leagues in the United States in the Dominican Republic without interfering with Dominican work codes. The bill aims to reduce the amount of legal cases regarding the termination of contracts. As a result, MLB teams would increase their investment in the DR.
In related baseball news, a bill that seeks to change the status of Dominican baseball players so they can be granted visas to play in the United States is on President George Bush's desk. The bill, which was approved by the Senate and Congress, gives the MLB, the NBA and the NHL the possibility of receiving more P1 visas, making it easier for athletes to move from their home countries to the United States. These visas are issued to recognized international athletes. In contrast, baseball prospects, because they are not recognized internationally, are given temporary work visas known as H-2B.

Sammy's back... sort of
Sammy Sosa has signed a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers, the team he started his major league career with back in 1985. The contract is for around US$500,000, but most of the money will be incentive-based. The Rangers will eventually use Sosa as a designated hitter at the fifth spot, behind Mark Texeira, and sometimes as an outfielder. It could be an opportunity for the Hall of Fame bound slugger to reach his 600-homerun milestone. Sosa currently has 588 career homeruns, and is fifth on the all-time homerun list. Sosa signed with the Rangers when he was 16 years old, and was brought up to the Majors in 1989, when he was 20. After only 25 games with the Rangers he was traded to the Chicago White Sox, and eventually landed in the hands of the Chicago Cubs. Alongside slugger Mark McGwire, Sosa helped bring baseball back after the 1994 baseball strike. Both players ended up hitting over 60 homeruns in 1998 and Sosa became the first and only player to have more than 60 homeruns in three seasons.

Barry Bonds in the DR
San Francisco Giants superstar Barry Bonds is in the Dominican Republic to play in the annual Juan Marichal Golf Classic. Bonds has become a regular attendee at the celebrity-studded event. Shortly after his arrival at Las Americas International Airport, Bonds signed some autographs and spoke to reporters. The slugger refused to comment about ongoing allegations of steroid use. The Golf Classic will be held on 19, 20 and 21 January at the Guavaberry Country Club and Metro Country Club golf courses in Juan Dolio.

Licey to the finals
It seems that Licey have a flair for drama and love keeping their fans on the edge of their seats. The team waited until the very last moment to clinch their finals' berth. For most of the baseball season the Gigantes had been the dominant team, but with the season hanging in the balance, Licey, in a win or go home situation, came out on top. This guaranteed another finals battle between Licey and Aguilas, the teams that draw most fans. Licey took an early 3-0 lead but the Gigantes went on to score on a sacrifice fly and on a homerun by Nelson Cruz, making the score 3-2. But that was all for the Gigantes. Licey went on to score in the fourth inning and then Carlos Ruiz dealt the Gigantes the final blow as he hit grand slam homerun, taking the score to 7-2. Licey meet the Aguilas in Santiago tonight, for the first of a best of nine series.
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