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Daily News - Monday, 22 January 2007

Forum suggests new Ten-Year Plan
The Forum for Dominican Educational Excellence ended last Friday, and among its conclusions was a unanimous request that the current constitutional reform process should include education as a national priority and that the percentage of the GDP that is allocated to education be consecrated in the country's constitution. According to Diario Libre, the forum's fourteen-point general declaration also included the creation of a new Ten-Year Plan, 2007-2017, and set 1 July as the deadline for the different educational sectors to hand in their ten-year plans.

Agricultural production up in 2006
Major farm items showed a marked increase in production during 2006, according the latest information published by the Ministry of Agriculture. Marked by a near seven-point jump in its contribution to the national GDP, going from 7.3% to 14%, the farming sector was assisted by financing from both public and private sources. Some of the items most in demand, such as garlic, avocado and plantains saw increases of between 46% and 183%, the latter in the case of garlic. Banana exports to the European Community grew by ten thousand tons for the period. Poultry and pork yields increased by 12% and 52% each, while rice grew moderately, helped by the new process of "crop mortgages" that started last year.

Talk about nepotism!
Most observers knew that Aura Celeste Fernandez's appointment to the Central Electoral Board (JCE) would provide a breath of fresh air to the oft-cited depository of political patronage. In yesterday's Hoy newspaper, the eminent jurist revealed that some departments at the JCE are composed of entire families. She called these situations "distortions" in the JCE payrolls. Fernandez told reporters that it was "inconceivable that in one department the father, mother, brother, son-in-law, and daughter-in-law are on the payroll." She also questioned the size of salaries paid to these people. According to magistrate Fernandez, these people were "employed based on their relationship with 'certain magistrates of the former JCE, or on friendships or ties to political parties.'" The judge blamed the hirings on a "senseless festival of jobs" during the JCE's recent past. After last Thursday's marathon session of the entire JCE, the electoral board announced more than 400 firings and a restructuring of the costs of new identification and voter registration cards ("Cedulas"). Magistrate Fernandez, commenting on the salaries paid to the personnel in question, said that salaries were not established on the basis of responsibilities, but rather "they were fixed, in most cases, based on family relationships with certain magistrates of the former board, the buddy system, or political affiliation. These distortions must be corrected." Fernandez was clear in saying that this was not a "witch-hunt" but the elimination of distortions and privileges.

Free trade with Taiwan has to be flexible
The process leading towards a bilateral free trade agreement with the government of Taiwan began last October, and it opens new opportunities for increasing Dominican exports to the Asian industrial giant as long as the tariffs are reduced judiciously and some items excluded entirely. According to Hugo Rivera, one of the chief negotiators in the DR-CAFTA process, a "flexible" tariff convention is needed along with a list of items that will never undergo tariff reduction. Among the latter, he mentioned steel and some farm items, which, if tariffs were removed, "would have a devastating effect on the DR." Rivera also insisted on two lists of origin: One "very flexible" for exports from the Dominican Republic to Taiwan, and the other, "very rigid" for imports from Taiwan, due to the danger that the use of raw materials proceeding from mainland China would represent." Rivera was clear in stating that "in reality, there are not a lot of things that we can export to Taiwan." He suggested that the major benefits would come from investments and technological and innovation cooperation. Current trade between the Dominican Republic and Taiwan, previously reported in DR1 News, stands at US$5 million in exports to Taiwan and US$150 million in imports from Taiwan.

Bishop of Higuey speaks out
Bishop Gregorio Nicanor Pena delivered the sermon during Sunday's Mass celebrating the Patron Saint of the Dominican Republic, Our Lady of Grace, and took the opportunity to give President Leonel Fernandez an earful. According to El Caribe, the Bishop called for the application of strict laws to curb drug trafficking and halt the current wave of criminal activity. Speaking before an A-list audience, the Bishop denounced crime, drug trafficking, the blackouts and the lack of potable water as some of the country's main problems. While recognizing current efforts to stem crime, the bishop requested "vigorous laws to stop this curse."

Lower oil prices have little effect
Despite the US$20.42 drop in international oil prices over the last six months, the average price paid by Dominican consumers has not kept pace. Premium and regular gasoline have fallen by just RD$25.30 and RD$23.60 each. According to Federico Quezada from the Ministry of Industry and Commerce's Hydrocarbon Department, crude oil prices are not the only reference point for setting local fuel prices. According to Quezada, the fact that the intermediaries purchase future crude contracts, often at times when prices are high, is one important reason why local prices do not reflect world prices. Another factor is the cost of a dollar on the exchange market. During the period of lower crude prices the dollar has shifted from RD$32.79 to RD$34.03, a relatively stable market. Beginning in January, the government also added a RD$5.00 peso tax on regular gasoline and a RD$3.00 peso tax on diesel fuel. The government has lowered the cost of a gallon of gasoline for the second week in a row. Premium gasoline fell by RD$1.50 a gallon and regular by RD$1.20.

Cardinal and Freddy on the mend
Massachusetts General Hospital has released humorist and television mogul Freddy Beras Goico after surgery to remove part of his pancreas. Beras Goico is recovering from the eight-hour operation in very good spirits and is expected to return to the Dominican Republic this week.
Likewise, the Dominican Cardinal Lopez Rodriguez is out of intensive care and resting in a regular hospital suite at Santo Domingo's Cedimat Medical Center. The Cardinal was also said to be in very good spirits and is able to walk round his room. He talked about the final play-off of the Dominican Winter League and thanked the media for all of the attention his operation had received.

Kidnappers caught quickly
The police have apprehended most of the gang that kidnapped a Cuban-born US citizen from his house in Villa Duarte in Santo Domingo. While they were being surrounded, the kidnappers opened fire. Two of the criminals were killed in the resulting exchange and two others were captured. The accused were found in a house in La Caleta, Boca Chica. The police are currently looking for the ringleader who was not in the house when the police arrived. In an interesting sidebar, the police discovered a brown handbag in the house in La Caleta. The bag contained a series of documents that belonged to Miroslava Yaiseth Rosas, the Panamanian chief of mission in the Dominican Republic. Rosas reported her handbag stolen when she arrived in the country on 11 January.

Lucky escape
Air Century pilot Rafael Alejandro Cid Rosario was very lucky last Friday, as his PA 34 crashed and burned a few minutes after takeoff from Hig?ero International Airport (La Isabela), north of Santo Domingo. The plane, with tail number HI-607CT, was bound for the new El Catey International Airport in Samana. The director of the investigating commission told El Caribe reporters that nothing was left of the airplane except its two engines and the propellers. The pilot had reported problems with the aircraft during a landing he made on 17 January.

Propane supply back to normal
The Coastal Corporation managed to get propane shipments going smoothly once more, and the shortage that was beginning to be felt in Santo Domingo was eased. On Saturday, an LPG shipload placed 3.9 million gallons on the local market via the National Refinery. According to refinery spokesperson Alfredo Freites, the ship's arrival on Saturday will ease the shortage created by a delay in the arrival of another ship that was scheduled to arrive at the beginning of last week. A quick survey carried out by Diario Libre reporters found that most LPG stations were well supplied.

Bear Stearns sees low inflation in DR
Bear Stearns analyst Franco Ucceli says that the low rate of inflation, just 5% as reported by the Dominican Central Bank, is an example of the DR's prevailing monetary stability. According to a report in Diario Libre, the " 0.7% inflation rate for December closed 2006 at 5% inflation, less than the 7.4% reported for 2005. This was the lowest inflation rate since 2001, when it was reported at 4.4%". Ucceli said that the Dominican Republic complied with the goal set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by closing the year with single-digit inflation.

The weekend saw three exciting games between the Tigres del Licey and the Aguilas CibaeOas. In the first game, star pitcher Jose Lima pitched a gem and the Aguilas won handily, 9-3.
In the second game, played in Santo Domingo's Estadio Quisqueya, another great pitching performance allowed Licey to even the series at one game apiece. Victor de los Santos, Juan Carlos Cruz, F. Rodriguez, Jorge Sosa (1-0) and Carlos Perez (S-1) were the star pitchers as they held the Aguilas to just six hits and one run. Jose Bautista was the leading offensive player for Licey with two RBIs.
Yesterday, the series returned to the Valley of Death, the Estadio Cibao in Santiago. Once again it was the brilliant pitching that decided the game as left-hander Derek Lee pitched six and a third innings of shut-out baseball and the Aguilas rolled to a 6-0 victory. Leo NuOez and Jose Vargas completed the shut out. For the Aguilas it was Mendy Lopez with a homerun, and Tony Batista doing the most damage. Willy Mo PeOa and Bernie Castro hit for doubles.
Tonight's game:
Santo Domingo - Estadio Quisqueya 7:30pm
Aguilas vs. Licey
Julian Tavarez Hill pitch against Randy Leek
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