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Daily News - Monday, 23 April 2007

Summit approves EUR233 million for Haiti
The international community appears to be paying more attention to the case the Dominican Republic has been making about Haiti. Last Friday, during the closing session of the XIII Summit of Minister of the Rio Group and the European Community, an investment of EUR233 million in Haiti was announced. The five-year plan is designed at improving governance in the neighboring country. The assistance could be increased by 25% or another EUR58 million. Summit members also promised to give economic assistance to the Mixed Bilateral Commission that deals with Dominican-Haitian issues.

Haitian minister puts illegals on agenda
Haitian Foreign Minister Jean Renald Clarisme has asked the Dominican Republic to put the issue of undocumented Haitians on the Mixed Bilateral Commission's agenda. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of undocumented Haitian workers are in the Dominican Republic. According to Clarisme, both countries should discuss how these Haitian workers could be identified and documented. The Haitian minister touched on the prickly issue of migration during his attendance at the XIII Ministers Meeting of the Rio Group and the European Union as a special invitee of the Dominican Republic. Clarisme said that he was looking forward to the day when work permits could be established for Haitians working in the Dominican Republic.

Subero defends drug testing
Chief justice Jorge Subero Isa has defended the policy of drug testing for all members of the justice system, saying that, "he who is without sin should cast the first stone." All members of the court and its branches will be tested. The chief justice is also in favor of releasing the test results. According to Diario Libre, Subero Isa is worried about conflicts between the state and its citizens in the future. He is arguing for the creation of a new jurisdiction that will deal with administrative and contentious issues. He said that the state is placing more and more controls on fiscal issues and tax issues each day, and ordinary citizens are finding themselves increasingly defenseless against the power of the state. That is why Subero is proposing the new jurisdiction.

More taxes for bigger government
The National Association for Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE) is highlighting the fact that the government has used the revenues from the tax increments that came into effect in January 2007 for increasing its spending on hiring personnel and superfluous expenditures such as advertising. In a publication in Saturday's El Caribe newspaper, ANJE points out that over the last three years, Dominicans have had to endure three major tax increases that have generated income windfalls for the government. These tax increases have not only reduced people's purchasing power, but also placed the productive sector at a disadvantage with competitors who are aware that taxes should not be exported and in response have designed schemes that promote production, highlights the business organization. "Dominican society has had its share of sacrifices. Unfortunately, we understand that the government has been timid in fulfilling its part," writes the organization.
ANJE says that statistics for the first two months of the year produced by the Treasury Ministry (Hacienda) show that government revenues were up by 22.9% or RD$6.41 billion compared to 2006. Government spending increased by 34.3% or RD$6.71 compared to 2006. The organization explains that the government's spending patterns during the first two months of the year show that efficient use of revenues is not a goal or priority. It points out that the Presidency's spending alone surpassed the increases in the education, culture, public health and welfare budgets. "Observing these statistics indicates that the country's priority is not education or health, but a bigger state that is more costly to manage," concludes the report. Also highlighted is the fact that the government has increased its spending on non-personal services by 100%. This includes advertising and travel expenditure, among others.
ANJE called for the authorities to take on a genuine commitment to the efficient use of government resources, and suggested that priority should be given to health and education. Furthermore, they considered that part of the tax revenue surplus could be allocated to the Central Bank's quasi-fiscal deficit.

Manning worries about education
Former American Chamber of Commerce president Kevin Manning has told reporters that the government's reduced investment in education, combined with their inefficient use of resources is seriously hurting the Dominican Republic's future. Manning said that sources have told him that none of the projects aimed at improving the educational infrastructure have initiated as yet. Manning called for a national commitment to face up to the problems associated with the education services that all Dominicans are supposed to receive. Through education citizens are able to improve their lives, but this is impossible under the current circumstances, according to Manning. He told reporters from Hoy that without good teachers and lots of students, it would be impossible for the Dominican Republic to face the challenges of globalization. He pointed out that although the law states that 4% of GDP should be invested in education, not one single government has ever met this target.

Bishop urges compulsory education
Archbishop Ramon de la Rosa y Carpio, the head of the Santiago archdiocese and president of the Dominican Council of Bishops, has urged the nation to adopt compulsory education through high school as a way of getting school age children off the streets. Speaking at the National Day of Catholic Education, the Archbishop said that one of the greatest challenges is to move from good intentions to "major disbursements in the educational sector." According to the prelate, it is sad to have to remember that there were no children on the streets during the Trujillo dictatorship because the dictator obliged them to be in school. While the nation does not need a Trujillo to oblige people to study since that would be a retrograde step, he said, "what we want is a democracy but without the children in the streets."

Cardinal supports wage hikes
Dominican Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez is calling on union and business leaders to relax their positions and reach an agreement on wage increases. He told reporters that "it would be convenient if they were more flexible". The Cardinal pointed out that the country "would not sink just because a few pesos were added to salaries." The Cardinal was interviewed at the PUCMM in Santo Domingo where he was leading a celebration of the National Day of Catholic Education. According to Listin Diario, Lopez Rodriguez said that what was needed was a bit of flexibility and concessions for the sake of the nation as a whole."

Labor unions lay out demands
The National Union Unity Council (CNUS) has said that in order to achieve a lasting agreement on salary increases, management has to make a 15% increase in the minimum wage and a 10% increase in salaries up to RD$30,000. Rafael Abreu, the vice-president for union organization, told El Caribe reporters that labor representatives would not accept a 5% offer on salaries over the minimum, since such an offer had to be "treated as insignificant". Abreu called on management to concede a little "for the peace of the nation." The union leader also pointed out that Diandino Pena's proposal, which the National Council for Private Business (CONEP) is due to receive today, has not been formally accepted by the unions. According to El Caribe, CONEP will accept and consider a proposal from the head of the Office for the Reorganization of Traffic (OPRET), Diandino Pena. According to Abreu, the proposal calls for a 15% minimum wage increase, a lower increase for other salaries, a clause on retroactive payments and another that deals with the issue of reclassifying commercial establishments.

Constanza prepares for exports
Farmers in the Constanza Valley, high in the central mountains, are returning to the garlic crops they pretty much abandoned in 2003, when the area used for cultivating the crop fell from 866 hectares to 200 hectares. Recently, the area dedicated to the crop has risen to slightly over 400 hectares. There is abundant financing for the crop, and Listin Diario says that as much as RD$800 million is available to farmers in Constanza and Tireo. According to sources in the valley, between 466 and 533 hectares of garlic will be planted this season. Garlic is not cheap to cultivate. The estimated cost of a crop is RD$180,000 per acre, and problems associated with obtaining selected seeds in China are also linked to the drop in production. Production has been stimulated by mortgaging the crop through commercial banks and government policies that help the growers to import garlic to cover any shortfalls in the national crop. In a similar manner, horticulturists in the valley are going into the use of greenhouses to produce specialty vegetables for consumers throughout the Caribbean and Central America. The combined efforts of local growers, exporters and the Ministry of Agriculture are helping to turn the valley into an important supplier of foodstuffs to the neighboring islands.

Haina bonds surpass expectations
The bond issue for US$175 million has been more than successful, according to sources at electricity generating company EGE Haina. The bonds, sold under SEC regulations in the United States have received offers for more than ten times the value of the issue. According to EGE Haina, several financial institutions offered to buy US$1.7 billion in bonds, and company sources told Listin Diario that this was a sign of investor confidence in the Dominican Republic as well as in the company. The ten-year bonds carry a 9.5% interest rate and were offered at 484 base points above US Treasury bonds.

Police chief irked by quick releases
Dominican police chief Bernardo Santana Paez has told reporters that he was "worried" about the ease with which accused criminals were obtaining bail, even when accused of murder. Santana said that he did not want to point any fingers, but said that ideally, those accused should receive the punishments they deserve. He complained about the fact that after hard police work, members of a notorious gang had been arrested, and because the complaint was filed just five hours past the deadline, the accused were simply released back into society. He told reporters from Hoy newspaper that he was "worried about how easily these criminals get out of the system", and claimed to have evidence. Santana said that it was important for the press to note that the police had nabbed a gang of alleged criminals, the "most terrible on police files" and another part of the justice system put them back on the streets, "because of that five-hour delay."

Cops go after Mirador gang
The police have arrested several young men as part of a round up of gang members who robbed a family picnic in Mirador Sur Park in Santo Domingo last week. Three young men appeared before magistrates of the Sixth Court of Instruction in Santo Domingo over the weekend. The three men were identified by seven members of the family that was robbed in the park. The gang, known as the "Painted Faces" or "the Km. 8 Gang", was quickly identified by police after the complaints were filed. The police's initial lackadaisical response was soundly criticized by the public and the arrests were welcomed by journalists covering the events. The three were sent to Najayo Prison to be held in preventive custody until trial. On Saturday, four more members of the Km. 8 Gang were arrested as the police continued their crackdown on young criminals. According to Listin Diario, a total of 305 suspected gang members have been detained on suspicion of crimes committed in and around the Mirador Sur Park. Members of the gang had been arrested in February, but were released on a legal loophole.

Book Fair opens
The "Santo Domingo International Book Fair 2007" opens today, 23 April and will be attracting hundreds of thousands through 6 May at the Plaza de la Cultura. Now in its 10th year, the fair has invited Colombia as the country of honor for the nation's continued literary contributions. For the agenda see http://www.ferilibro.com
And for more upcoming events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
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