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Daily News - Friday, 27 July 2007

President calls special Congress session
President Leonel Fernandez has convened an extraordinary Congressional legislative session beginning on 28 July and lasting until 15 August, with the aim of studying the proposed modifications to law 87-01 of the Social Security program, as well as other issues. The legislation was passed by the Senate earlier in the week and the expectation is that Congress will do the same. Hoy writes that according to article 33 of the constitution the legislative branches can meet if ordered by the Executive Branch.

SFS will be more expensive
The Executive Branch has sent some changes to Social Security Law 87-01 to Congress. Press reports note that the changes increase the cost companies and insured employees will be required to pay. Diario Libre writes that in the first year of the SFS, which is due to enter into effect in September, workers would have paid 2.56% of their salaries towards the program while employers would have paid 5.97%. The new legislation, which has already been approved by the Senate, increases employees' share to 2.86% and employers' to 6.67%. The costs will be increased each year until they reach 3.04% for employees and 7.09% for employers. Nevertheless, the legislation in Congress would give the Superintendence of Workers Health and Injury programs (SISALRIL) the power to unilaterally vary the contributions to be paid by companies and employees.

SISALRIL and UNDP designate funds
The Superintendence of Workers Health and Injury programs (SISALRIL) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) are allocating RD$6 million to supervise the government's health insurance program (SFS). SISALRIL's Fernando Caamano and UNDP's Niky Fabiancic signed an agreement to supervise and monitor the services provided by the SFS with collaboration from the National Health Service (SENASA) and its network of health providers. The agreement will provide technical and financial support, and staff hiring and training.

Montas calls for more reforms
Economy, Planning and Development Minister Temistocles Montas, speaking at a conference on DR-CAFTA and the future of the Dominican economy yesterday, said that the free trade agreement between the United States, Central America and the Dominican Republic should have a positive effect on the DR's economic growth and help reduce poverty, but warned that the country needs to continue reforming its policies to help that growth. Montas said that according to studies, the free trade agreement should add 0.63% to the growth in GDP and contribute to reducing poverty by 0.41%. Montas forecast that Dominican exports should increase by 3.8% in the next eight years, following the implementation of DR-CAFTA. Montas says that DR-CAFTA has increased the quality of economic policies, has brought stability to the process, has guaranteed judicial certainty, increased transparency and raised professionalism in government. Montas said that the hope is that the economy will grow at 7% and that by 2035 income per capita will be between US$9,000 and US$12,000.

Electricity theft law speculations
Franco Uccelli of Bear Stearns speculates on whether or not the government will decide to implement new rulings contained in the bill that criminalizes electricity theft that President Leonel Fernandez is expected to sign into law any day now. Uccelli, in a recent brief on the country, expresses his concern "about the government's ability and/or willingness to enforce this new law given the proximity of next May's presidential election. The new law penalizes power distribution companies for irregularities in billing, and imposes financial penalties and prison terms for stealing electricity and electricity infrastructure. On the positive side, Uccelli comments that the approval of the law is the latest sign that the government is making a concerted effort to motivate improved collections and restore financial viability to the troubled electricity sector. He reports that two weeks ago, the government announced that it was making progress toward finalizing the renegotiation of certain generator contracts and anticipates that subsidies would be reduced by up to US$150 million a year. He reports that Palamara La Vega agreed to reduce its price per KWh by roughly 20% and Itabo, AES Dominciana and EGE-Haina are under pressure to follow suit.

Senators want more cash
Senators say that their salaries aren't enough to help them meet their needs and Diario Libre reports on discussions to increase their salaries to RD$250,000 per month, plus other benefits. Hoy quotes Ruben Dario Cruz as saying that Dominican senators are among the worst paid on this side of the continent. Senator Prim Pujals took the salary hike demand a step further when he said that senators should fly first class when taking trips, "just like any other high-ranking government official". Pujals defended his statement by saying that you get a stiff neck from traveling coach. Senate president Reinaldo Pared Perez answered Pujals by saying that he should be content with traveling at all, but not in first class, because the austerity laws will not be violated. Pared told senators that if they wanted to fly first class they should pay the difference.

CEI-RD heads to US to defend products
The Dominican Republic Center for Exports and Investment (CEI-RD) is sending a mission to the United States to find ways to reduce the detention of Dominican containers at US ports of entry. Eddy Martinez, director of CEI-RD, said that after careful inspection those products are eventually allowed to enter the country. Diario Libre writes that in this year alone 863 shipments of Dominican merchandise have been stopped at US ports because they used products not permitted by US Customs. The announcement was initially made after reports came out that China was using the DR as a way to clean up its image regarding rejected imported merchandise. Diario Libre reported that China had released a press report defending itself against allegations about the hazardous products that had entered the US and revealed that in the last year Dominican products have been denied entrance into the US more than 800 times because they contained illegal pesticides.

Commerce with China up
According to Industry and Commerce deputy Minister Francisco Lopez, bi-lateral trade between China and the DR has increased by 50% in the last two years. Lopez pointed to the strengthening of relations between the two countries. Lopez understands that the Chinese consumer market has tremendous potential and highlighted the growth of the Chinese economy in the last 10 years.

DPCA fighting corruption
Director of the National Department for the Pursuit of Administrative Corruption (DPCA, formerly known as DEPRECO) Octavio Lister says that 153 corruption cases are currently being actively investigated. Lister says that he has asked for detailed reports about corruption from the 34 civil registries around the country, but has only received reports from half of them. The DPCA director made his statements during a speech "Evaluation of 10 years in the fight against corruption," delivered at APEC University. Lister says that in 2004 he received 107 reports of corruption and that during the current tenure that figure is up to 156.

Training customs personnel
The Customs Department (DGA) and the UASD University have signed an agreement that will help train customs officials. The agreement stipulates that DGA will recognize the degree in Commerce and Customs that is now being offered by the UASD. During the announcement of the agreement a video conference was held with Korean customs commissioner Seong Yun Kap who said that transparency and modernization through an adequate process of education are efforts that can help combat corruption. Yun Kap, who was in Seoul, conversed with DGA director Miguel Cocco. Cocco says that more than 200 students have already shown interest in the degree in commerce, which was offered for the first time last Wednesday.

Senate approves Indetur
The Senate, after two consecutive sessions, has approved the bill that will create the National Tourism Development Institute (INDETUR). The bill now passes to the Chamber of Deputies for review.
The new office will be responsible for defining public policies for the sustainable development of the sector, and for planning and development of the country's tourist aeas and their infrastructure. INDETUR will be made up of a board of directors that will include two representatives from the National Hotel and Restaurant Association (ASONAHORES) and one from the Dominican Tourism Real Estate Association (ADETI). INDETUR will be headed by Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez and Public Works Minister Freddy Perez. The National Tap Water Institute (INAPA) director will also be part of the board. Tourism brings US$4 billion to the DR in revenues every year.

DR and Andalusia sign agreement
The DR and the Andalusia Council have signed a cooperation agreement focusing on education, health, drinking water and strengthening municipal government. The agreement with the Spanish regional government also includes construction of dams, as well as rural development and the promotion of equal opportunities between men and women. The agreement has a budget of between EUR16 million and EUR20 million. The cooperation agreement will last for four years and was signed by DR Vice President Rafael Alburquerque and Gaspar Zarrias Arevalo, councilor from the Andalusia Council. Diario Libre writes that a special council will be responsible for determining which areas of the DR need these initiatives. Prior to the agreement, the relationship between the DR and the Autonomous Community of Andalusia was indirect, through the work of NGOs.

Aerodom playing favorites?
Vendors in the free trade zone at the airports in Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata are taking legal action because they feel that officials at Aerodom, the company that runs the country's airports, is trying to push them out. The Association of Free Trade Zone Owners says that Aerodom is using the excuse that areas are need for the modernization and expansion of the airports, but the owners said that Aerodom sold the areas to the Swiss company Dufry for US$42.5 million, which according to them also contravenes the Dominican constitution on the formation of monopolies. Listin Diairo writes that three legal decisions on the issues have already been handed out stating that Aerodom's actions violate the right to free business and is in breach of the contract signed with the owners. The owners also say that Aerodom has increased tax on sales to 15% as a way of putting pressure on them.

Price of passports going down
The Passport Department has announced that the cost of issuing and renewing passports will be reduced by RD$262. The reductions will take effect on 30 July and passports will now cost RD$1,238 for regular service and RD$2,238 for VIP service. Director Maritza Lopez says that the reduction comes as a result of the implementation of law 173-07, which repealed article 1 of law 2254, from 1950, regarding taxes on documents.

New movie on Haitians in the DR
Italian film director Claudio del Punta is the latest to make a film about Haitians living and working in the DR. Del Punta's film deals with the Haitians who work in the sugar cane fields of the DR and Diario Libre writes that Del Punta hopes his film will draw attention to the repeated claims of human rights abuses that take place in the DR. The film, "Haiti Cherie" has been chosen for the Locarno Film Festival next month. According to Diario Libre, the film tells the story of a family and their 14-year old son, who decide to escape the "torment" of slavery and return to Haiti.

MLB protecting its players?
Major League Baseball says that it will not allow its players to play in other countries' winter leagues if the local baseball parks and leagues don't meet MLB's safety requirements. Major League executive Lou Melendez says that failure to provide security will force MLB to prohibit players from playing in the winter leagues. Diario Libre writes that in recent years there have been strong tensions between MLB and the different winter leagues as MLB is preventing more and more players from taking part.

Pan Am updates
Martial artist Gustavo Dionisio won the DR's fourth gold medal in the current Pan American games in Rio de Janeiro when he beat Cuban Jorge Zaragoza in the finals of the 75-kilo weight class.
In bowling Aumi Guerra won the bronze medal after beating Colombian Paola Gomez 212-183, 205-202.
In wrestling Sulmira Brea won the bronze medal in the 72-kilo weight class after losing to Kristie Marano from the US.
In table tennis, Xue Wu went through to the semifinals in the individual tournament and today will face Chen Wang with the hopes of reaching the finals. Ju Lin, the reigning Pan American champion, also advanced to the next round and will face Brazil's Gustavo Tsuboi today.
So far the DR has a total of 18 medals: four gold, two silver and twelve bronze.
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