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Daily News - Monday, 21 May 2007

Leonel looks for an agreement
After several attempts to reach an accord with the private clinics, with the Dominican Medical Association (CMD) and with most of the private sector, President Leonel Fernandez is going to throw his weight behind a push to reach an agreement this afternoon. A 5pm meeting has been called at the Presidential Palace on Avenida Mexico. Several meetings last week, headed by Vice-President Rafael Alburquerque, were not successful in reaching an agreement. Even the Dominican Republic's top Church official, Nicolas de Jesus Cardinal Lopez Rodriguez, has called for a solution to be reached. According to Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez, there was some progress over the weekend and a solution might be within reach. The president of the Association of Private Clinics, Rafael Mena, told El Caribe reporters that his group will insist that doctors and patients should choose the health care insurance they prefer.

President receives tax proposals
President Leonel Fernandez will address the nation this week on the issue of relaxing some of the taxes on alcoholic beverages and tobacco. The news was given to the press by Treasury Minister Vicente Bengoa, who said that he himself had handed the proposals to the President. Rum and beer companies have been saying that the latest tax increases have sharply cut into their sales and as a result the government has received hundreds of millions of pesos less in tax revenues. Diario Libre newspaper says that the President "will announce a relaxation" of the tax on these beverages. Bengoa said that he handed the proposals to the President last week and that Internal Revenue chief Juan Hernandez was also present at the session. Hernandez is one of the authors of the new proposals. Bengoa said that the proposals were of a wider scope than the mere reduction of taxes.

IMF pressures for passage of bills
According to Temistocles Montas, the Minister for Planning, Economy and Development, the International Monetary Fund is pressing for the passage of several legislative packages in order to facilitate the disbursement of more funds. The legislation is needed in order for the latest Letter of Intent to be reviewed by the IMF directorate in June. According to Montas, over US$200 million is involved. DR1 News has reported on the pending initiatives, which are aimed at criminalizing electricity theft, re-capitalizing the Central Bank and reforming the Monetary and Finance Law. While there is agreement that all who consume the service should pay for it, other changes to the Electricity Law that are incorporated in bill have been criticized for affecting business competitiveness. Furthermore, the bill has been criticized for unilaterally favoring the power distributors, while stipulations to avoid common practices that irregularly increase the bills of consumers are not contemplated.

An editorial for the middle class
Adriano Miguel Tejada, editor-in-chief of the country's most widely read newspaper, Diario Libre, gives his opinion on the much-debated Family Health Service (SFS) program, which is currently in limbo. According to today's A.M. editorial, Tejada has been bombarded with correspondence about his stance on the SFS. Some say that he is biased, and he accepts this. In fact, he says that for some time he has been broadcasting the idea that the worst thing Dominicans suffer from is the lack of responsibility by which governments use taxpayers' resources and the passivity with which taxpayers accept paying twice for the same service.
Tejada says that "we pay taxes to cover the educational system, but we have to send our children to private schools depending on what we can afford; we pay for health care, but everyone who can, and many who can't, have to belong to some private health insurance plan (the unionists are the first to demand such a clause in a labor contract due to the collapse of the Dominican Social Security Institute (IDSS) of which they are a pret of the board of directors); we pay for every kilowatt of electricity that we consume, at a price that subsidizes others, and we have to provide our own generation system; we pay for good water, but we have to pay for everything from tanker trucks to five gallon jugs of water, and this happens with security, with garbage collection, with the universities... Even to the point of having to pay an "agent" to pay our taxes!"
The editor says that this health insurance program is another subsidy that the middle class, hard hit by the fact that the SFS eliminates many of the advantages offered by private insurance (and there were not many, but they looked like oasis compared to what there is now), and on top of everything the government begins to collect the tax before we know where, or how or when to go in the case of an emergency. His final plea: "Please, let's be serious and not politicians, at least for once in our lives."

UNDP slams Chamber of Accounts
In what has to be one of the most damning statements published in the local media, the United Nations Development Program's representative in Santo Domingo called the Chamber of Accounts "a nine-headed dinosaur". The UNDP's Niky Fabiancic told reporters that the law that created the Chamber of Accounts needed to be changed so that one person could head the organization and not nine, as is currently the case. The UN Development Program director said that, "recent actions that increased their salaries have taken away their credibility for fulfilling their jobs." Fabiancic went further and said that he was not talking about replacing the nine magistrates currently serving the Chamber of Accounts, but rather, "the elimination of all nine posts." He pointed out that most developing countries have a public auditor who heads an office in charge of supervising the state's operations, but in the Dominican Republic there are nine people, "which means nine new SUVs, nine secretaries, nine chauffeurs, etc, etc." Fabiancic was speaking at a seminar sponsored by the Dominican Center for Exports and Investments (CEI-RD), and according to Diario Libre, it was he who brought up the issue of the Chamber of Accounts.

Toothpaste scare round-up
The Customs department's intelligence office has seized several thousand tubes of contaminated toothpaste that entered the country from Panama, perhaps several months ago. The toothpaste, sold under the brand names "Mr. Cool" and "Excel" was made and packaged in China, and has been reported to contain diethylene glycol, a toxic ingredient that according to the New York Times, caused over three hundred deaths in Panama when it was substituted for glycerin in children's cough medicines. (http://itbuda.com/?cat=25). Diario Libre says that the toothpaste entered the country through the Caucedo Port and was distributed in the poorer barrios of Santo Domingo and the provinces of Azua and Barahona. According to reports, a total of 116,000 packages were imported by a series of commercial enterprises in Santo Domingo. Environmental workers and members of the Civil Defense volunteer corps are working to locate stocks of the product. Prolonged use of the substance is said to lead to kidney failure.

Coffee sector produces US$20 million
The executive director of the Dominican Coffee Council (CODOCAFE), Fausto Burgos, said that coffee exports have taken a turn upwards and generated US$20 million last year. Exports in 2005-2006 were 197% higher than in the 2004-2005 period. Codocafe, which represents about 50,000 coffee producers, has received assistance to the tune of EUR17 million from the French Development Agency. The money was used to improve quality of life for the coffee growers through enhancing their technical knowledge and the positioning of their product on the international markets.

Checks are nearly obsolete
The use of checks as a method of payment dates from the Middle Ages and the dawn of modern commerce. However, it appears that the use of these instruments has begun its final decline due to the use of electronic methods introduced over the past decade. Electronic transactions for corporate or private payments have become the norm, especially between corporations. Listin Diario reports that according to sources in the banking industry, electronic transactions are on the increase every day, with ATMs easily available, and Internet Banking becoming accessible to anyone with a computer connection. "Banker's Hours" is a phrase that is lost to the memory of many modern clients, who have become used to 24-hour access to their money and credit. The newspaper also says that check cashing as a business has fallen by 70% in some areas of Santo Domingo. Every one of the twenty check-cashing institutions consulted by the paper agreed that business was off a great deal. They said that the decline has become more obvious over the past two years. Even the Dominican government is doing 90% of its payments by electronic banking. It has hit the taxman as well: the much-debated 0.0015% tax on checks generated 78% less than expected between January and April of 2006.

Historic new highs for fuels
For the sixteenth time in eighteen weeks, fuel prices have climbed. This time they reached levels never seen in the Dominican Republic. Regular gasoline went up by RD$2.40 a gallon, and premium gasoline went up even more, RD$2.70 per gallon, reaching RD$160.80. Diesel fuel, the fuel that moves most cargo and merchandise, and home and company power generators, throughout the country hit a new high, pegged at RD$107.60, a RD$2.30 increase over last week. The housewife and the "publico" drivers were also caught up in the increases as LPG (propane) went up RD$0.67, reaching RD$50.38 - even with the government subsidy.

Cardinal blasts TV obscenity
Yesterday, Dominican prelate Nicolas de Jesus Cardinal Lopez Rodriguez blasted the violence and obscenity that is easily available on children's television shows. Lopez Rodriguez gave his sermon during the Mass celebrating the XLI World Communications Day and asked the owners of communications media to suspend the shows that encourage violence in children, similar to the violence they see in the barrios every day. According to Hoy newspaper, the prelate said that an incitement to violence is being shown by a bunch of "ridiculous and absurd characters that contribute nothing." Lopez Rodriguez urged parents, educators and the media to take on the responsibility of promoting family and moral values to children and to "respect their minds".

Another storm hits Dajabon area
Another town in the province of Dajabon was hit by a strong windstorm that knocked down trees, power lines and tore the roofs off several houses and commercial establishments. No injuries were reported. The event occurred in Loma de Cabrera, near the Haitian border to the south of the city of Dajabon. Merengue singer Fernando Villalona's weekend home was reportedly damaged in the storm. The winds were accompanied by a light rain. Most of the damage was in the Manuel Bueno barrio and in an area known as Monte Grande.
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