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Daily News - Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Mayor backs off tax effort
The mayor of Santo Domingo West (SDO) has desisted from his efforts to collect a 1? sales tax from the businesses that operate in his municipality. According to the Diario Libre, Mayor Francisco Pena has announced the suspension or "delay" in the application of the city council resolution that levied a one cent sales tax on all sales within the municipality limits. Although the official decision will be announced later today with the PRD party secretary general Orlando Jorge Mera, Pena told the Diario Libre reporters that he had decided to take into account the requests made by PRD party officials to reconsider the tax move. Readers should know that the Dominican Refinery, cement concerns, and major manufacturers and wholesalers are located within the municipality limits, giving the municipality a potentially enormous tax base. In spite of the step back, the PRD mayor maintains his insistence that the business community of SDO "should contribute more to the development of the community." Pena reminded the reporters also of the fact that while he had met with the president of the Herrera Industrial Association, Jesus Moreno no firm commitments were made.

Labor meets today to set date
The labor syndicates will meet later today to set the date for a protest march and general strike. The march will target the National Business Council (CONEP). Spokespersons for the labor sector told reporters from Hoy that they hoped that the business leaders had become more Christian over the Holy Week recess, and that this would allow them to relax their positions on generalized wage increases. Rafael Abreu, Eugenio Perez Cepeda, Jacobo Ramos and Gabriel del Rio Done made the comments when they participated in a workshop on the preparations for social security that was organized by the Dominican Institute for Social Security (IDSS). Labor's position is that workers earning up to RD$30,000 per month receive a 25% wage increase retroactive to November 2006. According to the report, the CONEP has sent a proposal to the labor leaders, but it has not yet been received.

Homicides are down 33%
Headed by President Leonel Fernandez, the National Council of Citizen Safety met yesterday at the Presidential Palace to announce the progress of the "Safe Barrio" programs. One of the first reports stated that homicides are down by 33% in the first quarter versus the same period last year. When Attorney General Radhames Jimenez left the meeting alongside the minister of the Interior and of the Police, Franklin Almeyda, they told reporters that an examination of the anti-crime measures had shown a positive impact on the barrios though stability and progress. The heads of the Armed Forces, the National Drug Control Department, the Police and the National Investigations Office were also present at the meeting. Overall, the attendees seemed to exude confidence that things were getting better. The Attorney General said, "I think that we are seeing great successes."

Church defends its stance
The president of the Dominican Council of Bishops, Archbishop Ramon Benito de la Rosa y Carpio reaffirmed the Church's criticisms of government actions, and said that they correspond to realities of people in all of the governments. Archbishop de la Rosa y Carpio said that the Church would not back down from its social obligations. The prelate called upon the politicians to understand that the role of the Church was to defend the interests of the people and should not be looked at as partisan politics. He told El Caribe reporters that "we have no political interests, this is a reality that is there and can't be denied, and the government should not see this as if they were the cause, since this has long been present..."

Tax Department returns money
The Tax Department (DGII) returned over RD$160 million to exporters and producers of VAT-exempt products today. The activity was headed by Tax Department director Juan Hernandez, Economy, Planning and Development Minister Juan Temistocles Montas, Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa, and Customs director Miguel Cocco. For the industrialists, Jose Miguel Bonetti, from Mercasid, Carlos Manuel Bonetti, from Agua Cristal, Roberto Bonetti, the head of Induveca and Induspalma Dominicana, and Felix Garcia, the head of La Fabril were present. Representing the Association of Industries would be its president Manuel Diez and Circe Almanzar would be there for the National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE), and Lisandro Macarrulla and Frank Castillo for the National Business Council (CONEP). The refunding of taxes has been a long time request of the industrialists, and it is only in the last few months that the current administration is proceeding to return part of the RD$10 billion it had withheld in taxes to the exporters and producers.

ANJE objects to subsidy funds
The president of the National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE), Joel Santos, told reporters that the creation of a subsidy fund to support propane sales and electricity service will not resolve the problems. Criticizing the government's announcement of the creation of a RD$2.5 billion fund for subsidies, Santos said that those resources would be better applied to investments in technology, to prevent transmission losses of electricity and prevent the theft of electricity. According to Santos, the continuation of the government's LPG subsidy will only serve as an incentive to switch more cars from gasoline to LPG, increasing the demand for the gas.

New park has a bad smell
The new park at the intersection of Nunez de Caceres and Gustavo Mejia Ricart avenues in Santo Domingo is apparently expelling some unpleasant odors, according to local residents and park patrons. According to the Diario Libre, the Santo Domingo Aqueduct and Sewer Corporation (CAASD) says that this is a normal occurrence after heavy rains. The CAASD says that the park was designed to handle the run-off from the surrounding area during downpours, and this includes the sediments that the rainwaters carry. The water pools are fed from underground wells and, according to the water authorities, when the water enters into contact with the air, the bothersome odors are produced. The CAASD explanation is that the pool on the north side of the park was designed as a holding tank for rainwater, and, as the day progressed, the tank dried out. CAASD workers were observed removing silt and garbage from the pool lining.

Senate approves IT crime bill
The Senate of the Dominican Republic has approved a bill on high tech crimes. The bill is aimed at bringing current legislation up to date in regards to electronic technology and its use in committing crimes. The Senate gave a unanimous vote of approval to the report issued by the committee on justice and human rights headed by Senator Francisco Dominguez Brito. The law protects systems that employ information technology, and will allow the prosecution of crimes committed using electronic technology. The bill mentions the use of IT technology in the commission of crimes such as homicide, robbery, fraud, blackmail, identity theft, defamation, forgeries and crimes involving telephones and hacking of computer systems. Punishments range from 20 to 30 year jail terms and fines of up to 1000 minimum wages to three months and five minimum salaries from the public sector.

Senators defend the "little barrel"
The president of the Senate of the Dominican Republic, Reinaldo Pared Perez as well as opposition leaders, defended what they call the "little barrel", that is to say those financial resources given to the legislators in order to carry out "social work" in their districts. According to Pared Perez, the elimination of the NGOs sponsored by the different legislators forced the Congress to find some sort of mechanism to channel funds that would allow the legislators to assist their voting public. The similarity of the phrase "little barrel" and the much-used phrase "pork barrel" used in United States political circles is obvious. However, according to the Senate leader, the money is placed in public accounts of the National Treasury and each senator has to present expenditures with appropriate documentation. To the contrary, the following month's "barrel funding" would be halted. According to the Listin Diario, each deputy receives a flat amount of RD$75,000 to spend in the electoral district. Senators receive varying amounts depending on the size and population of the province they serve. The amounts vary from RD$400,000 to one million per month.

Robbery is number one crime
The director of the National School for Magistrates (ENMP), Ramon Nunez told reporters that robbery, forgery of documents, homicides, drug-related crimes, assaults, and injuries from intra-family violence are the top incidents of crime in the Dominican Republic over the past decade. Due to the nature of these crimes, the greatest challenge for the National School for Magistrates is the professional training of prosecutors and district attorneys. Nunez told reporters from Hoy that he favored the selection of the Attorney General through a process that involved the Congress. He said that this would give greater legitimacy and authority to the President's selection. When asked about the role of the Justice Department in the fight against crime, Nunez said that looking at the statistical results of ten year's worth of crime, it was obvious that magistrates needed to be really up to date on the procedural techniques for processing these crimes. This, he said, was the role played by the National School for Magistrates.

Mutilator kept in jail
The Third Penal Chamber of the Court of Appeals for Santo Domingo has rescinded the decision of a lower court that gave bail to the man accused of cutting off the hands of his former wife. Gregorio Martinez Cuevas, 24, will remain in jail and face charges of mutilating the hands of Dolphy Angelina Gonzalez. The appeal process was headed by assistant district attorney Catalina Bueno Patino. The lower court had declared an end to the preventive custody of the alleged assailant and imposed a RD$7.0 million bail bond. The trial date has been set for 24 April.

Falconbridge to expand their refinery
The Falconbridge Dominicana Company has announced the projected expansion of their oil refinery at a cost of US$50 million. The feasibility studies are underway, and the company expects to be able to handle up to 20,000 barrels of crude per day, and produce 3,700 barrels of gasoline, 7,850 barrels of diesel, 4,075 barrels of fuel oil, and 375 barrels of LPG per day. The Falconbridge spokesperson said that ecological and quality controls are already in place at the refinery that follows a policy of sustainable development as well as the environmental laws of the Dominican Republic. The investment is a logical one, considering the fact that the company already operates a refinery to produce fuel oil for the generation station and heavy equipment. With Bonao located on the main North-South highway, and the gateway to the Cibao Valley, transportation costs would be reduced for the area that consumes nearly 40% of the nation's petroleum products. Falconbridge already has a pipeline from the Port of Haina direct to the installation in Loma Peguera near the city of Bonao.

Rain damage estimates
According to reports, the recent rains have caused some RD$50 million in damages across the country. In Licey, Tamboril and Villa Gonzalez an estimated 2,000 (about 330 acres) tareas of the yucca, batata and plantain crops were reported flooded. 4,236 persons were evacuated, and 1,059 houses were flooded. Because of the saturation of the ground, the authorities have decided to maintain a "green alert" for the Cibao Valley, the Valley of San Juan de la Maguana, and the eastern provinces of Hato Mayor and El Seibo. The Emergency Operations Center (COE) called upon all persons living in low laying areas to take precautions against landslides and flooding. Reports indicated that 923 houses were flooded in different sections of Santiago. In Hato Mayor ten houses were flooded. In Espaillat province 123 houses were flooded in different parts of the province. In the northern parts of the Dominican Republic, damage to agriculture, commerce, highway infrastructure and houses was estimated at RD$50 million. In Maria Trinidad Sanchez (Nagua) 9,000 tareas (1,500 acres) of rice were seriously affected by the floodwaters.
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