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Daily News - Friday, 25 May 2007

Leonel will speak on SFS, taxes
President Leonel Fernandez is to give a speech about the status of the controversial family health insurance plan (SFS) this coming Monday or Tuesday, as well as about proposals to reduce business taxes. Fernandez's speech will be transmitted on radio and television. Fernandez recently took control of the ailing SFS process, saying that although there are issues that still need to be worked out, the SFS will go ahead as planned. Fernandez said that any decision on the matter would be announced during his speech on Tuesday.

Government to submit new IMF letter
The Dominican government is preparing to present a new Letter of Intent to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Economy, Planning and Development Minister Temistocles Montas announced that the letter, which should be ready next week, would be within the guidelines set out last year. Last night government officials met with IMF representatives to discuss the content of the proposed government program. The Letter of Intent sets out the policies that the Dominican Republic intends to implement in the context of its continued request for financial support from the IMF under the Stand-by Arrangement, and will be presented in Washington, D.C. in June. Montas said that during the week the IMF mission and the government's economic team have been reviewing the Dominican economy and both sides feel that the country is doing well. A positive evaluation is essential for the Letter of Intent's approval, said Montas.

Bengoa says government can stay mum
Treasury Minister Vicente Bengoa says that the government doesn't have to inform the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of its possible fiscal flexibility plan, which is due to be announced to the public some time next week. Bengoa added that this government has paid RD$110 billion towards the country's external debt and that fiscal flexibility would not generate a deficit for the country. Bengoa also says that the government is not late in paying any of its debts. The Minister went on to point out that the government pays all internal and external debts and says that they overpaid a debt to the Central Bank by RD$21 million, when they paid them a sum of RD$471 million.

Segura defends himself
State-Run Electricity Companies (CDEEE) head Radhames Segura says that the reason the General Electricity Law hasn't come into effect is that, according to him, the business sector is creating obstacles to the bill's approval. Segura also said that the differences between legislators have been resolved, a possible reference to a reported rift between him and Economy, Planning and Development Minister Temistocles Montas. Segura, quoted in Hoy, says that he has a problem with "a certain element" within government ranks that is "highly influenced by the business sector". He says that this element doesn't agree with articles 124,125 and 126 of the proposed bill that deals with fraud. The IMF is pushing for the passing of the bill, which has been stuck in Congress. According to Hoy, Montas says that the bill should be passed by 1 June, but if it is delayed it could lead to problems for the approval of the Letter of Intent that the DR is planning to present to the IMF. As reported in Hoy, the business sector opposes changes in the authorization for large companies to connect directly to the power grid, bypassing the power distribution company charges. Consumer sectors protest that the changes would penalize consumers for fraud, but not the power distributors that have been allowed to bill consumers for power not served.

Foreign Minister attends Taiwan summit
Dominican Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso traveled to San Pedro, Belize yesterday to attend the Eighth Meeting of the Joint Commission for Cooperation between the Central American Nations and the Republic of Taiwan. During the meeting Morales will meet with Taiwanese Foreign Relations Minister James C.F. Huang and Listin Diario writes that Morales hopes that the meeting will lead to progress in the dialogue on increased political, social and economic integration and cooperation between Taiwan and Central America. The Dominican Republic has been a member of the forum since 1998. The DR and Taiwan are holding ongoing talks for a free trade agreement.

Reasons for high prices
The executive director of the National Competitiveness Council, Andres Van der Horst Alvarez is urging Congress to pass the Competitiveness Bill, that is about to expire in the legislature. As reported in Hoy, he explained that prices have not dropped after the entry of the DR-CAFTA due to hidden costs and the oligopolies that dominate the Dominican economy. He said that the bill would address that situation. As reported in Hoy, Van der Horst Alvarez also said that costs have remained high because of the high cost of fuel. He stated that this was a major challenge that the government needs to confront.

Buyers beware
Consumers should be on the lookout next time they try to buy products at a reduced price. Listin Diario is reporting that imported canned foods that have passed their expiry date are being sold in the DR and are re-labeled with new expiry dates for sale to the public at reduced rates. Also, Listin writes that the canned goods are sold with labels in French, Italian, English and Arabic, in violation of Dominican law. The law states that any product sold to the public must be labeled in Spanish and if the original label is not in Spanish it should have a complementary label. Listin writes that products like canned corn, beans, soap, chickpeas and other products are sold at two-for-one deals in city supermarkets because they have expired or are about to expire.

Ethanol plant to be built
Alcor Dominicana, part of the Belgian group Alcofinance, is preparing to invest US$150 million in an ethanol and energy producing plant in Monte Plata. Project director Gregorie Hermans said that construction will begin in March 2009 and the plant will eventually employ 6,000 people. Hermans also explained that the company is in the process of planting between 80 and 100 thousand acres of sugar cane, which will be used for making the fuel. Hermans said that the company has made the proper requests for machinery, and stated that the sugar cane extracting machine that will be used is among the most modern, extracting 97% of the sugar cane juice. The director said that Belgian companies have already guaranteed 70% of the money for the project. He explained that the plant would produce 25 million gallons of ethanol and 30 MW of energy. The fuel that is produced will be sold on the local as well as the European and American markets.

Nightlife tragedy strikes
Three men were shot dead on Wednesday night after an argument outside the trendy Loft nightclub. Details of what actually happened are still being collected. The shooting took place outside the nightclub after security personnel asked the people involved to leave. The Police reported that one of the three, 29-year old Fidel Estevez Hernandez, had been sent to justice for forgery on two occasions and had been accused in connection with a drug-related incident. The other two were named as 32-year old Ignacio Antonio Manon and 33-year old Yasser Alberto Nader. The nightclub has announced that it would close for a week.

Kidnapped soldier's parents have hope
The parents of missing soldier Alex Jimenez are holding on to the hope that their son is still alive. It's two weeks since Jimenez and two of his comrades were taken hostage after an Al-Qaeda attack left four other soldiers dead. The search for Jimenez and the other soldiers has been intense, but despite the search, no sign of the missing men has yet been found. Jimenez and his comrades were patrolling an area 30 miles outside of Baghdad known as "the triangle of death".

Mother gives birth to five
A year and a half after the first sextuplets in the Dominican Republic were born, a 34-year old woman, Magdalena Rodriguez gave birth to four boys and a girl, losing one of her own set of sextuplets. Rodriguez is being cared for at the largest public maternity, the Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia Maternity Hospital. The mother was reported to be in the 30th week of pregnancy. Rodriguez's babies were born by Caesarean section this morning. The mother had received fertility treatment.

Marc Anthony coming
Dominicans experienced disappointment earlier this week when it was announced that the 3 June concert by Wisin y Yandel, Ricardo Arjona and Alejandro Sanz was being postponed until 1 July, but music lovers can now rejoice as Listin Diario is reporting that Puerto Rican salsa star Marc Anthony will be replacing Sanz in the all-star music line up. Claro Codetel, official sponsor of the event, and Saymon Diaz, the official organizer, confirmed the change. Sanz was forced to cancel his appearance following doctors orders that he take some time off to rest.

Ju and Xue doing well
Dominican-Chinese table tennis stars Lin Ju and Nieves Xue have started off well at the World Table Tennis Championships being held in Croatia. Both stars won their opening round matches and have now advanced to the second round of the international tournament. Lin managed to beat Hong Kong native Lai Chak in his first round match up. Chak is ranked number 25 in the world, adding some excitement to the victory. Lin will now face his toughest competitor yet. He will face German Timo Boll who is currently ranked third in the word. This will be the second time Lin faces Boll. The first time he lost to Boll 4-1 at the World Championships in France. Meanwhile, Nieves beat German Elke Wosik who is ranked 37th in the world. She will now face Australian Jia Liu who is ranked 14th in the world.

Is this Sammy's weekend?
Could Sammy Sosa hit his 600th career homerun against the team that gave up his first homerun? That could be the case as Sosa travels to Boston this weekend to face the AL leading Boston Red Sox. Back in 1989, when Sammy was a rookie with the Texas Rangers, he hit his first Major League home run against then Boston ace Roger Clemens. If Sosa, playing for the Texas Rangers again, manages his 600th home run this weekend he will be the first Dominican, and only the fifth man in history to have reached that hallowed milestone in a career. When he began the season with the Texas Rangers, he was 12 runs away from the 600th mark.
Sosa comeback to Major League Baseball has been better than most expected. Sosa did not play in the Major Leagues in 2006 but hit .221 with 14 home runs and 45 RBI in 102 games for the Baltimore Orioles in 2005. In 1998, Sosa was the National League's Most Valuable Player. A seven-time All-Star, Sosa had 588 career home runs at the start of this season with the Texas Rangers. To follow the count down in the Texas sports press, see http://www.star-telegram.com/sports/story/114282.html
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