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Daily News - Friday, 09 February 2007

Leonel to discuss Constitution with parties
President Leonel Fernandez will meet with the three main political parties next week to discuss the constitutional reform in depth. He is due to meet with the PRSC on Tuesday, the PRD on Wednesday and the PLD on Thursday. The meetings are held to reach a consensus so that the reforms are respected in future governments when the PLD or President Leonel Fernandez may no longer be in power.

DR and Central America sign agreement
The Dominican Republic and the Central American countries, with input from the United States, have signed an agreement to help prevent double taxation on products. Treasury Minister Vicente Bengoa says that the agreement was approved by the region's Council of Finance and treasury ministries. Bengoa has been in San Jose, Costa Rica since Wednesday.

SESPAS will fight malnutrition
Matilde Vasquez, deputy minister in charge of nutrition at the Ministry of Public Health (SESPAS), has announced a new government initiative to reduce malnutrition in the country. The statement was made on occasion of recent release of figures from the World Food Program that show that malnutrition in the DR has consistently increased from 2000 to 2006, which includes two years into the present administration.
Vasquez said that funds for nutrition programs would be increased from RD$2 million to RD$400 million. The initiative includes supplying nutritional supplements (iron, calcium, folic acid) to 170,000 pregnant women and 500,000 children under the age of five.
Vasquez claims that the increasing number of births of Haitian children in Dominican hospitals are the reason for the high malnutrition rate.
Yesterday Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez attributed the increase in malnutrition to the Mejia government's mismanagement of the 2003 banking crisis, as reported in Diario Libre. Rojas also attributed the figures to the lack of iodized salt, which he said was left at 90% through a government program during the first PLD government (1996-2000), but was not followed up by its successor.

Government changes urged
Hoy newspaper's editorial today says that the World Food Program (WFP) nutrition indicators should encourage the current authorities to reflect on the poor quality of their social policies. "These figures on hunger and malnutrition should inspire social policy planners to change their attitudes, eradicate politics and political campaigning, and direct their efforts towards improving the people's quality of life, such as nutrition. The editorial says that despite the high growth rate indicators the authorities boast of, these are doubtful given the quality of this economic growth and the base it is built on that entails an increase in the number of poor people. The newspaper encourages the government to change its policies so that more jobs can be created to reduce the number of households that do not have sufficient income to feed their families.
Also writing in Hoy today, journalist Jose Baez Guerrero points out that economic growth in the DR is only reaching the rich. "The worse formulas are ones that assume that wealth is a single cake and the government needs to grab the largest share by imposing more taxes. This is what is being done, instead of more modern policies that have proven that the government should stimulate all possible types of investment, create jobs in the private sector, reduce taxes and promote a climate of transparency and stability that will attract foreign investment, he writes. In his opinion, the current government understands this but remains trapped by the conflicts of interests that paralyze so many initiatives. He mentions impunity and the weak justice system, which scare off foreign investment, and the impression that an important sector of the government is not really committed to fighting corruption. He points out that the country's entry into DR-CAFTA is another example, where the government prefers to continue to benefit by collecting the taxes that are due to be eliminated once the treaty goes into effect.
He writes that the lack of commitment to fight corruption is what is behind the increase in malnutrition, while at the same time more champagne keeps flowing at the tables of people without scruples, who would be filled with shame if they had to explain the origins of their fortunes to their children.

Excess regulation
Today's Diario Libre points out the excess regulation that is currently affecting businesses in the DR, especially small businesses. Adriano Miguel Tejada, the newspaper's editor, highlights the fact that the situation has reached a point where business owners have to check almost daily to see what new requirements the Tax Department is asking for. He tells the case of a friend who used to have a part-time accountant, but now has had to hire an accounting department and a systems engineer to meet government requirements. "All this means is frustration for small business owners (that the country needs to encourage), and a warning for anyone who wants to do business, because these days managing a business is like working for the tax department. This situation is a cause for concern. The tax authorities should evaluate the cost-benefit of this excess regulation for the country and for entrepreneurs".

Pediatric Unit for Cedimat
The country's most-technologically advanced medical center is getting better. Cedimat, the medical center at the government-owned Plaza de la Salud, reports that they will be installing the country's first Pediatric Cardiovascular Unit, a RD$25 million investment in equipment and installations, in conjunction with the Heart Care Foundation. Several Cedimat physicians are training abroad to work in the unit. This will enable children's operations to take place all year round, and not just during periodic visits by physicians from abroad sponsored by the foundation. Cedimat reports a total investment of RD$250 million in medical equipment.
Milagros Urena, director of Cedimat told Listin Diario that they have seen an increase in demand for their services. Cedimat has become an option for Dominicans of all social backgrounds to receive high-quality medical services comparable to advanced medical centers abroad.

SDSS says city halls also owe
Today's Hoy newspaper is reporting that 50 municipalities owe over RD$250 million to the Dominican Social Security System (SDSS). This is in breach of Law 87-01 and according to the paper it affects the wellbeing of the pensions and health of thousands of workers and employees. Topping the list is the National District, which owes RD$140,236,722.90. The Social Security Treasury says that they will submit claims against 200 more business which supposedly have debts with the SDSS and that 24 companies have already be taken to court over the debt. The SDSS also has claims pending against 138 private companies.
In related news the Education Department is rejecting yesterday's report claiming that they owe RD$510,090,123 to the Social Security System (SDSS). Education deputy minister and human resources head Nery Sanchez says that since last year the Ministry of Education has always paid on time, as required by the law. Sanchez says that part of the money that is due each month goes directly to the Social Security Treasury and the other part goes to INABIMA. Yesterday Hoy reported that since 31 December sixty public institutions owe the Dominican Social Security System (SDSS) more than RD$1 billion.

TCW case update
Radhames Segura, head of the State Run Electric Companies (CDEEE), says the government may seek US legal counsel to prepare for the legal dispute with Trust Company of the West (TCW). Trust Company of the West owns 50% of the power distribution company, EdeEste. The government has also asked the Chamber of Accounts to audit EdeEste, which is run by AES Dominicana. The government hopes that the audit will strengthen its position in the case. TCW claims the government owes them US$680 million and has violated "the rules of the game" in order to operate in the country. Diario Libre writes that TCW is looking to receive the same treatment as Union Fenosa when the Mejia government bought out their shares in EdeNorte and EdeSur, in a transaction that was openly criticized for being against the country's best interests.
Power Superintendent Francisco Mendez said that the country may take the case to international arbitration, as reported in Hoy. He comments that TCW is claiming breach of contract because the Superintendence of Power did not apply the tariff increases as stipulated in the capitalization contracts.

JCE prepares for 2008 election
With 15 months to go before the next presidential elections, the Central Electoral Board (JCE) has stepped up its preparatory work. The JCE has announced the creation of 88 new voting stations.
Also, in preparation for the elections JCE head Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman traveled to the United States yesterday in order to help prepare voting procedures for Dominicans abroad. Castanos was accompanied by JCE Administrative Chamber head Roberto Rosario and Judge Jose Angel Aquino. Castanos will be visiting areas with large Dominican populations, including New York, New Jersey and Boston.
Hoy's Coctelera column comments that the government will make available RD$297 million for the JCE to distribute among the political parties for their political activities, and describes this as "expensive democracy".

PLD approves candidates
The ruling political party, the PLD, approved Leonel Fernandez, Danilo Medina and Jose Tomas Perez's pre-presidential candidacies for the 2008 elections yesterday. Also, during yesterday's the PLD political committee meeting it was decided that the party would use its own voting list, rejecting Perez's proposal to use the list provided by the Central Electoral Board (JCE). The PLD primary is set for 6 May.

Clinics closed due to abortions
The Santo Domingo National District prosecutor's office has announced that three clinics (Dr. Perez Molina, Dr. McKinney and San Ramon) have been closed and 16 people, including three doctors and four nurses, were detained for carrying out abortions. Numas Perez Molina, Ramon Antonio Nunez Cruz and Luis Antonio McKinney Soriano are the three doctors who were detained. National District prosecutor Jose Manuel Hernandez Peguero said that each patient had paid between RD$4,000 and RD$10,000 for the procedures. A conviction for practicing illegal abortions could lead to jail sentences of 3 to 20 years. Dominican Medical Association (CMD) president Enriquillo Matos said he hopes that the police went through the proper procedures when closing the hospitals and that this wasn't a witch-hunt against the doctors.

Help for Puerto Plata to fight drugs
Dominican officials have decided to place Puerto Plata on red alert and send resources after several drug-related crimes were reported there. Attorney General Radhames Jimenez says that initiatives will be put in place to combat crime, especially the drug trade. Jimenez says that all parts of the National Security Council should be focused on normalizing the situation in Puerto Plata. The recent crime wave is linked to drug trafficking and organized crime and Jimenez says that the National Drug Control Department (DNCD) cannot deal with this task single-handedly.

Pujols becomes a US citizen
World Champion, Gold Glove winner, MVP, and you can now add US citizen to the long list of accomplishments in the young life of Albert Pujols. Pujols, who left the Dominican Republic when he was 16, was sworn in as an American citizen yesterday after passing his citizenship exam with a perfect score. The ceremony took place at the Eagleton County courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri. Pujols was the only new citizen being sworn in yesterday and was accompanied by his wife Deirdre and 12 family members. In six major league seasons Pujols has 250 homeruns, 758 RBIs and a .332 career batting average. He was the 2005 National League MVP and has finished second three times. Last season he hit 49 homers and drove in 137 runs while hitting .331. The first baseman won his first NL Gold Glove in 2006.

Dominican tennis
The Dominican tennis squad will face off against El Salvador for the eliminatory round of this year's Davis Cup. The DR and El Salvador are part of Group II in the American region. The first match for qualifications will be at the Parque del Este at 9am and the matches will run through Sunday. Dominican Tennis Federation president Persio Maldonado says that tennis is growing in the DR.

Arabian Nights
Scherezade, the Arabian nights classic, is on stage at the Sala Manuel Rueda of the National Music Conservatory. Nashla Bogaert stars as Scherazade; Mario Lebron is Abel Hazim; Raymond Jaquez is sultan Shariar and Maria Angelica Urena is Dinarzade. The presentations are staged on Friday 9, Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 February at 8 pm. Tickets are RD$700. For information on more events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
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