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Daily News - Tuesday, 26 June 2007

SFS campaign
Vice President Rafael Alburquerque has announced that at some point this week the government will launch a campaign to inform the public about the Seguro Familiar Social (SFS), the family health insurance plan. The Vice President says that the aim of the campaign is to ensure that SFS users are aware of their obligations and rights, as well as the benefits of the plan. If all the problems that have held up the introduction of the SFS are resolved, it should come into effect on 1 September.

Same books for next year
The National Education Council has unanimously agreed to allow this year's schoolbooks to be used for the 2007-2008 school year. This news comes as relief for some parents who were concerned that the books would have to be changed for next year, as usually happens, forcing them to buy new textbooks for their children. Parents will now be able to pass down books to siblings and acquire used books.

DR no longer a failed state
The DR has been removed from a list of failed states. In 2005, The Fund for Peace published its list in Foreign Policy magazine and ranked the DR in 19th place with an average score of 94.2 out of a possible 120. The DR was listed along with countries like Haiti, Iraq and Somalia. Since then the country has made some progress in transparency, the economy is stronger and human rights violations have decreased. Minister Angel Lockward says that the public should be proud that in two years the country has been removed from the list. The DR is now 69th on the list with an average of 80.6, meaning it is no longer in the "failed state" category.
For the list, see http://www.fundforpeace.org/web/...

Clean it up
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) Administrative Chamber has authorized Santo Domingo Mayor Roberto Salcedo to clean up the city by removing political posters and propaganda posted by candidates who have already won their party primaries and are getting an early start at promoting their presidential aspirations. The request was made during a meeting between the JCE and the National District city council (ADN) where both sides were trying to come up with measures aimed at regulating political propaganda in public spaces. Official campaigning for the 16 May 2008 Presidential election begins in February.

IDB funds for water
The Inter American Development Bank (IDB) has disbursed RD$46 million in funds for the construction of water treatment plants in the Los Jardines and Los Rios areas of Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo Aqueduct and Sewer Corporation (CAASD) head Richard Martinez announced that the installations could be completed within the next few months.

Customs defends double taxation
Treasury Minister Vicente Bengoa has come out in defense of what could be considered a double tax on goods by saying that the procedure is authorized in the Tax Code. Bengoa, as reported in Diario Libre, explained that VAT (ITBIS) is an internal tax and says that it is levied by Customs on all imports to avoid tax evasion. Customs (DGA) director Miguel Cocco also defended the application of ITBIS by pointing to article 339 of Tax Code 11-92. In the DR, VAT (ITBIS) is a tax collected by the Department of Taxes (DGII) and it is up to Customs to collect it when the imports are subject to duty. The problem arises when Customs applies the 16% tax to the duty as well as the value of the item itself, a clear case of a tax on a tax. For example, according to Diario Libre, if the cost of your product, including insurance and freight was RD$500,000, you would supposedly pay a VAT of 16% or RD$80.000. However, if the same product was subject to, say, 20% duties, you would pay the 16% VAT on the product, plus the duties. (RD$500,000 + RD$100,000 = RD$600,000 X 16% = RD$96,000).

Europe-DR: Milk monopoly to end
Jose Alejandro Ayuso of the SemPer Foundation forecast today that the European monopoly on imports will shortly come to an end. "There is no benefit in maintaining the EU-DR protocol on powdered milk if no subsidies are transferred to Dominican children and elderly people," he explains. "Our people should also have access to milk from markets such as Canada, USA, Guatemala and Argentina." This week European importers in the DR warned that the local prices for powdered milk would increase significantly due to the elimination of European Union subsidies. Karl Falkenberg, deputy director general for Trade European Commission and the chief European Union trade negotiator, said at a recent FUNGLODE conference that "if the DR wants to consume milk at better prices and increase consumption per capita from 77 to 150 liters per year, the quota should be eliminated to forge more competitive markets".
Falkenberg also stated that his understanding is that the Dominican Republic seeks to increase milk imports from the European Union to satisfy an increasing local demand, and that the Commission was more than willing to assist in this matter. He recalled that Europe is currently supplying large amounts of high-quality powdered milk, and that they are willing to negotiate increases on the quota. Notwithstanding, he clarified that European suppliers would want to first establish how these import increments would be managed.
Former director for the DR trade negotiations office, Hugo Ramirez Risk has stated that the ideal solution to the "DR-EU milk issue" would be to negotiate a bilateral protocol on this item annexed to the Economic Partnership Agreement CARIFORUM-EU. Several viable legal outcomes have been revised. The next official round of EPA negotiations will take place on July 23-31 in Brussels.

Anje opposed to Renove II
The president of the Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE) is urging the government to think twice about the implementation of a second Plan Renove, as has been announced, according to Hoy. Plan Renove II would be sustained by a Fund for the Development of Ground Transport (Fondo de Desarrollo del Transporte Terrestre), created by Decree 250-07 to regulate transport and control the purchase of transport fleets.
Joel Santos of ANJE warned that reviving a plan that has failed in the past two government administrations and served for corruption due to the misuse of funds that were intended for financing vehicles for transport and cargo is counterproductive. He said the vehicles were distributed among the transporters associations themselves. "While political interests prevail, it will be very difficult to execute plans with due transparency and without the misuse of government funds," said Santos. He said that the authorities' role should be of regulation and definition of strategies necessary and not that of financing of vehicles for private parties. He said the country could hardly tolerate another Plan Renove and the distortions that affected government funding.

Phantom plane drops drugs
As the DR looks to increase its role in the war on drugs traffickers, it appears that they are taking bigger risks to deliver their consignments. Diario Libre writes of a "phantom" plane that dropped an estimated 120 kilos of cocaine near Salinas, Bani. This increases the amount of drugs air-dropped in the area to 1,000 kilos in the last six months, according to Diario Libre. Reports from the Dominican Navy and US Southern Command indicate that the airplane flew low enough under the radar in order to evade detection and US and DR drug enforcement officials weren't able to apprehend it. British drug enforcement officials are also helping in the fight against drug trafficking. Dominican Vice Admiral Ivan Pena Castillo explained in Hoy that the ship "Acamar" was able to recover four packets weighing 30 kilos each. He said that plane that dropped the drugs was of South American origin, but no other details were released.

Prosecutor rejects RD$100M deal
National District Prosecutor Jose Manuel Hernandez Peguero says that there will be no deal with former army colonel Quirino Ernesto Paulino Castillo, known as "Quirino", as reported in the Listin Diario. He was referring to the offer to pay RD$100 million if all local charges against him and his family members are dropped. Family members face charges of money laundering and complicity made by Paulino Castillo's lawyer, Felix Damian Olivares, a former advisor to the National Police on the Penal Code. The lawyer said that they have been holding talks for six months over the possibility of such a deal, as reported in El Nacional. The authorities have confiscated RD$600-RD$700 million in bank accounts and assets from the family.
Yesterday, jurists Jottin Cury and Domingo Porfirio Rojas Nina, from the Human Rights Commission, warned prosecutor Jose Manuel Hernandez Peguero not to negotiate such an offer that would undermine Dominican efforts to fight drug trafficking and set a bad precedent. Attorney General Radhames Jimenez Pena said that the legal authorities would meet in the next days to discuss the offer that had been delivered by Paulino Castillo's attorney Felix Damian Olivares. The Attorney General, nevertheless, is quoted in Hoy telling the prosecutor to "shut his mouth" and to stop commenting publicly on the issue. Jimenez continued by saying that ultimately he is the maximum authority on this matter and that he is the only one who is entitled to comment on it.
Paulino Castillo is the head of a Dominican cocaine trafficking ring known to have exported drugs to the US since at least September 2003. He was extradited to the US in 2005 and is standing trial at the New York Southern District Court. The investigation included the seizure of approximately 1,387 kilograms of cocaine in the DR on 18 December 2004. If convicted, Paulino Castillo faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. The US court indictment also seeks forfeiture of US$7 million.
Lawyer Felix Damian Olivares sustains that the case belongs to the US justice, and a case cannot be opened in the DR with the same charges against Paulino Castillo and his relatives. "The only thing the Dominican authorities can do is respond to the requirements of the US authorities," he said, as reported in El Nacional.

Accidents: leading cause of deaths
Automobile accidents have become the principal cause of deaths among Dominicans, according to statistics by the National Police Road Safety office. According to statistics, more than 2,000 Dominicans die each year as a result of road accidents, followed by homicides and suicides. The main cause of these accidents is speeding, lack of respect for traffic rules and alcohol consumption.

Israel scholarships and trade
Israeli ambassador Yoav Bar-On says that Israel has awarded 4,000 scholarships to Dominican students, providing training in the fields of agriculture, health and health sciences. The ambassador says that Dominican-Israeli relations are excellent. He urged Dominican businesspeople to seek out their Israeli counterparts in order to increase exports. Bar On says that trade between both nations has increased, but did not provide any official statistics.

Gun owners don't renew
The Interior and Police Ministry has informed that 26,497 gun permits have been cancelled for failure to renew the document. This means that only 7,101 people came forth to renew their permits and can legally carry a firearm. The last day to renew all license and permit papers was 21 June.

Dominican wrestlers stay in Spain
Five Dominican wrestlers who were due to compete in this year's Pan American games in Brazil were visiting Spain for training when they decided to abandon their team and stay in Spain. Richard Ramos, Aneudis Navarro, Edwin Tomas Abreu, Eddy Agramonte and Alfredo Docembil have all deserted. The search for the athletes has begun.
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