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Daily News - Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Fixed fees at civil registry offices
JCE president Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman has announced the imposition of fixed service fees at the JCE. This is being introduced alongside the implementation of fixed wages for JCE officials. Wages for civil registry officers are RD$50,000, RD$40,000 or RD$25,000 depending on rank. On making the announcement, Castanos said that he had just implemented what Law 8-92, dating back to 13 April 1992 had mandated. "To charge fees at a whim, to pay employees and gain personal benefits for providing a vital public service of registering basic dates in the lives of Dominicans, had become an irregularity that was accepted for decades. A strange modus operandi, but tolerated, clouded in great measure by complacency and political favors," he stated, while making the announcement. He criticized the chaos that had prevailed at the civil registry offices, complicating the citizens' lives when they requested a birth or death certificate. The civil registry offices were notorious for serving as fiefdoms that directly benefited JCE judges' pockets. The new regulations for Civil Registry services fees establish that birth registrations, extracts for getting the first "cedula" and those requested for school purposes are now free of charge. Likewise, death certificates are free, among other documents. An archive search for any civil registry document is also free, when the applicant indicates the year or provides a document that can facilitate its location.
The cost of getting married in the DR has increased considerably for foreigners. For a foreigner to wed outside a civil registry office, the charge is RD$15,000. If the couple visits a Civil Registry Office, the charge is RD$10,000. When one of the two is a non-resident foreigner, the wedding will cost RD$8,000 outside the office, or RD$5,000 at the office. When the foreigners are legal residents, the cost will be RD$3,000.
Dominicans who get married outside the offices need to pay RD$3,000, and RD$1,000 for a marriage at the registry. To transcribe a marriage held at a Catholic Church, the cost is RD$1,000. To transcribe marriages held abroad, the cost is RD$600.
An extract of a birth certificate costs RD$100, and the complete version is RD$200.
To register an adoption judgment, the fee is RD$400.
Divorce registrations pay RD$100 for the short version, and RD$200 for the long version. To transcribe a death that took place abroad, the charge is RD$200.
There is a RD$400 charge for a judgment that confirms any civil status document.
For a complete list of the new fees, go to http://www.jce.do

Cedulas for a million Haitians
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) reported that investigations by the National Intelligence Department (DNI) reveal that over a million Haitians and other foreigners have secured Dominican "cedula" ID cards by fraudulently obtaining Dominican birth certificates. These fake documents have primarily benefited drug traffickers, dancers, baseball players and Haitians. The investigations show that there is an alarming number of fake "cedulas" among residents of "bateyes" and communities near sugar mills, according to a report carried in Monday's Diario Libre. Large numbers of irregularities are also reported in the communities of Bayaguana, Guerra, Monte Plata, Yamasa, Barahona, San Pedro de Macoris, Higuey, Puerto Plata and several municipalities in San Cristobal province. The report found a suspiciously high number of "twins" being reported, such as 1,300 twin reports that benefited Haitian offspring in Guerra alone. The report indicates that the documents were issued by Mafiosi with the collaboration of accomplices within the JCE.

Negotiator against trade monopoly
In an opinion piece in the Listin Diario on Monday, the government's chief trade negotiator Julio Ortega Tous wrote to differ with the criteria of the president of the Santo Domingo Chamber of Commerce who last week called for a halt to free trade agreement negotiations in order to give time for DR-CAFTA to set in. Ortega explains that to do so would be to create a monopoly in favor of US imports, and that this would be detrimental to Dominican consumers. He mentions the case where DR-CAFTA establishes that vehicle imports will see 20% reduction of taxes each year, which means that in five years, US vehicles will not pay taxes. He points out that nevertheless, it is known that US vehicles are high fuel consumers, not the most technologically advanced, and lower quality, as the industry is less efficient compared to its counterparts in Europe, Japan and Korea. "To deliver our country to the US automobile industry with such a tax advantage, without extending the same advantages to European and Asian countries, would be like shooting ourselves in the foot," he points out. He says that the dilemma is whether the DR should declare a moratorium on other trade negotiations, and seek to fully integrate with the US or bet on the diversification of markets, both of suppliers and providers. He responds that our country's very historical location and its historic ties are why we should strive for greater diversification, without diminishing the importance of the US as our main market.
He stresses that because the DR is a signatory of World Trade Organization agreements, this means we have growing commercial commitments that call for elimination of subsidies. He highlights the fact that it is better to prepare for this instead of clinging to protections when the trend is for these to disappear.
He believes that the DR will be better off diversifying its markets with competitors such as the Europeans, the Asians and the South Americans, as well as with Canada, Chile and Mexico, the other NAFTA country signatories, instead of delivering a monopoly on access to our market to the US.
He concludes that trade policy should be at the center of economic policy, and that economic policy is not only about fiscal balance, monetary stability and low inflation. He says that decisions about opening trade policy are crucial. He says this unity of opinion with the private and public sector is the reason for Chile's success, its increased poverty reduction and development.
He calls for in-depth discussions with the private sectors and leading cabinet members under the umbrella of the National Commission for Trade Negotiations (CNNC).

Tax collections up
The Tax Department (DGII) reports that it has been able to lower ITBIS (VAT) evasion by 10 points since the new government took power in August 2004. As reported in Diario Libre, this means that the government received RD$29.5 billion in ITBIS in 2006, 15% more than the previous year. The DGII reports that while sales in the DR were up by 32.4% in 2006, sales with the ITBIS applied increased 42%. Hernandez said that at the change of government in 2004, ITBIS evasion was at 42%. He estimates that evasion is currently around 31%. Most goods and services in the DR are subject to a 16% ITBIS tax.

High taxes on fuel
Taxes make up many times more than the price of gasoline including transportation and distribution, writes Diario Libre. This is after the government's latest fiscal reform that added an additional 16% to the taxes already established under the Hydrocarbons Law 112-00. Diario Libre says that the import parity cost of premium gasoline was RD$53.79 per gallon this week but the taxes paid on that gasoline amounted to RD$54.20. The import parity cost of regular gasoline for this week was RD$51.65 while the taxes levied were RD$48.60. Diesel fuel arrives in the country at a cost of RD$55.56 and is taxed RD$25.84 per gallon. Profit margins gained by the wholesalers and the gasoline retailers are added on.

Breathalyzers arrive today
The government's new tool in the fight against drunk driving, 1,200 breathalyzers, are expected to arrive today. The breathalyzers cost US$100,000 and come with 1,200 replacement tips. Each tip will cost US$0.50 to replace. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (AMET) will begin by using the alcohol-measuring devices in Santo Domingo, the National District and the Cibao region.

Illegal beans
The Customs Department has seized 28 freight containers of beans, valued at RD$60 million, which smugglers attempted to import without paying the proper taxes. The beans came from the United States and the shipment was due to pay RD$38 million in taxes. The illegal shipment of beans was found at the Haina Oriental port lumped with a shipment of flour that does not pay tariffs due to a free trade agreement. Beans are subject to a 79% tariff. Listin Diario reports that the person who attempted to smuggle the goods into the country had contacts at the Ministry of Agriculture. Miguel Cocco, Customs Department director, said that since it was the importer's first offense, they would be allowed to just pay the fine. The importer's identity was not revealed. Cocco says that the flour will be donated to local organizations and the beans will be auctioned off with the profits going to the Customs general fund.

Aristy voted to LMD
Amable Aristy Castro was unanimously voted as head of the Dominican Municipal League (LMD). 151 delegates from city governments nationwide attended the event. Aristy Castro, representing the PRSC, had the support of the three majority parties - the ruling PLD and the PRD as well as his own party. This is his third term at the helm of the organization that handles the purse strings for the country's municipalities.

Miguel Vargas wins PRD candidacy
Presidential hopeful Miguel Vargas Maldonado has won the PRD presidential nomination and will run on the party's ticket in the 2008 presidential race. With 93% of the votes counted, Vargas had received about 80% of the votes. His rival, former Vice President Milagros Ortiz Bosch publicly acknowledged her defeat. PRD Secretary General Orlando Jorge Mera says that Vargas will officially be proclaimed as the party's candidate at the PRD delegates' convention on 25 February, where 3,000 party representatives will be present. Vargas dedicated the victory to his family and says that he will face any detractors. In a press conference Vargas also commented that he is ready to confront accusers who claim that he is involved in Spain's Marbella corruption scandal and says that those accusations were politically motivated. Vargas has tried to distance himself from the scandal, saying that his only connection with Carlos Sanchez, who was jailed for the case in Spain, is that he sold him a hotel in Santo Domingo and Vargas denies that he abused his powers as Public Works Minister to protect any of Sanchez's interests in the country.

Estrella: transparency re the metro
PRSC pre-presidential candidate Eduardo Estrella is asking President Leonel Fernandez to account for all funds spent on the Santo Domingo Metro and on all the trips taken by government officials. He said that this information would reveal the government's lack of transparency. Estrella says that Fernandez should stop hiding where a large part of national budget goes and says that the PLD government has refused to indicate where and how they have spent millions of pesos. Estrella compared the way Fernandez runs the country to the way a person runs a private business, saying that for this reason Fernandez feels that he doesn't have to tell anyone anything. Estrella reminded the President that the money he is spending isn't his, but rather the public's and therefore the public has the right to know where the money is being spent. Estrella pointed out that the public needs to know where the sum of more than US$400 million is being spent, a sum that was financed through the PetroCaribe agreement with Venezuela.

Time runs out in Goico case
Time has run out for prosecutors wishing to bring charges against retired Colonel Pedro Julio "Pepe" Goico and other people accused of drug money laundering. The legal authorities must now bring new charges against Goico if they wish to make a case against the former presidential security chief.

Cardinal doing fine
After being discharged from the CEDIMAT medical center at Plaza de la Salud last week, Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez is reported to be doing well. The Cardinal is slowly recovering from triple bypass surgery performed at the CEDIMAT center on 13 January.

Ex-Brazilian President in DR
Ex Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso was at the Presidential Palace last night, speaking at the "Challenges for Institutions in Latin America's Modernization Process" conference. Cardoso was invited to the country by President Leonel Fernandez. Cardoso recognized Fernandez as a friend and proclaimed his admiration for the Dominican head of state. During his speech Cardoso said that the most important thing for stabilizing a country is to have clear laws and make sure that they are enforced and followed.

Marcos Diaz impresses in Argentina
Dominican long distance swimmer Marcos Diaz had an impressive showing at the 88-kilometer International Hernandarias - Parana Marathon in Argentina. Diaz, who took part in the event as a warm-up for his 2007 swimming schedule, swam the race in 9 hours and 42 minutes and came in sixth in the men's category. The Hernandarias - Parana is the first race in the Grand Prix FINA 2007 open waters racing circuit. With the successful completion of this race, Diaz became the first swimmer in the world to swim the two longest open water races in the world, Hernandarias - Parana and the River Bharigathi in India.

It's official; Sammy a Ranger
After weeks of sorting through the language and negotiations Sammy Sosa has officially signed a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers, the team he started his career with in 1989. Sosa last played in the Major Leagues in 2005 when he batted .221 with 14 homeruns and 45 RBIs in 102 games played. The terms of the deal haven't been announced, but if Sosa makes the Texas Rangers' 40-man roster his base salary will be in the area of US$500,000 and he could receive more based on performance incentives. Sosa has 588 career homeruns and has a .274 career batting average.

Baseball update
In what can be considered payback for last year's championship debacle at the hands of Licey, the Aguilas returned the favor this post-season by displaying an offensive explosion rarely seen in the Dominican Winter League. The Aguilas scored 21 runs in their last two games and played near-perfect baseball as they defeated Licey five games to two in the best of nine series. The Aguilas' performance can be classified as dominating, and it was as if Licey had no answer for the power of the Aguilas. With each swing of their bats the Aguilas deflated Licey's aspirations more and more. This is the 19th championship win for the Aguilas and it has added another chapter to the most vibrant rivalry in Dominican baseball. The Aguilas will now head on to Carolina, Puerto Rico to face Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Mexico in the Serie del Caribe.
The Dominican Republic is now getting ready for the Serie del Caribe, which is being held in Carolina, Puerto Rico between 2 and 7 February. The Aguilas will represent the Dominican Republic this year with hopes of capturing their fifth Serie del Caribe championship. Licey leads all teams with nine championships in the history of the tournament, followed by Cangrejos de Santurce (Puerto Rico) with five championships and the Aguilas with four. The Serie del Caribe brings together the winning teams from the Venezuelan, Puerto Rican, Dominican and Mexican baseball leagues for a five-day baseball tournament. The DR has won 15 championships in the tournament's history, more than any other country.
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