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Daily News - Monday, 12 February 2007

Moratinos in DR
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos Cuyaube met with President Leonel Fernandez at the Presidential Palace on Friday, 9 February. The Presidency reported that the Spanish Foreign Minister discussed Haitian migration and its repercussions, the agreement that allows Dominicans to use their Dominican drivers licenses in Spain, and a Spanish proposal to train Spanish language teachers in the DR, as well as Spanish investment in the DR at the meeting.
The Spanish Foreign Minister also discussed the creation of a Regional Institute for Dramatic Arts with the support of the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos and the Centro de Danzas Alicia Alonso; Dominican culture week in Madrid and the recognition of qualifications of Dominican dental university graduates in Spain.
Other topics covered were Dominican expatriates' integration into Spanish society and community life in Spain, and initiatives that could be carried out by the Dominican government through its embassy, consulate and advisory boards to ease Dominican migrants' social absorption into Spanish society.
Also present were Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso and Spanish Ambassador in the DR Almudena Mazarrasa.

Consumer Price Index lower
The Consumer Price Index for January 2007 was set at 0.93%, lower than the 1.55% for 2006 and well within the guidelines set for 2007. According to the Central Bank, the lower than expected CPI was somewhat of a surprise given the Dominican Republic's oft-delayed entry into DR-CAFTA and the latest tax increases. The year-to-year inflation rate was set at 4.36%, lower than the 5% for just 2006. Much of the lower rate for the consumer index is thought to be related to the luxury taxes on tobacco and alcohol, which greatly increased prices on these items.

Metro got more than most
Last December the now infamous Santo Domingo Metro received more money than the capital expenditure of five ministries combined. The Office for the Re-Organization of Public Transportation (OPRET) received RD$479.7 million, according to the Budget Office bulletin released this week. According to Hoy, the Public Health, Education, Education Science and Technology, Public Works, and Environment Ministries received just RD$256.5 million. The newspaper also reports that for 2006, the budget for the Metro was set at RD$1.835 billion, but over RD$3.0 billion were spent on the project. There was even a RD$1.1 billion transfer of funds from the ministries of Public Health and Education. The Metro is supposed to go into service in spring 2008.

Government to spend in Dajabon
The Dominican government has assigned RD$210 million for the construction of modern infrastructure in the town of Dajabon. The essential element of the construction will be a new bi-national marketplace to replace the squalor and disorganization currently associated with market days in the frontier town. Diario Libre reports that the market occupies, in a very disorderly fashion, about 20 square blocks of the town, using sidewalks and streets to service the public. The improvements will be made with European Union funding, and are part of an ambitious plan to rebuild the customs house in Juana Mendez (the Haitian border town of Ouanaminthe) as well as the highway from Cap-Haitien (Haiti's second-largest city) to Dajabon, a 78-kilometer stretch.

Aura Celeste once more
Magistrate Aura Celeste Fernandez has formally asked the entire Central Electoral Board (JCE) to annul the retirement and pension plan as it now stands. In a formal document sent to the entire board last 7 December, the outspoken magistrate demonstrated that the current plan was in breach of several current laws as well as the Dominican Constitution (Art. 46). Magistrate Fernandez called the current plan, "arbitrarily discriminatory and unconstitutional." At one point in her note, the eminent jurist said that it had been argued that the JCE has a Special Fund for paying the pensions in the amounts stipulated in the current plan, but nevertheless, she objected to the fact that the money was an obligatory deduction that she considered "an irregular appropriation of funds." Aura Celeste Fernandez has requested a meeting of the entire JCE for serious discussion of the Retirement Plan, with the aim of making it "legal and constitutional."

Aura Celeste led it off
According to the much-read column in Hoy newspaper, "Que se dice" (What's being said), Central Electoral Board (JCE) magistrate Aura Celeste Fernandez is no longer a lone voice. She has found company in her decision to reject, for legal reasons, the special largesse given to the magistrates of the JCE.
Magistrate Mariano A. Rodriguez, the head of the JCE Disputes Chamber has reportedly returned his RD$132,995.20 incentive payment (covering two months). In a letter to the JCE financial director, Rodriguez says that he was returning the money because he was able to prove that the sum was the exact equivalent of the deductions made for income tax, pensions and retirement fund and funeral fund, and he would therefore be evading his fiscal and tax responsibilities by accepting this money. Magistrate Rodriguez said that he did not feel any need to wait for the government's Chamber of Accounts to determine the true status of the "incentive." The columnist placed tongue firmly in cheek and wrote "probably because all it took was a calculator and a minimum of common sense."

Chamber of Accounts: Judge and side
The Chamber of Accounts has been asked to rule on whether JCE judges are correct in accepting an incentive that covers the income tax deductions they should be paying the government, as would apply to other citizens. Interestingly, as Diario Libre points out, a decision to the contrary would affect the remuneration of the Chamber of Accounts judges themselves, as they receive the same incentives. Andres Terrero, president of the Chamber of Accounts, disclosed that the privilege is common to many government bodies. He mentioned that all Chamber of Accounts judges, all Supreme Court Judges, as well as all Central Electoral Board judges receive the incentive that had not been objected until now. New JCE judge Aura Celeste Fernandez refused to receive the incentive, and another JCE judge, Mariano Rodriguez, recently followed suit, explaining that it is an unfair privilege that violates the law.
As reported in Diario Libre, JCE judges receive monthly payments of between RD$295,000 and RD$292,000, while the Chamber of Accounts judges receive wages ranging from RD$475,000 to RD$375,000 a month.
Judge Aura Celeste Fernandez has also questioned the fact that JCE judges receive full pensions despite only having served four years in government, when the law for government employee retirement establishes a minimum 20-year term for pensions eligibility.

Government will audit officials
The government's Chamber of Accounts has announced a move to audit the sworn statement of assets by all government officials and by anyone who manages public funds. Andres Terrero, the head of the accounting office said that the entire accounting tribunal was in agreement on this issue. This initiative comes in response to the fact that many officials are tardy or have flatly refused to hand in their sworn declaration of assets. Terrero said that there would be penalties for any officials who are found to have discrepancies between what was declared and what is revealed during the audits.

Corruption officer frustrated
The director of the Department for the Prevention of Corruption (Depreco) under the current Fernandez administration has told Hoy newspaper that he has offered his resignation, because he is disappointed at the recent judicial decisions on corruption cases presented by his office. He said that the most recent sentences issued by the courts, including the Plan Renove ruling, kill any hopes of the public seeing corrupt government officers behind bars. "With so many decisions issued by the justice system favoring those taken to court on corruption cases, I am placing my post at the government's disposal in case I am the problem. They have told me to continue working until now, fulfilling my duty and let others carry their own responsibilities," said Octavio Lister. He said that the ruling on the transportation fraud case known as Plan Renove sends mixed messages, and that the three Supreme Court judges in charge of penal matters were of the opinion that there was sufficient proof to sentence the accused, but the majority of the judges felt that there should be a retrial. Lister told Hoy that this case would now enter into a vicious circle because if a new court hears the case and rules against the accused, the case will move back to the Supreme Court and back and forth. He also commented on the case against Cesar Sanchez, former head of the state electricity company, CDEEE, which released this former government official from responsibility in another corruption case. "That judge's decision does not surprise me because in all the corruption cases she has heard she has only found the possibility of corruption in the Finance Ministry's pensions case and that is because the officials in question are from this administration," he pointed out.

TCW should sue AES
The director of the Energy Institute at the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo, the state university, considers that The Trust Capital of the West, which owns 50% of the EdeEste power distribution company's shares, should be suing AES Dominicana for breach of contract, as opposed to the Dominican government. Jose Luis Moreno of the IE-UASD says that it was AES Dominicana that sold their share to TCW, when it should have sold this to the Dominican state first. He explains that the Dominican state found out about the sale after the deal was closed. TCW continued its relationship with AES, which continued to operate the power distribution company. As reported in Listin Diario, Moreno speculated that the TCW case against the Dominican state will not hold because when that company purchased the AES share in EdeEste, the changes that led to its complaint against the government were already in place. Moreno speculated that TCW knows it does not have a case, and has thus sent a preliminary case document. Moreno also speculates, as reported in Listin Diario, that AES could be directly involved in the case that could be brought against the government, which could be used as a strategy for renegotiating the contracts.

High interest does not halt plastic
Despite interest rates ranging from 3.5% to 7% per month, credit card use is still on the upswing. The interest rates charged for the use of "plastic" have not followed the downward trends of other credit facilities such as mortgages and personal loans, either. Mortgage loans are currently between 17% and 20.90% APR, with occasional special offers of as low as 12.95% with some developers. According to Listin Diario, 1.3 million credit cards are in use in the Dominican Republic, with the banks offering a total of 110 different types of cards. Each bank offers multiple types of credit cards, the usual gold and platinum, as well as special cards for students and businesses. There is no specific legislation to control interest rates on credit cards, which means that clients are on their own when it comes to selecting a credit card.

Self-employed earn more
Most self-employed workers have higher incomes than salaried workers in the formal or informal sectors of the economy, according to a recent study on Poverty in the Dominican Republic released by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. The report in Hoy says that this is true, despite the fact that the nature of self-employment leads most to assume that these workers should earn less than their salaried counterparts. Accordingly, the self-employed appear to be better able to put a value on their efforts in the labor market. A possible explanation for this is that self-employed workers are entrepreneurs, and their initiative and capital generate additional value. With the exception of workers at the very lowest pay levels, the self-employed, according to the study, earned appreciably more than salaried workers in the formal or informal sectors.

Huge Sancocho
The chefs from Plaza Lama and Super Pola supermarkets got together over the weekend and prepared an enormous sancocho, the traditional festive Dominican dish. Three thousand people were able to enjoy the delicious meal, a part of the Seventh Dominican Fair at Multicentro La Sirena, a large Santo Domingo department store. According to Diario Libre, a team of 11 chefs and their assistants put 300lbs of beef, 250lbs of pork, 150lbs of chicken, 500 plantains, and 300lbs of yautia (malanga) along with several other ingredients such as cilantro. The four-meter cooking pot was placed in La Sirena's parking lot on Winston Churchill Avenue where it took five hours of cooking to complete.

Minister disputes Attorney General
Interior and Police Minister Franklin Almeyda called the Attorney General "imprudent" after the latter placed Puerto Plata on "Red Alert" following a series of violent crimes. The minister said that what Attorney General Radhames Jimenez had called an alert for the north coast "doesn't make sense." Almeyda made these comments in Santiago during an event celebrating the renewed Barrio Segura program started by the government last year. Almeyda was unequivocal in telling reporters from Hoy that "...there is no crime wave in Puerto Plata, much less the need to declare a red alert, and (what Jimenez did) doesn't make sense."
Hotel owners have also been critical of the alert, and the National Police announced that they had solved "all of the cases in Puerto Plata." According to Listin Diario, Major General Bernardo Santana Paez said that several dozen people had been charged for the most recent crimes committed in Puerto Plata and Santiago.
Meanwhile, Diario Libre says that a recent National Drug Control Department report indicates that a considerable number of foreigners are heading drug sales points and mini-cartels in Puerto Plata province. The foreigners mentioned are mainly Russian, German and Colombian nationals. The DNCD has intensified its efforts to reduce drug trafficking in the north coast, and has said it would soon be moving on to points in the east and south coasts.

Athletes of the Year
The Sports Writers Association (ACD) has published its list of the best athletes in the Dominican Republic. World Boxing champion Joan Guzman was honored with the Athlete of the Year title, in an event that is sponsored by the Cerveceria Nacional Dominicana, the Presidente Beer producers. Guzman is the world champion in the 122lb. division, after 27 undefeated victories. He received a RD$100,000 award.
Other athletes of the year in their sport for 2006 are:
Chess: Lisandra Munoz, Mercedes de la Cruz; Track and Field: Arismendy Peguero, Juana Arrendel; Car Racing: Luis Rafael Mendez; Basketball: Ivan Almonte, Andreina Paniagua; Badminton: Hector Pena, Fiordaliza de Oleo; Handball: Felix Romero, Judith Granado; Amateur Baseball: Rafael Cruz; Professional Baseball: Albert Pujols; Winter Professional Baseball: Mendy Lopez; Bowling: Rolando Sebelen Jr, Aumi Guerra; Professional Boxing: Joan Guzman, Yajaira Hernandez; Amateur Boxing: Juan Carlos Payano; Cycling: Augusto Sanchez, Rosaura Carrasco; Equestrian: Luis Orizondo, Daniela Cordero; Fencing: Rafael Western, Maybelline Johnson; Soccer: Jonathan Fana, Leonela Mojica; Gymnastics: Jesus Vidal, Yamile Pena; Golf: Juan Campusano, Gabriela Canals; Horse Racing: Inoel Beato; Hockey: Elvis Rafael Guzman; Judo: Robert Gomez, Maria Garcia; Karate: Alberto Mancebo, Maria Dimitrova; Go-Karting: Angelicke Clase; Weightlifting: Carlos Holguin, Yudelkis Contreras; Wrestling: Jose Arias, Macieli Jimenez; Motor Racing: Franklin Dominguez; Motocross: Melvin Jaquez; Pentathlon: Jesus Abreu; Racquetball: Simon Perdomo, Claudine Garcia; Rowing: Porfirio Oviedo; Softball: Manuel Cueto, Yovanny Nunez; Tae kwon do: Gabriel Mercedes, Nancy Urraca; Tennis: Johnson Garcia, Franchesca Segarelli; Table Tennis: Luis Lin Ju, Nieve Xue; Skeet: Elvis Rodgers; Archery: Paris Goico Jr., Ludys Tejada; Triathlon: Jean Carlos Jimenez, Pier Angely Banks; Sailing: Raul Aguayo; Volleyball: Elvis Contreras, Annerys Vargas. Coach of the Year: Miguel Beato Cruz. Special recognitions went to Marcos Diaz and Paris Goico Jr.

DR to 2nd round David Cup
The Dominican Republic Davis Cup team will be traveling to Paraguay for the second round of the Davis Cup Group II of the Americas Region, after defeating El Salvador this weekend at Santo Domingo's Parque del Este facilities. The Dominicans completed the three-day tournament with four wins in the five games. The Dominicans will face Paraguay's team starting 6 April. Rafael Moreno, captain of the Dominican team, says that they have lost twice to the Paraguayan team, but he is confident that this time they will be victorious. Team players are Victor Estrella, Jesus Francisco Felix, Henry Estrella and Jose Hernandez
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