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Daily News - Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Fernandez hands out keys
President Leonel Fernandez began the official disbursement of 1,300 apartments to residents of the areas around the pestilent Guajimia Creek. The President gave keys to 208 apartments to the first batch of lucky families. The apartments were built by a Canadian company in coordination with the Santo Domingo Water Authority (CAASD). They cost RD$118 million, with RD$27 million used to prepare the ground, RD$84 million for the actual construction and RD$6 million for roads and sidewalks. The sum represents a significant benchmark for further government housing projects. The World Bank helped finance the project.

Scandal at the refinery
An investigation by two board members at the National Refinery (REFIDOMSA) turned up invoices with altered information, which, in one case, increased the shipping cost of a barrel of crude from US$3.15 to US$3.40 per barrel. This is the latest incident in the struggle between the government and the Shell Company, equal partners in the refinery. Listin Diario says that government representatives on the board of directors reported "alterations of invoices" and said that Shell employees were guilty of "fraudulent maneuvering" and "deceit". The report was written by a team appointed by the board president, and it indicates that these changes keep gasoline and diesel fuel prices artificially high. The report suggested two basic changes, which were rejected by the Shell members of the board. The first one was to change the refinery's general manager and technical manager. The second was to "modify the statutes in such a way as to grant the Dominican government access and decision-making in such fundamental aspects as the employment of key officers, permanent financial review and on-line connection with operations and cash flow of the company." The origin of the conflict, according to the document given to the newspaper, was the alteration of the invoices.

We warned you!
On Monday, DR1 News warned readers that the Metropolitan Transport Authority (AMET) was going to crack down on drivers who jump or pass through red lights. On Tuesday, AMET handed out 1,915 tickets for this violation in Santo Domingo. AMET spokespersons told Listin Diario that running a red light is attempted homicide, and it has cost many lives. Over the weekend, the AMET troops handed out 2,101 summonses and some of the drivers were obliged to attend a six hour school for drivers. Yesterday another 1,915 summonses were handed out in the province of Santo Domingo and the National District. The Traffic Law stipulates that a violator can face jail time varying between three days and six months. Last weekend 300 persons attended Traffic School. Will you be next?

Fernandez leads in polls
A Penn, Schoen & Berland poll published in Hoy newspaper shows that if elections were held today, two years into his term of office, President Leonel Fernandez would win with 50% of the votes. Runner up would be the PRD challenger, Miguel Vargas Maldonado with 35%. PRSC candidate Amable Aristy Castro would garner 11%. A further 4% of 1,005 eligible voters polled say they do not yet know who they would vote for. Interestingly, the vote showed that if Eduardo Estrella had been the PRSC candidate, the PRSC vote would be 12%, and Vargas Maldonado would garner 49%.
Other results included the fact that Fernandez has the lowest rejection rate with 41%, Vargas Maldonado has a 47% rejection rate, and Aristy Castro has a 52% rejection rate.
The survey took place in 100 communities nationwide between 24 and 28 May. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.09%.
In the 2004 presidential election, Fernandez won with 57.1% of the vote, followed by Hipolito Mejia (PRD) with 33.65% and Eduardo Estrella (PRSC) with 8.65%.

Amable "wins" primary
Amable Aristy Castro, the PRSC party boss from Higuey, has been declared the victor of the PRSC primary election. Aristy Castro held about a 14% advantage over his nearest rival Eduardo Estrella, according to party results. According to the newspapers, party spokespersons said that with 94.68% of the votes counted, Aristy Castro had received 55.27% of the votes against 41.51% for Estrella. Members of Estrella's electoral team denounced what they called "serious irregularities" in the process. Aristy Castro told reporters that he was open to negotiations.
Participacion Ciudadana, the civic observation group, said that Sunday's PRSC primary was characterised by "intense political patronage and vote purchase intention". As reported in Hoy newspaper, Participacion Ciudadana called the fact that cash was for the first time openly distributed to influence voters who showed up in the primary as a serious fault of the proceedings. The PRSC primary was open to any Dominican who is eligible to vote. PC said that the electoral law needed to be modified to penalize this clientelistic practice. PC also pointed to marked irregularities in the primary, specifying the case of the Don Pedro Tapia school voting station in Higuey, where supposedly 2,499 people had voted, or an average of one person per 12 seconds. The voting act shows that 2,490 voted for Aristy castro, Estrella received four votes and Toral 3.

Senate to summon Puig
The Dominican Republic Senate has voted to summon Environment Minister Max Puig to answer questions about his accusations that the senator for Hato Mayor, Ruben Dario Cruz, was attempting to mutilate the National Park of the East. Senators from all three parties voted to summon the minister. However, the senators forgot that according to the Constitution the Senate could only summon officials who have been elected, as opposed to appointees. The Senate can ask for Puig to appear. Senate president Reinaldo Pared Perez told El Caribe reporters that he did not know when the minister would appear, since this protocol had to be observed.

Two-way FTA sought
The director of the National Competitiveness Council, Andres Van der Horst has urged the United States to fulfill their side of the DR-CAFTA treaty and implement provisions that would allow the country to source apparel for US exports in Mexico and Canada. Van der Horst is taking part in the first Americas Competitiveness Forum that is taking place in Atlanta, Georgia. He made the petition to US Trade Secretary Carlos M Gutierrez at the forum. The petition would enable local free zones to improve their competitiveness. As reported in Diario Libre, Van der Horst said: "We request the revision of the implementation of the textile part of the treaty, because while the DR has fulfilled the requirements of the FTA, the United States has not implemented all the related agreements". High-level government officials from the hemisphere's 33 countries are attending the forum to discuss how best to enhance the region's ability to compete more successfully in the global marketplace.

Spending taxes with equity
In an editorial today, Hoy newspaper comments on the Fernandez government's announcement that it would invest the surplus of tax revenues generated by recent tax increases in public works. It announced that it is preparing a complementary budget to send to Congress. The newspaper points out that the tributary bonanza contradicts statements by the tax director Juan Hernandez that the government would go broke if it reduced the income tax to 15, down from a proposed reduced 25%.
The editorial also comments that the government proposal for redistributing tax revenues "does not appear to be the most beneficial for citizens because it is sustained by public spending that is vulnerable to circumstantial distortions, especially when electoral campaigns take place." The newspaper says that the announcement of the decision to spend the money on a construction spree that coincides with the presidential campaign is an example of this. "The tributary policy is not designed as an instrument of development and thus does not show equity," writes the editorialist.

IMF needed here
The business community has come out in favor of the continued presence of the International Monetary Fund in the Dominican Republic. They called the IMF an efficient instrument for budget control and an effective protection against populist economic policies. The presidents of the National Council for Private Business (CONEP), the Dominican Confederation of Small and Medium Businesses (CODOPYME), the Industrial Association, and the Importers' Association were in agreement about the need to renew the state's obligations with the IMF beyond 2008. While the business leaders were in agreement with President Fernandez's statement that the "DR was a patient of the IMF and would be discharged soon", nevertheless they added that the IMF should continue supervising the country's finances. Ignacio Mendez, the head of the Industrial Association, said that the IMF was "a straight-jacket for unwise economies in the face of a lack of institutions and prevailing populist economic policies."

Exports update
Dominican exports are up across the board, according to the latest Central Bank figures. Hoy newspaper reports that exports for the first quarter were up by 72% over the first quarter of 2006. The increase for exports to Cuba amounted to 249% but only totaled US$8.8 million, mostly foodstuffs and fertilizers. The report said that the export of ferronickel accounted for a major portion of the increase. A total of 55% of the exports went to the United States, US$182 million. Exports to Japan rose by 511% to US$33.7 million, of which US$33.5 million was for ferronickel bars and the rest for coffee, bananas, textiles and plastic waste. Exports to Canada also increased markedly, rising by 390% to US$18 million. US$23 million went to China.

Vehicle assembly factory for Santiago?
A Vietnamese company would assemble buses, tractors, trucks and motorcycles for export and for the local market, according to Minister without Portfolio Miguel Mejia. The assembly factory will be located in Santiago de los Caballeros, and represents an investment of US$80 million. The company, Vinamotors (Vietnam Automotive Industrial Corporation), has more than 50 subsidiaries around the world, according to Diario Libre. This is the same company that recently sold 1,000 buses to the CONATRA transport union. According to a company spokesperson, the factory should have most of its infrastructure installed by the end of 2007 and the personnel will be fully trained within a 10-month time frame. It is expected that at least 1000 new jobs will be created.

Dengue on the rise
In spite of a determined public awareness campaign by the Ministry of Public Health (SP), the number of dengue fever cases continues to rise. Of course the recent rains have increased the incidence of mosquitoes, and the nation's busiest children's hospital, Robert Reid Cabral in Santo Domingo, and the Luis Eduardo Aybar public hospital are reporting an increasing number of cases. According to statement made by the Minister of Public Health, Bautista Rojas, the ministry is trying to reduce the number of deaths attributed to the fever by two-thirds. Spokespersons at the Luis Eduardo Aybar Hospital said that with over 100 cases reported so far, they are ahead of last year's numbers.

DR on Watch List
The United States embassy released a report from the State Department yesterday that placed the Dominican Republic on a "watch list" for human trafficking, particularly of women and children. The press release says that the country "is on the Observation List Category 2 for its inability to demonstrate evidence of conscientious efforts to combat human trafficking, particularly in supplying assistance to such victims and by not conducting vigorous actions to counter official complicity in such trafficking." The report also points out that the Dominican Republic is a country that originates, transfers and serves as a destination for men, women and children destined for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor, and that women and children are taken from the country to Western Europe, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, Panama and Suriname for sexual exploitation. The document says that the Dominican Republic does not comply with the minimum standards needed to put an end to human trafficking.

Minors at work in Santiago
A group of civic organizations have released a study on child labor in Santiago and the results did not make for easy reading. The report was released at a meeting between the Ministry of Labor, Accion Callejera (Street Action), the municipality, the Association of Evangelical Pastors and the Women's Support Nucleus where an agreement was signed in support of the World Day against Child Labor. The final report says that 76,000 minors are at work in Santiago, and most of them are either sexually exploited, work on farms or in domestic settings. Nearly one thousand of them are reported to work as "divers" scavenging at the Rafey garbage dump. According to the report put together by the Center for Urban Studies of the PUCMM in Santiago, 450,000 minors are being used for labor, sometimes in the worst way. Of these, 19% are in Santiago. Local efforts include Accion Callejera and its programs at three different centers.

Landslides along Luperon Hwy.
The recent heavy rains have continued to eat away at the Luperon Tourist Highway that goes from Santiago to Puerto Plata. New landslides at Kilometer 11 in the Palo Quemado community have practically cut communications along the roadway. As a result of the slides, several houses and businesses are in danger of collapsing. In spite of an announced RD$100 million highway renewal plan that started in 2005, the road has gone from bad to worse and the amount of tourist traffic has decreased significantly as travelers seek other, less risky, routes between the Cibao and the north coast.
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