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Daily News - Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Treasury & Economy ministries
President Leonel Fernandez has issued the necessary decrees appointing Vicente Bengoa and Temistocles Montas to the newly created ministries of Treasury (Hacienda) and Economy, Planning and Development (EPD). The decrees fulfill the requirement of Law 496-06. The new Ministry of Treasury replaces the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Development is a fusion of the former National Planning Office and the Technical Ministry for the Presidency. The minister for EPD is also the President's economic cabinet presiding officer. Under the EPD, Guarocuya Felix was appointed deputy minister for Planning; Americo Bastidas, deputy minister for International Cooperation, and Anibal Taveras, technical-administrative deputy minister. The Ministry of Treasury is responsible for fiscal policy. The DGII now falls under the Ministry of Treasury.

Military ready for transport strike
The Armed Forces have a contingency plan ready for any problems that might arise from the transport strike that is planned for next Tuesday. Although there have been calls for halting the strike (see next story), so far the organizers have insisted that the strike will go on. Yesterday, the President's press spokesperson, Rafael Nunez, announced that the transport unions could strike "for a month, if they want to, but the government is not going to talk to them. In addition, the government is ready to guarantee public transportation to and from places of employment." Listin Diario reports that the PRSC opposition party is supporting the strike. In an editorial, the newspaper calls the strike "blackmail." The Listin explains that what the transport unions seek is impunity in the Plan Renove transport vehicle scam during the previous administration, increased transport subsidies, and for the government to continue to maintain a laissez-faire attitude and be lenient about those who have not purchased their license plate stickers.

Government agencies call for a halt to strike
The government agencies connected with transportation and traffic control as well as the new Metro, OPRET, OMSA, the OTTT and AMET, are urging the unions to call off their strike, planned for 30 January. In a full-page ad in most of today's papers, the government agencies list eleven activities by OPRET and its sister organizations in their attempts to resolve issues raised by the unions. The last mention was in relation to President Leonel Fernandez's authorization for convening the Collective Council to hear the unions' complaints. That said, the announcement goes on to call for a cessation of the strike plan and lists an agenda of items for discussion should the meeting take place.

Motorcycle tags in April
The Tax Department director (DGII), Juan Hernandez, says that the government tax agency would begin issuing license plates for all motorcycles and other two-wheeled motorized vehicles in the Dominican Republic. According to Diario Libre, the DGII does not even know how many of these vehicles there are in the country. He did say that the small license plates have been available for motorcycles used to transport passengers, popularly known as "motoconchos". Hernandez blamed the former PRD government for ending the issue of license tags to motorcycles and, as a result, the DGII does not have an accurate count of the total number of these vehicles using the nation's highways. He estimated that there were over a million of these unlicensed cycles. However, an article in Listin Diario says that there are at least two million motorcycles that need to be registered and tagged. Apparently, the director general announced that all vehicles used for public transportation would need to get their registrations in order in time for April. Just how this daunting task of registering two million motorcycles would be implemented was not explained to the reporters.

Tax revenue up by RD$28.3 billion
Tax Department director Juan Hernandez has announced a RD$28.3 billion increase in tax collections for 2006. The director general of the department said that the DGII had raised its collections by 34% compared to 2005. In 2005 the tax office collected RD$82.2 billion and in 2006 collections totaled RD$110.5 billion. The DGII is forecasting a collection of RD$129.2 billion for 2007.

DR now a part of BCIE
The Dominican Republic is now officially an extra-regional partner and potential beneficiary of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE). Harry E. Brautigam, the BCIE president sent the certification to Treasury Minister Vicente Bengoa and thanked him for the cooperation that allowed the Dominican Republic to form part of the bank. The Dominican Republic's incorporation will permit a strengthening of economic ties with the Central American region. According to the document, the Dominican Republic was received by the bank as an "extra-regional, beneficiary non-founder nation of the BCIE."

Most Wanted
In an unusual move, the Department for the Prevention of Corruption (DEPRECO) has issued a Wanted Poster for Angel Jose Castro Castro, one of the accused in the recent pension scandal at the Ministry of Finance. Depreco is pursuing Castro Castro as one of the leading figures in the RD$50 million scandal. Octavio Lister, the head of Depreco, told El Caribe reporters that the department's regulations allow the publication of Castro Castro's photo on Wanted Posters. All today's newspapers are carrying the photograph.

Supreme Courts looks at troops in court
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has ordered an investigation into the presence of several members of the armed forces intelligence unit (J-2) in a courtroom of Santo Domingo's Second Court of Instruction during the preliminary hearings of the case involving Colonel Leonel Velasquez and others implicated in the murder of Major Jose Herran Mancebo. The event led to the suspension of the hearings. According to the report in El Caribe, Jorge Subero Isa ordered the director general of the judiciary, Pablo Rodriguez, to look into this case. Last week, magistrate Maria del Socorro Perez suspended the hearings when members of the J-2 tried to take over the courtroom. On Monday the Armed Forces Minister said that his people were acting on instructions from the magistrate. Apparently the accused, Leonel Velasquez, had asked the Air Force chief of staff to send J-2 officers to the courtroom.

Court orders trial for Vanessa's killers
In Santiago, the Third Court of Instruction has ordered four of the five men accused of the murder of Vanessa Ramirez Fana to be held for trial. The fifth person implicated, Jose Armando de la Rosa, who had purchased the stolen cellular phone from the accused murderers, was released from jail. The magistrate, Miguel Parache, ratified the remand order for the accused, who all face 30-year jail terms. The hearings started at 4:15 in the afternoon and ended at 9:40 at night. Dr. Juan Ramirez, Vanessa's father, told reporters that he was satisfied with the magistrate's verdicts.

A call for renewed USAID programs
One of the leading institutions in Santiago de los Caballeros, the Development Corporation, Inc. (APEDI), has issued a call for the resumption of programs by the United States Agency for International Development, USAID. APEDI's head, Felix Garcia said that USAID has been in the Dominican Republic for 45 years, and over that period it had contributed significantly to Santiago's development. One of its major accomplishments was the creation of the Higher Agriculture Institute (ISA), the nation's only university dedicated to agriculture and development issues. According to Garcia, "unfortunately, for reasons that are probably economic, the United States government has suspended these programs..." but he said he was confident that since USAID knows how effective and transparent its programs in Santiago have been, there would be a renewal of its efforts. In the past, USAID has contributed more than RD$16 million to different programs. While speaking to representatives from the development agency, Garcia pointed out that nearly all Santiago's leading institutions have in the past received assistance from USAID. He mentioned ISA, the PUCMM, Plan Sierra, and programs in the coffee regions of Puerto Plata province and housing in Navarrete.

Marranzini calls for a consensus
The CDEEE's attempt to collect a new 10% fee from non-regulated electric consumers - those producing their own electricity - has met with widespread rejection by industrialists across the Dominican Republic. The modifications to Law 125-01, the General Law on Electricity, set out to increase the minimum requirement for qualifying for non-regulated status in addition to the new fees. Marranzini, one of the powerful voices coming from the National Council for Business (CONEP) membership and a former president of the private sector group, said that any change in the law should be discussed, read and considered by Congress because of the sweeping effect it would have. Marranzini was joined in his statement by Ernesto Vilalta, a former president of the Herrera Industrial Association. According to Marranzini, the Superintendent of Electricity, Francisco Mendez, was wrong to take up the defense of the proposed modifications. The former CONEP leader said that industrialists have a right to enjoy a 24-hour electricity service, as do all Dominicans, without having to pay an extra 10%.

Attacks on Law 28-01 stymie investors
Of the 134 business ventures that were approved by the Coordinating Commission for the Special Frontier Development Zone (CCDF) after the passage of law 28-01, only 36 have actually set up their industries. This has led to an investment of US$140 million and generated 4,500 new jobs. The speed with which businesses were supposed to be installed was much reduced as efforts to change the law became more and more strident. Part of the problem is that some industries, alluding to protection under Law 28-01 have begun operations illegally. On the other hand, pressure groups from powerful business groups in Santo Domingo have opposed the development of the frontier region, seeing such an event as unfair competition. As a result, they have lobbied to have the law repealed. One of the more successful ventures, San Miguel del Caribe, a soft drink manufacturer, was closed for 10 days for non-payment of ITBIS, which was covered under the original law. Due to the legal uncertainty surrounding the law's application, many companies have held off their investments. Most of the population in the seven affected provinces is totally in favor of the law and the installation of new industries. In Santiago Rodriguez alone, the soft drink firm had created 200 jobs and is, by far, the major private employer in the province. The success of companies such as San Miguel and Cementos Andinos demonstrates that the region, previously a focus for small-scale agriculture and cattle ranching, can support industries that bring innovative technologies to the area.

DNCD warns of child drug use
The National Drug Control Agency (DNCD), headed by Major General Rafael Radhames Ramirez Ferreira, has launched a drug awareness campaign and decried the fact that drugs were now an "issue of national security". In his remarks, quoted in today's Hoy newspaper, the General said that there was a "dramatic" increase in the use and abuse of children in drug trafficking and consumption. The high-ranking official said that drug use is "hidden within families as if it were a case of leprosy." General Ramirez Ferreira talked to Hoy reporter Elias Ruiz Matuk and went as far as to recount how the DNCD is going though a process of "re-engineering" in order to become cleaner and more efficient. Ramirez also revealed that Colombian hit men are in the Dominican Republic carrying out drug trafficking related operations involving "the settling of accounts".

Baseball finals
Great pitching and some key hits allowed the Tigres del Licey to defeat the Aguilas Cibaenas in their own stadium last night, 3-2. The game, tied since the sixth inning came to a dramatic end as Juan Carlos Cruz mowed down the mighty Aguilas lineup. It has been over three months since Licey has been able to defeat the Aguilas on home ground. Melky Cabrera got the Aguilas off to a good start, bringing in two runs in the third inning. At the top of the fourth inning, the Tigres cut the lead in half, scoring a run-off of starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez. In the sixth, the Blues from Licey tied the game before scoring the winning run in the tip half of the ninth.
For the Aguilas, Melky Cabrera and Miguel Tejada were the leading batters. For Licey, Anderson Hernandez, Jose Bautista, Willis Otanez, Jose Offerman and Matt Kemp were major contributors.
There is no game tonight. The series continues in Santo Domingo tomorrow with Jose Lima going against A. Lorene.
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