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Daily News - Thursday, 24 May 2007

Vice President defends SFS
Speaking at the American Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon, Vice President Rafael Alburquerque said that on Friday, 25 May President Leonel Fernandez would announce a date for the controversial Seguro Familiar Social (SFS) national health plan's entry into effect. It is scheduled to start 1 June 2007.
Alburquerque said that the decision on whether or not to go ahead with the plan is not in question; the only doubt is when the health plan will start. The Vice President did acknowledge that there are still issues that need to be worked out, but claims that people in employment are the only ones who will experience disadvantages with the social security program. The biggest losers will be the estimated 52,000 people who hold more than one job, and employees who may need to purchase complementary health plans. Alburquerque, nevertheless, admitted that this would contradict the spirit of the SFS health plan that was intended to eliminate the duality of companies having to pay for the governmental IDSS health plan and then contract private medical insurance for their employees.
In his talk, Alburquerque pointed that the SFS brings new benefits, such as coverage for patients regardless of age, coverage for individuals with illnesses such as diabetes and many other diseases that are currently excluded from medical plans, co-payments will never be more than RD$100, coverage of pregnancies of spouses, regardless whether the couple is legally married or not.
The Association of Free Trade Zones (ADOZONA) and the National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE) have recommended that the invoices that are being collected for the SFS this month should be withdrawn. ANJE and ADOZONA said that to charge for the SFS without having the pertinent issues resolved would constitute a double contribution by businesses. For the Vice President's comments on the health plan, see http://dr1.com/news/2007/052407_el_seguro.shtml

More eligible voters
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) has announced that since the congressional and municipal election, on 16 May 2006, the number of eligible voters has increased by 254,583. This is equivalent to 21,215 people per month and JCE officials are estimating that there will be 5,623,647 registered voters by presidential election day 2008. The amount of eligible voters on 16 May 2006 was 5,369,064. The increase in voters is due to the fact that 22,236 minors have become adults, 141,380 people have registered for the first time, 367 people have been rehabilitated, 10,238 have changed their cedulas, 4,198 military officers have become civilians and 322 foreigners have received Dominican citizenship. The JCE is still awaiting approval for the 13,873 Dominicans registered abroad.

Balaguer, Bosch and Pena on voting list
Diario Libre is reporting on an anomaly at the Central Electoral Board (JCE) where former PRD leader Jose Francisco Pena Gomez, who died eight years ago, is still registered as an eligible voter, according to JCE records. Diario Libre reports ago that Pena's name was only removed from the list a few days ago, and that PLD founder Juan Bosch (who died in 2001) and PRSC leader Joaquin Balaguer (who died in 2002) were also found to be on the list of eligible voters. These revelations came to light as the JCE tried to clear its voter list of ineligible voters. The JCE is still studying the case of thousands of military officers registered to vote and more than 25,000 people ineligible to vote.

The "revolution"
Ines Aizpun of Diario Libre writes today that Dominicans in general are the big losers of the most recent social "revolution." Turns out that this has not been a workers', a technological, or even a cultural revolution. "It is the revolution of the politicians," she writes. She explains the politicians have gradually liberated themselves from depending on powerful business groups to fund their activities, and these economic groups no longer choose who is in power. "I will stop that law, ignore that contract, close your factory, or levy a new tax... The politicians control everything," she writes. Aizpun figures that the politicians no longer want to be politicians. "They want to be businessmen. And that is a serious problem. From two contracts come three fortunes.
Who has the economic power now, if politics enables them to move such previously unimaginable sums of money?"
"Money multiplies fast without virtues. Companies that took 20, 30 years now compete at a disadvantage with express fortunes, if a politician invests in their field," she explains.
"Money has gone from big business to the political class without stopping to knock on the door of institutionalism. While that institutionalism is the road we need to take," she concludes.

OAS & UNESCO reps deny slavery
The Organization of American States (OAS) new country representative Paul Duran said that the organization has no evidence that the authorities mistreat or abuse undocumented Haitians who travel and work in the Dominican Republic. Duran affirmed that the issue of Haitian migration is an internal issue for the Dominican government and that the OAS is willing to support any initiative by the government. Duran said that he knows that many Haitians work in different sectors of the Dominican economy, but that he personally has no knowledge of any abuse. Haitians have displaced Dominicans as street fruit vendors, construction workers, apartment concierge and watchmen, beggars, gardeners and increasingly are employed as resort workers.
The statements by Duran come as a media firestorm surrounding what is being described as an anti-Dominican international publicity campaign dies down. Last week a documentary film released in France, Slaves in Paradise, depicted the life of Haitian laborers in the DR and made claims of slavery and mistreatment. The documentary sparked rage among many Dominicans, both in the DR and abroad, and was labeled as a manipulated attack against the DR and its sugar industry.
In Paris, the charge d'affairs of Haiti before the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Madame Marie Denise Jean denied that there is slavery in the bateyes where Haitians that work in the sugar fields live, as reported in El Nacional. She spoke during a round table held at the French Parliament on "The Two Sides of Globalization: The Case of the Dominican Republic. At the event, 80 participants discussed the socioeconomic reality of the DR and the relations with Haiti. The comments came shortly after Catholic priests Ruquoy and Hartley spearheaded the presentation of a documentary on supposed slavery of the Haitians in the DR.

Personal difference stopping energy law?
Spokesman for PRD deputies Christian Paredes is claiming that the reason the changes to the General Electricity Law have not been approved is a long-running disagreement between State-Run Electricity Companies (CDEEE) head Radhames Segura and Economy and Planning Minister Temistocles Montas, which has continually delayed the process. Paredes says that both officials have "antagonistic' viewpoints and this has caused the project to lie dormant in the Chamber of Deputies. Paredes noted that the PLD has the majority in Congress and described Treasury Minister Vicente Bengoa's claim, and any other excuse, that it's the Congress's fault that the project has not been passed, as foolish.
Meanwhile, Hoy newspaper comments on the bill in its editorial column, expressing the hope that the changes to the General Electricity Law are balanced and that the penalties do not discriminate between users and the power distributors. "Stealing power by using illegal connection should be as criminal an act as the billing and charging for a power service that is not provided," states the writer.
The suggested changes to the Law also would affect the competitiveness of businesses, while favoring the power distribution companies' profitability. This would be more of penalizing those who pay for the service, versus demanding efficiency from the providers of the service.

Maritime Delimitation Law rejected
Yesterday the Chamber of Deputies rejected an agreement between the Dominican government and the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. The agreement was for the promotion and protection of investments. The reason for the rejection is article 13 of the agreement which references the maritime borders of each nation. A press release by the Dominican government said that the terms of the agreement were not acceptable and that they infringed on the DR's sovereignty. PLD Deputy Minou Tavarez Mirabal, head of the commission that studied the agreement, said that the agreement conflicted with the current Maritime Delimitation Law, which is reportedly still awaiting approval by the Executive Branch.

PRD plan for cheaper fuel
The PRD has submitted to the Chamber of Deputies a plan aimed at reducing the price of gasoline by 25% and 35%. Orlando Jorge Mera, secretary general of the PRD explained that the plan seeks to reduce prices according to cost of importing fuel. He continued by saying that the project would protect the economy. Although no further details were forthcoming, the project aims to reduce the cost of premium gasoline by 35%, 30% for diesel fuel and 25% for regular gasoline. Dominicans would surely welcome any reduction in fuel prices that have been climbing steadily for weeks.
Hoy writes that gasoline prices, per gallon, in the DR are higher than any country in Central America. Hoy explains that premium gasoline costs RD$160.80 in the DR, while in Nicaragua it costs the equivalent of RD$126.30, in Costa Rica RD$125.01 and in Panama RD$109.23. Regular gasoline in the DR costs RD$139.40 per gallon while it costs 128.56 in Costa Rica 120.18 in Nicaragua and 111.48 in Guatemala. Meanwhile diesel fuel in the DR costs RD$107.60, per gallon, while prices in Nicaragua are 94.73, in Honduras prices are 93.80 and 89.57 in El Salvador.
The increased price of fuel is a detriment to the country's competitiveness. Economist Hector Giuliani Cury said that fuel import tariffs, currently at 72% and 67% should be reduced to 60% as long as a barrel of crude oil costs more than US$60.

Brazilian mission to the DR
The Dominican-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce has announced that a mission of Brazilian businesspeople is coming to the DR. The mission will try to create conditions for increased trade between the DR and businesspeople in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Chamber president Alberto Romero said the delegation would be arriving on 3 June and will be made up of businesspeople from the metal, construction, machine, automobile and other industries. Romero explained that the DR's geographic position makes it easier for Brazilian products to make their way to the US. The mission will be meeting that the Center for Export and Investment (CEI-RD) offices on 4 June at 9:30am. Romero also commended the work of Brazilian ambassador Ronaldo Edgar Dunlop in helping put together this mission and other business related initiatives.

Montas: Businesses keep ITBIS tax
Listin Diario writes today that they have discovered that 4,700 businesses have failed to pay the ITBIS tax since January. This amounts to a total sum of RD$130 million and was discovered due to the application of the fiscal receipt number (NCF) that crosschecks ITBIS payments. Tax Department (DGII) deputy director Germania Montas said that 4,700 businesses had issued invoices for the ITBIS but had kept the money instead of giving it to the government. These businesses will be contacted. The initial results show the efficiency of the NCF in increasing tax collections. Montas made her comments during a meeting held with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce at UNIBE University.

Government invests in the southeast
The Dominican government says that between 2004 and 2007 the government completed more than 200 public work projects in the southwestern part of the country with a total budget of RD$1.45 billion. Mariano German, head of the provincial development commission, says that the government has 261 more projects planned for the region with a total cost of RD$7,040 million. German says that currently 153 of those works have been initiated of which 39 have been finished and 114 are in progress. The investment benefit the population in Azua, Barahona, Pedernales, Independencia, Bahoruco, Elias Pina, San Cristobal, Peravia, San Jose de Ocoa and San Juan de la Maguana.

MLB back in the DR?
Diario Libre is reporting that a Major League Baseball game could be played in the Dominican Republic once again, if Dominicans get their act together. Ramon Pena, special assistant to the New York Mets and sports advisor to the Executive Branch, has announced plans to stage three MLB games in the DR next year and has created a special commission to study the possibilities of having the games. However, the biggest issue that stands in the way of the games is the lack of a stadium that meets the minimum conditions for a MLB game. Another big concern is that no major sponsor has stepped up and shown interest in supporting the games. Lou Mendez, head of MLB's international relations, has confirmed the Dominican interest in holding a set of games. The need to remodel the Quisqueya Stadium at an estimated cost of US$110 million was the main reason the DR could not hold the first ever World Baseball Classic in 2006.
 
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