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Daily News - Monday, 18 June 2007

Leonel in Miami
President Leonel Fernandez was in Miami over the weekend and he announced a series of new industries that would provide as many as 30,000 new jobs for the country. Speaking to Miami business representatives, the President said that between 12 and 15 new companies would be setting up operations in the DR. President Fernandez made the stopover in Miami as he traveled to Brazil for a week-long tour.

Shell wants investigation
The saga of the Dominican National Refinery continues to make headlines. Government officials have been accusing employees of the refinery's partner, the Shell Oil Company, of altering invoices for shipping costs, among other things. According to newspaper sources, the dispute revolves around the Shell Company's intention to sell its 50% stake in the refinery and take in about RD$7 billion in profits. Now, Shell general manager Alfredo Nara has told Listin Diario that he wants the Department of Prevention of Corruption (DEPRECO) to investigate claims of malfeasance made by board members last week. Nara, a Dutch national, sent a letter through his lawyers to Dominican Attorney General Radhames Jimenez and Depreco head Octavio Lister, formally requesting an investigation. Lister told reporters that he would not discount an audit of the refinery's books by the Chamber of Accounts.

Senator quizzed on parkland deal
Senator Ruben Dario Cruz (Ruben Toyota) has been questioned for more than an hour by Depreco director Octavio Lister. The questions were related to the senator's role in the alleged manipulations of protected areas in the National Park of the East, as revealed by Max Puig, the Minister of the Environment. Puig is accusing Cruz of playing an active part in the division of the park's lands on the pretext of "boundary reformation". Cruz said that his project would return more than a thousand square kilometers to the protected areas, and that he would be proceeding with it.

Max has a busy week ahead
Environment Minister Max Puig, in the eye of a storm stirred up by his comments regarding proposals affecting the National Park of the East, faces both Depreco and the Dominican Senate this week. According to Diario Libre, the minister goes to Depreco today for a meeting with Octavio Lister, the head of the anti-corruption department. On Wednesday, the minister will visit the Senate and tell his side of the story relating to Senator Ruben Cruz (Ruben Toyota) and the proposals relating to modifications of the parklands. At the same time, residents in El Salto, a small community of Jarabacoa, are filing complaints about mining activities on a nearby mountain that is affecting the Jimenoa River. So far, the ministry has not taken any action in this case.

TV not books
Education Minister Alejandrina German has told reporters that Dominicans spend 40% of their free time watching television. Very little leisure time is dedicated to reading. The minister told Diario Libre reporters that a survey revealed this and other attitudes is the base for the Ministry's Five-Year Plan for Books and Reading in the Dominican Republic. The minister said that the plan's five objectives seek to strengthen elementary schools, provide in-service training for teachers, librarians and others who influence reading habits, and to foster an increased emphasis on reading comprehension. Another objective is to restore the role of books as a source of information and cultural and spiritual development.

Free coffee
The Minister of Agriculture, Salvador Jimenez, has announced the cancellation of RD$200 million worth of debt by coffee growers. The order benefits 2,800 families in 40 associations. Jimenez made the announcement at a meeting of the Dominican Coffee Council. Most of the debts dated back to 2004.

Middle class gets no tax breaks
People who earn over RD$24,000 per month have no way of reducing their tax burden. The current rules do not allow them to deduct routine expenses like medical care or interest payments, normal deductions in other countries. Businesses, in contrast, are allowed to do so. According to Juan Hernandez, the head of Tax Department, during the 1980s such tax deductions were permitted but the IRS did not have the technological know-how for implementing these. Speaking at a roundtable discussion organized by the Young Entrepreneurs Association (ANJE), the tax boss said that the department now has the technology to do this but the Congress has to pass laws that will allow for such deductions. Oh well.
Matters will not get better for the middle class. License plate renewals are going to go up significantly, if the the Tax Department plan is approved. Vehicles five to ten years old will pay RD$3,000 for a renewal, and older vehicles will pay RD$1,500. New cars will be assessed on their value. A vehicle that costs RD$1.0 million will pay RD$10,000 for license places instead of the current cost of RD$2,700. Taxes on imports are supposed to be very heavy, says Listin Diario, with a US$60,000 vehicle getting hit with tariffs between 122% and 2,208% higher than previously charged. The renewals would be due this summer.
Meanwhile, the Tax Department (DGII) is reporting a 41% increase in tax receipts last month, a total of RD$13.37 billion. This increase was RD$3.3 billion more than last year and RD$443 million more than estimated. The press release says that income taxes increased by RD$3.7 billion more than estimated, a surplus of nearly 20%.

Oh, just RD$15 billion or so...
Since 1995 the Dominican government has purchased medical equipment for its hospitals to the tune of RD$25 billion, but about RD$15 billion's worth of this equipment is useless. The government now seeks to refurbish perhaps RD$5 billion of this equipment, according to Hoy newspaper reporter Altagracia Ortiz. Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez confirmed the information and said that he had ordered an inventory of the situation at one hospital, Rodolfo de la Cruz Lora, where purchases of medical equipment had been warehoused over the years. Rojas Gomez said that he did not have any idea about when the hospital, which has been under construction for 13 years, would be completed. He did say that his staff at the Public Health Ministry was training a group of young men and women to repair and refurbish the equipment. In fact, the National Institute for Professional Technicians (INFOTEP) has created, at his behest, a study program to train these technicians in repairing medical equipment.

JCE rules on elections
More than a few people are upset over the new JCE rules on how long and how much to spend on election campaigns. The rules stipulate how long campaigns should run, and sets a cost limit for each party's 2008 election campaign budget. The regulations also provide guidelines on the use of the media, public assemblies and the publication of opinion polls. Roberto Rosario, the magistrate in charge of the Central Electoral Board (JCE) Administrative Chamber, presented the guidelines. As reported in Hoy, the guidelines provide for equal access to the media, including equal costs, and restrictions on offensive language. Rosario also said that the political parties will have just 10 days to remove their propaganda from the streets after the elections were over.
The president of the International Press Society (IAPA) Rafael Molina Morillo called the regulations "unacceptable" because they threatened freedom of expression and media use rights. Molina, who is also the director of Santo Domingo's El Dia newspaper, said that freedom of expression was a basic right without which other rights would be exposed to violation.

Clusters for Santiago
According to Cristian Reyna and Carlos Fondeur, the president and executive director of FONDESA, the Development Fund, the creation of small clusters could provide thousands of jobs for workers affected by the recent spate of factory closures in the free zones of Santiago and the surrounding area. According to Reyna, workers could get together in small units and use the skills acquired in the large free zone factories to create smaller workshops and produce goods for the local markets. Hoy newspaper says that FONDESA would provide financing and management training. According to the executives, this system of production could provide jobs for 12,000 people in the area, and represents an intelligent use of the personnel trained in some of the most modern textile shops in the world. FONDESA has RD$550 million available for small-scale industries, part of its RD$9.0 billion budget for projects of this type all over the Dominican Republic. In the Cibao Valley alone there is a need for RD$3.0 billion. FONDESA does not use state funds for its projects, and most of its money comes from commercial banks and business institutions that support micro-business.

Priest blames state for guns
The coordinator of the Catholic Church's Youth Division, Father Luis Rosario, has told his parishioners that the government is responsible for the large amount of weapons in the hands of the populace. Father Rosario accused legislators of hedging the issue. The priest said that the government makes a lot of money out of gun registrations, and thus is stimulated to encourage these. The priest said that nobody should earn money from something that was manufactured to kill people.
He said, "that even if it appears harsh, everyone who carries a gun is a potential murderer." He went on to say that while "more and more people acquire arms to defend themselves, more serious and tragic are the resulting events." Father Rosario was sided by television personality Freddy Beras Goico who said that the eventual disarming of the population depended in large part on the people who own the businesses that sell arms. These businesses are owned by civilians, police and military personnel.

Kidnappers caught
The police have announced the recovery of a four-year old boy and the arrest of five people involved in the case. According to a report in El Caribe, police chief Bernardo Santana Paez said that a close family friend and psychologist, Maria Vianny Corona Suriel, was the mastermind behind the kidnapping that was intended to bring an RD$8.0 million payoff. The boy was taken from his grandmother's house while the other gang members distracted her. It all started when Corona Suriel, who is well known in the household, called the boy's grandmother to say that a package with brochures for a seminar in Puerto Plata was going to be delivered to the house. They seized the child while the woman was putting the box away. The case was resolved within 48 hours.

Shake, rattle and roll!
The Dominican Republic has experienced eight small quakes over the last 24 hours. This strong seismic activity, ranging in strength from.05 to 3.0 on the Richter Scale is in addition to the four larger quakes felt in the Cibao Valley between the 4th and 14th of this month. The information was contained in a report from the Seismological Institute at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD). The recent movements are not the basis for predicting or discarding a major seismic event, according to Juan Arias, manager of the institute's data section.

Sosa at 599
Slugger Sammy Sosa, now playing for the Texas Rangers, hit his 599th homerun with the bases loaded to cap a winning day for the Rangers in the Great American Ball Park in Arlington, Texas. The homerun was Sosa's eleventh of the season but only his first in 67 at bats. Sammy had a good day with five RBIs in the 7-6 Texas win.
The homerun places Sosa at the threshold of 600 homeruns, a feat only four others have achieved. In 2003, Sosa hit his 500th homer in the same ball park, and it was the first homerun ever hit in the park.
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