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Daily News - Tuesday, 07 August 2007

President makes energy law official
President Leonel Fernandez signed the controversial modifications to the General Electricity Law yesterday. The law criminalizes and penalizes the theft of energy. It was passed by Congress on 23 July. Article 9 of the law explains that there is a 90-day period, once the President signs the bill, before the law takes full effect.

Labor loophole closed
President Leonel Fernandez has signed Law 187-07 that seeks to put a stop to an unfair loophole that was affecting businesses. Law 187-07 establishes that employers who have paid worker severance payments on an annual basis up to 1 January 2005 are no longer liable for this payment. Several companies had been affected by labor suits, in which lawyers ignored the annual payments that had been made to the employees, and insisted on requesting full severance payment.

No fun with toys
Inspectors from the Ministry of Public Health's Environmental Health Department visited toy-stores in Santo Domingo yesterday to make sure that they had removed Chinese-manufactured Mattel/Fisher Price toys that were found to contain lead in paint from their shelves. Nelson Rodriguez Monegro from the Public Health Ministry met with importers and toy-store owners to discuss the removal of the products. Last week Mattel/Fisher Price ordered a nationwide recall of the toys in the United States. In the DR, the toys will be tested at the science department at the UASD state university, according to Monegro.
The Customs Department announced it agreed with Mattel to destroy the toys at Dominican ports.

AGs reduce fees
The Attorney General's office is reducing the cost of document legalization, notary acts and legal translations. This is part of the enactment of Law 173-07 on Collection Efficiency, which is reducing the cost of taxes at many government offices. Notarized documents, as well as permission to take a minor out of the country, which previously cost RD$522 will now cost RD$350. Legal translations which cost RD$390 will now cost RD$330. This cost will be the same for name corrections and other types of certifications.

Reinaldo urges 1 September start date
Senate president Reinaldo Pared Perez has asked President Leonel Fernandez to keep aiming for 1 September as the start-up date for the government's health plan, the SFS. Pared says that individual interests are trying to impede the plan's entry into effect. He said that the government has the responsibility to ensure that the SFS goes into effect as planned.
Although the business sector as a whole hasn't given its full support to the SFS, three of the country's most influential businessmen Jose Leon, Juan Vicini and Manuel Arsenio Urena have openly backed the SFS. The business leaders met with President Leonel Fernandez and Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado yesterday to discuss the latest changes to the SFS law recently passed in Congress. Labor Minister Ramon Fadul noted that representatives of the National Business Council (Conep) directors and other leading business associations weren't present at the meeting, but he stated, as quoted in Hoy, that the country could not be run by one sector.

Details on trade with Haiti
Yesterday DR1 reported that trade with Haiti has been on the rise and that Haiti is now the DR's third largest trading partner. The Dominican Republic exports US$147 million in goods to Haiti, and this trade grew by 18.8% in 2006. Today's Diario Libre provides more details on trade between the two countries. During the first semester of 2007, the DR exported 900 products to Haiti. The total value of trade was valued at US$66,174,886. Of this total value US$25,343,047 came from just six products: wheat, black cement, cardboard boxes, metal rods, soy oil and eggs. Wheat, which is imported into the DR for trans-shipment to Haiti, is the largest exported product with a value of US$8,106,908.
During the first six months of the year the DR exported 1,360,383 kilograms of ice to Haiti, valued at US$315.11 million. The sale of motorcycles was valued at US$803,377. These vehicles are imported and assembled in the DR prior to export to Haiti.
During this six-month period, 64 million kilograms of gray cement were exported with a value of US$4,965,031 million.
From 1 January to 1 June 193,297,806 kilograms of articles were shipped to Haiti, according to figures from the DR Center for Exports and Investments (CEI-RD).

The PLD gets mean
The PLD has taken its gloves off and has come out swinging against PRD presidential candidate Miguel Vargas Maldonado. Last week Vice President Rafael Alburquerque called the candidate ignorant because of his reported lack of knowledge about the government's health plan, the SFS. Alburquerque came back at Vargas again yesterday, labeling claims made by Vargas as pure electoral demagogy. The PRD candidate had said that he would double the funding for the Solidaridad welfare program if elected President. Alburquerque rhetorically asked why Vargas hadn't done this when he was Public Works Minister and also asked why public works projects weren't finished during his administration.
Treasury Minister Vicente Bengoa wasn't shy about challenging Vargas either. Bengoa asked Vargas to prove that the government is misusing the PetroCaribe funds and using the money to pay for PLD propaganda. Bengoa added that since signing the PetroCaribe agreement the government has received US$453.6 million in credits. Money that would have gone to pay for fuel has been used to subsidize the electricity sector. Bengoa dared Vargas to prove him wrong and said that if it weren't for those funds the energy bill would be three times what it is. Bengoa clarified that for every US$100 million of petroleum that the refinery buys from Venezuela the DR keeps US$40 million, which is used for the energy sector. He said the loan will be paid at a 1% interest rate over 25 years and can be paid in goods and services. Vargas has yet to answer either man.

Estrella still looking to be the star
Eduardo Estrella, who lost to Amable Aristy Castro in the PRSC primary, is still looking for his moment in the spotlight and it seems that a joint political venture might be his last chance. The former PRSC member and presidential candidate has declared himself politically independent and has formed a political movement called "Dominicans for Change". Diario Libre reports that Estrella could end up as the presidential candidate for the PRSD, a political party accepted by the JCE that has yet to announce its candidate for the 2008 presidential election. The newspaper mentions that Estrella has also held meetings with members of the PNVC and the PHD. Estrella is meeting with PRSD president Hatuey de Camps, who is championing the "cuarta via" - fourth way - option for the 2008 elections. This would bring together politicians who were not chosen by their parties and others from the country's minority parties.

Dominicans for tests
Listin Diario is reporting that 33 clinical research projects are currently under way in the DR. Dominicans are being tested with possible medicines for HIV/AIDS, diabetes, glaucoma, rotavirus, influenza and others. The control tests are supervised by the National Bioethics Health Council (CONABIOS). Miguel A. Montalvo, executive director of CONABIOS, said that children, women, the elderly and mentally impaired could not be used in these tests. Montalvo explained that since 2003, 50 requests have been received for permission to conduct experiments on humans and 80% of these have been approved, while 8% have been rejected and 12% have been denied and asked to reapply. Montalvo says that some research projects that don't comply with the institution's rules have been suspended and that requests must undergo a rigorous inspection process before reaching CONABIOS.

Dominican dead in Kuwait
Juan Alcantara Pena is the latest Dominican to die while on military duty in the Middle East. Reportedly, he died while on duty in Kuwait. Pena, a 22-year old from Washington Heights, New York had been in Iraq for a year. His family told Hoy that US military officials visited the family home yesterday to break the tragic news. The newspaper also reports that the soldier's wife, Dayonara, was pregnant when he left for duty in Iraq and their daughter is now one month old. Alcantara Pena was born in Santiago and relocated to the US when he was five years old. Family members in Santiago are also mourning his loss. Alcantara Pena lived with his mother on Wadsworth Avenue. Coincidentally his apartment was located only blocks from the house of Ryan Tejada, another Dominican who lost his life in Iraq. The Dominican community is still recovering from Tejada's loss and the disappearance of Alex Ramon Jimenez Duran, who was taken hostage by rebel forces in Iraq on 12 May. His fate is still unknown.

US Embassy passport procedures
The US Embassy in Santo Domingo Consular Section's American Citizens Service Unit is introducing a new passport appointment system. According to an Embassy press release the new system comes in response to the large number of US citizens who have requested passports in the last year due to the implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). The initiative requires all US citizens entering the US to present a valid passport. This has led to a 100% increase in demand for passports. Anyone wishing to obtain a passport must make an appointment, by dialing 809 731-4468, and paying a fee for the process. Note that not everyone needs to make an appointment.
For more information on the procedure, see www.usemb.gov.do/Consular/ACS/...

Caribbean golf tournament
The Santo Domingo Country Club is hosting the 51st Caribbean Golf Association Amateur Championships from 2-12 August. 150 golfers from Barbados, Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, OECS, Puerto Rico, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos and Virgin Islands have registered to participate. The Dominican team is the favorite to win the tournament, after its success last year in the 50th championships in Jamaica. The rounds begin on Wednesday, 8 August. The event is organized by the Dominican Golf Federation (FEDOGOLF) and the Caribbean Golf Association (CGA).
The Dominican team for the Hoerman Cup is: Hiram Silfa, Carlos Arias, Juan Carlos Prello, Francisco Santoni and John Garrido. Participants in the Ramon Baez contest (semi-amateur) are Miguel Feris and Juan Campusano. Tulio Luna and Manuel Ovalles in the Francis Steele-Perkins Cup (senior). Rafael Canario and Hector Lebron in the Higgs & Higgs Trophy (superseniors). Anabelle Paulino, Debra Luna and Teresa Garcia are on the Dominican team competing for the George Teale Cup.
As part of the organizer's package, golfers were invited to a three-night golf challenge in Punta Cana during the week prior to the tournament. Golfers were housed at the Punta Cana Beach Resort and played a round of golf at the Punta Espada course in Cap Cana. Also part of the package is a golf outing at the Las Lagunas National Golf Course during the same week as the championship.
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