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Daily News - Tuesday, 31 July 2007

SFS on today's agenda
The government's health plan, the SFS, will be the only topic on the Chamber of Deputies agenda today. Congress will be discussing the changes to Social Security Law 87-01. Congress leader Julio Cesar Valentin has warned that if Congress doesn't approve the changes made to the Law, the SFS won't come into effect on 1 September as planned. Vice President Rafael Alburquerque, quoted in Diario Libre, is calling on Congress to pass the bill without delay. He accused the opposition PRD party of trying to stall the entry into effect of the health program.
The government's health plan does not cover young people over the age of 18 who aren't in school or don't have a job, and if a young person does lose his/her job, their parents will have to pay RD$400 extra per month so that they may continue to receive the benefits of health coverage, as reported in Diario Libre. The health program is only geared towards salaried employees and their underage dependents. The SFS does provide service for pregnant women, but the plan stipulates that in order to be covered under the plan, young people over 18 must be in school. After the age of 21, young people will be left completely out of the plan and must find a job and contribute to the SFS if they want coverage.
The president of the Association of Private Clinics, Rafael Mena is recommending that the modifications to the law incorporate universal health coverage as well as the right of patients to choose their medical providers.
The president of the National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE), Joel Santos has criticized that 1% of the pension funds would be sourced to reduce the financial deficit the SFS is expected to have once implemented on 1 September. He criticized that the government prior to recommending changes to the SFS did not consult with business organizations. He criticized that the modifications were being rushed through Congress. The ruling party is majority in Congress.

Aura Celeste Fernandez stirs JCE
A proposal submitted by Central Electoral Board (JCE) judge Aura Celeste Fernandez is causing a stir internally. Judge Fernandez's proposal seeks to remove any power or functions from the JCE's Administrative Chamber and to convert the Political Parties Department into an all-encompassing department. The proposed changes, according to Diario Libre, have added to the already growing tensions between the JCE judges. The bill also proposes to dismantle the Elections Department and to shift its powers to the Political Parties Department. The Political Parties Department would be headed by a commission of five magistrates led by the JCE president, who in this case is Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman. Diario Libre writes that Fernandez's proposal was taken as a declaration of war by some JCE judges. However, a former JCE president, Juan Sully Bonelly supported the proposal, saying that the Electoral Law gives the JCE the right to change any regulations as long as it helps the electoral process.

Three months to go legit
The Superintendence of Electricity has announced that consumers with illegal connections will have three months to go legit, once President Leonel Fernandez signs the changes to Law 125-01. After this, the government will be applying penalties for fraudulent connections. During this period, power distributors and the government will carry out a consumer awareness campaign.
Nevertheless, he commented, as reported in Hoy, that the new law does not seek to persecute the consumer, but rather to dissuade the consumer from stealing power.

FTA with Mexico
Mexican Diplomat Francisco Hernandez said that the signing of a Free Trade Agreement between the DR and Mexico is imminent. He says there has been progress made in talks between business groups from both countries. He said that in order to facilitate the process, the Mexican Embassy is simplifying the procedure for
Dominican business representatives to secure visas for travel to Mexico.

Plate renewal brings needed money
Santo Domingo Mayor Roberto Salcedo wants Congress to allot some of the revenue generated by the significant increases in license plate renewals to city works, including paving of streets, city electrification and maintenance of city trees and parks. He estimated that the license plate renewals could bring RD$500 million worth of revenue to Santo Domingo because most of the country's cars are located in the capital, as reported in Diario Libre. Salcedo says that the new municipal law establishes new responsibilities for the city hall, but doesn't specify where the funds needed to carry these out will come from. Hoy explains that the new municipal law makes city governments responsible for maintaining city roads and building electricity infrastructure. Furthermore, Salcedo points out that any given day 400,000 people enter the city of Santo Domingo from other municipalities and use its services. He says the present laws do not take this floating population into account and advocates changes to Law 3456 that governs the city of Santo Domingo.
In 2006 the Tax Department (DGII) collected RD$902.4 million in plate renovations and next year the collections will be higher due to the significant price increases.

Bonetti against a new IMF accord
Presidential Administrative Secretary Luis Manuel Bonetti says that the government shouldn't sign another agreement with the International Monetary Fund. In his opinion, the DR does not need a "straightjacket" any longer. Bonetti says the DR met all the requirements of the current Stand-by arrangement that ends on 31 January 2008. Quoted in Diario Libre, Bonetti says that the DR should retake its economic sovereignty. He blamed the PRD political party and its PPH faction, for causing the financial crisis that brought with it the signing with the IMF.
Business groups favor the signing a new agreement with the IMF in order to ensure more effective controls on government spending, especially since 2008 is an electoral year.

Understanding the paradox
Four representatives from the industrial sector say they find it paradoxical that the government can be so good at collecting money from the public while at the same time it is so bad at managing its own public spending. Monetary Board members Ernesto Vilalta, Ignacio Mendez, who is also the government's advisor on industrial matters, Antonio Isa Conde and Cesar Nicolas Penson expressed disappointment at the fact that the Tax Department can be so efficient in collecting funds while this efficiency can't be reflected in the control of corruption and improvements in the management of public funds. The group did however applaud the Tax Department's work but says it leads to public irritation when it becomes apparent that an increasing amount of money is being collected but not used properly. They also pointed out that political patronage continues to be one of the country's greatest problems.

Move to abolish NGOs
Hoy reports that the Chamber of Accounts wants 3,406 NGOs eliminated because they failed to report their operations to the state in 2006. A report delivered to Congress reveals that of the 3,649 NGOs recognized by the government, only 273 reported their operations to the state. RD$1.08 billion in taxpayer money was allocated to the 3,649 NGOs in the 2006 National Budget. Hoy writes that of the money spent by the reporting NGOs was allotted: 36.5% was for staff wages, 24.3% was for non-staff wages, 12% in transfers, 11.2% in materials and 16% on things labeled as "others."
Hoy also reports that although NGOs only make up 7.5% of the total institutions registered in the budget, an analysis of the figures show that resources are concentrated in only a few institutions. The Chamber of Accounts indicates that the Presidency of the Republic has created 1,546 NGOs, concentrating 42.9% of the resources. The Chamber of Accounts also warned about the NGOs accumulating debt.
The Chamber concludes: "The state should eliminate all the institutions that are not reporting to the Chamber of Accounts and other monitoring organizations. In addition, the volume of resources that they receive only makes it more difficult to control them and the social services they provide do not contribute to improving the services offered by the state."

Central Bank pats its back; public starves
The Alternative Social Forum says that while the Central Bank is patting itself on the back because it fulfilled all the requirements set by the IMF, poverty levels are increasing. Forum spokesperson Maria Teresa Cabrera said that the government has fulfilled its goals but has sacrificed the public as a result. Cabrera, quoted in Hoy, said that the Forum is not interested in setting social policies because that is the government's responsibility. The Forum has given the government 30 days to order a nationwide increase in wages, to modify the laws regarding fuels, lower food prices and modify economic policies.

RD$35 million suit
Six victims of a home-manufactured bomb thrown to a bus transporting employees to work on 12 March have sued transport unions Federacion Nacional de Transporte la Nueva Opcion (Fenatrano) and Confederacion Nacional de Transporte (Conatra) for damages. Santa de la Cruz del Carmen, Maria Guerrero Sepulveda, Maritza de Jesus, Daniel Alfonso Capellan Espinal, Josefina Zapata and Alexis Tejada Manzueta who suffered burns presented the case to the Prosecutors Office of the Province of Santo Domingo. The case establishes that the principal directors of the unions are the alleged intellectual authors of the aggression. They criticize that statements made by Antonio Marte, of Conatra, and Juan Hubieres, of Fenatrano, brought about the actions taken by vandals. Ramon Martinez Porterreal is legal counsel to the victims. They are demanding indemnity of RD$35 million in the case presented on 16 July to justice. The police arrested three men for the assault.

Belize supports DR aspirations
Belizean Prime Minister Said Musa has voiced his support for the DR's aspirations to non-permanent membership of the United Nation's Security Council. Musa, who is on an official visit to the DR, signed an agreement with Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso yesterday for the creation of a bi-national commission that will establish economic and technical cooperation between the two countries. He also met with Santo Domingo Mayor Roberto Salcedo who handed him the keys to the city and declared him a distinguished visitor.
Musa said that the DR and Belize have a lot of shared interests in the area of economics and the fight against poverty. Both countries participate in the Caribbean Community (Caricom), Cariforum and Central American Integrated System (SICA).
Coincidentally, both Belize and the DR share the mahogany as national tree.

Deciding the Rio Group's Agenda
The Rio Group's National coordinators met yesterday in order to discuss the group's agenda for the coming year. Environment, energy, security and poverty issues and the topics for discussion at the 62nd General Assembly of the United Nations in September were covered. The DR is the "pro tempore" head of the Rio Group. The meeting was held at the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Santo Domingo.

Higher US immigration fees
Fees for obtaining permanent residency, naturalization process and other immigrant paperwork just got more expensive in the US, and in some cases prices were increased by 100%. The cost of naturalization increased from US$400 to US$675 and residency increased from US$300 to US$1,000. US Citizens and Immigration Services says that the increases in costs are necessary in order to improve their services. Authorities estimate that revenues will increase by US$1 billion in the next fiscal year and processing time is expected to be reduced by 20% by the end of the 2009 fiscal year.
For more information, see www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis

Embassy bans its employees from Loft
The US Embassy in the DR has prohibited its employees from visiting the popular Santo Domingo nightclub "Loft" because of alleged racial discrimination practiced by the nightclub. Roland Bullen, Charge d'Affaires at the Embassy, informed all US citizens belonging to the diplomatic mission that they should not visit that club because it did not allow admission of an African-American US Embassy employee on 22 July. Bullen said that in 2005 his predecessor Lisa Kubiske tried to persuade several Santo Domingo nightclub owners to change their admissions policies because of continued complaints from African-American embassy employees. Bullen says that it is rare for an embassy to make a decision of this type, but added that the clubs are violating both Dominican and US laws.
See the Embassy press release on the matter at: www.usemb.gov.do/nprensa/Discoteca_Loft.htm

Sans Souci expects many tourists
Hoy is reporting that the new tourist port complex at Sans Souci will welcome 70,000 cruise ship passengers this year. This is 30,000 more than in 2006, and is the result of improvements and expansion of the ports' docks, which allow larger cruise ships to dock. Sans Souci Holdings is a US$700 million investment. Luis Molina, executive director of Sans Souci Holdings said that in five more years, the number of disembarking tourists should reach the million-mark. The project is due to be completed by 2010. A major real estate development that has yet to start is also part of the project.

AIDS drug suspended
The Ministry of Public Health has ordered the suspension of tests using a drug that allegedly cures AIDS. The Ministry disputes that the drug created by Dr. Jose Ramon Baez Acosta is a cure for AIDS. Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez has asked the legal system to take the proper steps to bring Baez to justice for violating General Health Law 4201. Rojas also ordered the closure of MEDIFARMA, Baez's pharmaceutical company. Rojas said that Baez Acosta was not able to produce scientific research to support recent claims that he discovered a cure for the disease. He also commented that Baez Acosta has not registered a copyright for the drug with the National Office for Industrial Property (ONAPI), requested permission for the tests from the National Council on Health Bioethics (Conablos), nor followed recommendations in World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki Ethical Principles for Medical Research Involving Human Subjects. Baez is defending his cure and won't adhere to the decision taken by the government health department. Baez blames the pharmaceutical companies and their financial interests for the adverse reaction to his claims, and said that God was the author of the patent. Baez also said that to date none of the 52 people who received his treatment have died. Neither have they been cured. Dominican Medical Association president Enriquillo Matos supported Rojas's decision and said that if Baez is found guilty of violations, the CMD will penalize him.

Manny AL POW; Martinez makes starts
Boston Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez was named this week's American League's Player of the Week. Following a dismal first half performance for the BoSox, Ramirez has exploded in the second half of the season. During his prizewinning week Ramirez went 11-28, hit .393 with seven extra base hits (four doubles and three homeruns)
Pedro Martinez, the New York Mets pitcher who has yet to make a start this year, will pitch in his first game of the season with the Mets Single A affiliate in St. Lucie, Florida. Martinez, who is recovering from post-season shoulder surgery, is expected to make only 45 pitches.
 
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