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Daily News - Thursday, 05 July 2007

VP Annette Hsiu-lien Lu visits
Taiwanese Vice President Annette Hsiu-lien Lu met with President Leonel Fernandez for more than an hour at the Presidential Palace on occasion of her visit to the DR, part of a Latin American tour. She was accompanied by a 12-person official delegation. Vice President Lu highlighted the 63 years of Dominican-Taiwanese relations.
Fernandez guaranteed his continued support for Taiwan. He said the DR would continue to recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. Fernandez's support is a welcoming sign for Taiwan in the region, especially since Costa Rica recently announced a switch to establish full diplomatic relations with China.
Vice President Annette Hsiu-lien Lu received the highest Dominican decoration, the Order of Duarte, Sanchez and Mella in the rank of grand golden cross from her Dominican counterpart Vice President Rafael Alburquerque. Vice President Lu promised to proudly carry the decoration in her heart. In turn, Lu awarded the Vice President with the Order of Propitious Clouds in recognition of his work as a lawyer, professor and promoter of worker's rights.
During her visit, Lu expressed her hope that Taiwan could continue to contribute to the construction of more cyberparks in the DR. She commented on the importance of investing in education, implementing a reverse brain drain or strong linkages with expatriate Dominican talents, promoting work culture among the people.
Lu said that they are working so that the DR and Taiwan can sign a free trade agreement by the end of the year, as reported in Hoy. She highlighted that the plan is to create a "superhighway" that will enable the manufacture of Taiwan products here for export to the United States under the DR-CAFTA. Talks for the FTA were initiated in October 2006. A Dominican delegation is scheduled to travel to Taiwan in September to continue the free trade talks. She mentioned the successful experiences of the FTA signed with Panama and Guatemala. She commented that Panama increased trade 112% with Taiwan, and Guatemala saw increased trade of 96% with Taiwan also in 2006.
In the DR, 69 Taiwan manufacture textiles, paper, plastics, as well as are involved in cattle-ranching, fisheries and farming for an estimated investment of more than US$97 million. She said there are plans for the installation of a Taiwan solar energy company, textile manufactures, assembly of motorcycles and plastics.
The Taiwanese Vice President also visited the Robert Reid Cabral Children's hospital and donated US$300,000 to the hospital, of a US$1 million donation. First Lady Margarita Cedeno received the donation on behalf of the Dominican government.
The DR is one of 24 countries that still maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Of the 24, 11 are in Latin America.
The Vice President described China as a "lion" and Taiwan as a "kitten." She said the lion wants to eat the kitten.

4,000 dwellings for capital city?
The press is correcting that the 4,000 dwelling Ciudad Profesor Juan Bosch would be located in Santo Domingo province, not in Santiago. The dwellings would be built by the government on property that is east of the San Isidro Air Base. The complex would encompass single family homes of one floor, two floors, and four-floor apartment buildings with two dwellings per floor. Diario Libre doubts that the announcement that the dwellings would benefit Social Security affiliates will happen because the level of earnings of these are not high enough for them to qualify for the loans for even the lower costing RD$600,000 dwellings. Diario Libre analyzes that a mortgage of RD$500,000 on such a home would require a monthly payment of RD$10,000, and a minimum family income of RD$40,000. The average wage of Social Security affiliates is under RD$12,000, according to the Superintendence of Pensions.

A political project?
Adriano Miguel Tejada, executive editor of Diario Libre, in an editorial comment today, disputes that the use of the funds be determined by the government and invested solely in Santo Domingo. Furthermore, he rejects the funds being used for a housing project that honors a politician. He is also pessimistic that the homes would end up costing double, having questionable quality, given the experience of government housing constructions, and even that the beneficiaries may decide not to meet the mortgage payments. He sees politics in the President announcing a major housing development with the presidential election campaign around the corner. He ends his commentary with a plea, "Do not play with my money."

SFS makes progress
Vice President Rafael Alburquerque is announcing that the Family Health Plan (SFS) will be ready for implementation by September first and says that the government will be injecting RD$570 million more and adjusting the budget by another RD$265.7 million so that the service can operate efficiently. Alburquerque explained that subscribers will have the option of maintaining their current health insurance plans or they can opt into the SFS being offered by the government.
The government also announced it will cover the pensions for 46,000 retired persons under the IDSS regime. This translates into an additional cost of RD$112 million a month.
As part of the negotiations to get the SFS ready for September the government has also agreed to assume the National Transit Accident Fund with a RD$25 million peso a month contribution through the year's end.

Rockash funds being used
The rockash material that was illegally dumped in Arroyo Barril, Samana by a Puerto Rico AES power plant has begun to be removed, using legal suit settlement funds disbursed by the AES Corporation. Andres Marranzini, legal counsel at the Ministry of Environment says that US$1.3 million of the US$6 million settlement has been used to pay legal fees (US$300,000) and to contract the firm Sotramotier to transfer the material to a cement plant in San Pedro de Macoris. The Ministry estimates that it will take US$2 million to remove the rockash from Samana. The funds will also be used to relocate the material that was deposited in Manzanillo, in the northwest.

Korean loan for education
The Korean government has approved a US$3.72 million loan for the Ministry of Education. Education Minster Alejandrina German made the announcement of the loan during her visit to Seoul where she met with Korean Education Minister Kim Shin-il. The funds will be used to development technology programs in the DR. The loan would be made through the Korean Export and Import Bank (Kenxim Bank). It will have a grace period of 8 years and the DR will have 30 years to pay the loan at an interest rate of less than 2%.

ANJE wants another IMF agreement
The National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE) says that to guarantee macroeconomic stability during the electoral months, the country needs to sign another agreement with the International Monetary Fund. Joel Santos, ANJE president, said that the 8th review of the country's stand by arrangement with the IMF is scheduled for December. Santos told the Listin Diario that government spending for the first five months of the year has increased by RD$7 billion, in comparison to the same period last year. Santos mentioned that government spending has significantly increased in propaganda and per diem payments, contrary to what is established in the Austerity Law.
Santos pointed that fiscal equilibrium has only happened because the government has collected RD$19 billion more in taxes. He said the government needs to look ahead, especially given the need to confront the quasi fiscal deficit of the Central Bank.
Santos said the country should have the capacity to self-regulate itself, but in the meantime, the IMF is a guarantee to maintain macroeconomic stability.
He pointed out that one thing is economic growth at 9 or 10% and another is that the population feels an improvement in its standard of living. He pointed out that if the government does not confront basic issues such as general safety, supply of water, constant blackouts and increases in basic consumer products, the outcome will put the stability, economic growth and development at risk.

PRD makes accusation
PRD senators continue to press the point that the Sichuan Heavy Machinery Company and Emirates coal-burning power plant contracts the Executive Branch has sent to Congress for approval are more onerous than the infamous Hydro-Quebec-Sofati, Smith Enron and Cogentrix contracts signed by the government in the past. PRD senators spokesman Roberto Rodriguez says that the proposed contracts violate the country's present General Electricity Law.
As reported in Hoy, the PRD criticizes that the terms of the contract were changed to favor the chosen companies, as disputed by HN Energy Company, that lost the bid on the original terms and has threatened to sue the state. Diario Libre reports that Sichuan's first proposal was originally rejected on 30 January 2006 because it did not comply with the terms of reference, but nevertheless, the company was subsequently awarded the contract.
Furthermore, the PRD states that the Sichuan contract has an overcost of US$260 million the result of an overprice in contracted power of US$0.29 against the US$0.257 originally contracted. Likewise, the PRD senators mention an overprice of more than US$100 million, attributed to a manipulating of the indexing of the high costs of operation of maintenance. Among other irregularities, the state would have to commit to issue a revolving sovereign guarantee for US$30 million, which could turn around 27 times in 10 years, becoming potentially US$810 million. "The excessive coverage in guarantees that would be granted by the government means that Sichuan in its first 10 years of operation would have assured a guarantee of US$900 million, or US$100 million more than it proposes to invest," explains the PRD block.
Furthermore, the contract establishes that the government will commit to supply fuel, buy energy, pay capital and interest on the initial investment. This means a flow of US$22 million a month, or US$44 million if both Sichuan and Emirates plants are contracted to build the plants, analyzes the PRD.

DR and PR sign agreement
The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have signed a cooperation agreement by where the Puerto Rican entity Family Social Economic Development Administration (ADSEF) will lend support to the Dominican Social Subsidies Administration (ADESS). The agreement will allow for the exchange of information and experience and will help in the strengthening of the process of distributing funds by the Dominican government.

Tax collections up
In the first semester of the year, tax revenues were RD$112.7 billion, up RD$23.71 billion over last year. Hoy reports that the surplus is despite a reduction of RD$673 million decline in Customs Department (DGA) revenues due to the removal of tariffs under the DR-CAFTA. Between January and 29 June, Customs produced RD$24.27 billion. The Tax Department (DGII) produced RD$71.07 billion, which was RD$17.52 billion more than for the same period in 2006. And the Treasury collected RD$2.94 billion, which is up RD$1.64 billion from last year.

Women just as corrupt as men
Though not the area where equality is desired, Diario Libre explains that female government officials are catching up with men in corruption scandals. Diario Libre writes of the recent case of Doris Altagracia Vargas Nunez, singled out as the person principally responsible for the mafia at the Ministry of Labor that had promised Dominicans work visas to the US and Canada. There is also the case of Falconelis de los Santos Rivas, ex-secretary of the San Cristobal attorney general's office, who is charged with conning 270 persons out of a total RD$30 million with promises of taking them to Spain. In that same case Yirda Pellier de Leon and Lissette Altagracia Perez were accused. Three women were also responsible for the fraud that took place at the Pensions Department where RD$50 million went missing. And in the latest case at the Migration Department at the International Airport of the Americas (AILA) a woman, Fabiola Henriquez Herrera, is the prime suspect of the theft of RD1.6 million and US$4,800.

Crime down in the DR
The DR's Attorney General Radhames Jimenez Pena says that crime in the DR has gone down considerably. Between January and May 2006 there were a total of 922 murders. During the same period this year there have been 804 murders. This is a decrease of 12.80%. For the same period violent crimes have declined from 24.32% to 20.17%. Homicides are down 678 in 2007, a 16.5% decrease. In 2006 there were 812 homicides. In 2006 there were 2,403 registered violent deaths and the figure lowered to 2,144 in 2006 and in the figure looks to stay low in 2007. In 2005 there were 1,966 registered homicides and in 2006 there were 1,849 homicides. This figure is also expected to decline in 2007.

Bon announces eco friendly campaign
Helados Bon has launched a new eco friendly campaign that hopes to motivate and educate Dominicans on the importance of protecting the environment and our natural resources. The campaign's slogan is "I am a guardian of the treasure Loma Quita Espuela, I am protecting it," and is geared towards helping raise awareness towards Loma Quita Espuela in San Francisco de Macoris, one of the most important reserves in the DR. Loma Quita Espuela today is seen as a model environmental conservation program, where the impoverished dwellers that were depredating the forests were converted into guardians and entrepreneurs, with environmental-friendly projects ranging from organic cacao and macadamia farming, to beekeepers, and ranchers.
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