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Daily News - Friday, 10 August 2007

Labor Ministers promote dignified jobs
Labor Ministers from Central America and the DR have agreed to promote dignified jobs for workers in their respective countries as a way of improving their citizens' living conditions. The agreement by the labor ministers, the Santo Domingo Declaration, was issued as part of the 24th Regional Conference of Labor Ministers. On Wednesday the Dominican Labor Ministry adopted the National Dignified Work Program (PNTD) as a way of focusing on developing dignified jobs for Dominicans. The labor ministers assured that these are the first steps and that Central America and the DR are the first to promote dignified employment in the region.

The public debt
Treasury Minister Vicente Bengoa says that the DR's consolidated public debt declined by US$94.2 million in the second quarter of the year, a 1.1% decrease. According to Bengoa, the total national public debt as of 30 June is US$8.33 billion, or 25.4% of the country's Gross Domestic Product.

Most Dominicans in low-income bracket
A report by the National Statistics Office (ONE) says that 63.1% of the Dominican population belong to the middle low and low socio-economic groups. Specifically 34.2% of Dominicans are in the low- income bracket and 28.9% are in the middle low- income class. According to the report, 8.6% of the Dominican population belongs to the lowest socio-economic class and only 8.4% of Dominicans are in the mid to high levels of the socio-economic ladder. There are 2.6 million Dominicans in the mid-high group. Pablo Tactuk, director of ONE, says that this is the first time that the Dominican population has been divided up according to socio-economic rankings.
Groups were also divided according to geographic location. The study highlights the fact that 57% of lowest income Dominicans is found in the provinces of San Juan de la Maguana, Santiago, Santo Domingo, Azua, San Cristobal, Monte Plata, Barahona, Puerto Plata, La Vega and Elias Pina.
Tactuk explained that although the DR enjoys one of the largest GDP growth rates and increases in wealth in the region, the gap between rich and poor has increased and the gap in wealth distribution has also got wider. He added that the state has to act urgently to help solve this issue.

9.3 million in DR
The National Population and Family Council (Conapofa) says that 9.3 million people now live in the DR, up from 8.9 million in 2004. In 2008, the population is expected to reach 9.5 million. This means that from 2004 to 2008, there was an increase of 573,484 inhabitants, or a 6.4% increase. Candido Rivera, director of Conapofa said that most of the growth has occurred in urban areas. The gender division remains stable, with 4,696,621 men and 4,67,031 women. Women make up 50.16% of the population. Demographer Ramon Orlando Jimenez, research director for Conapofa, said that the estimates and projections show a slow-down in population growth. Nevertheless, there is an increase in the number of teenagers having children. He said that the DR's population is aging.

What's in the hat for transport?
Optimism seems to be this administration's greatest strength as Diario Libre reports that the government's Office for the Reorganization of Transit (OPRET) is planning a radical restructuring of the transport sector. The new plan calls for the gradual elimination of the risky motoconcho (motorcycle taxis) and conchos (shared taxis) throughout the DR. The Office for the Reorganization of Transit proposes to purchase 1,000 minibuses to gradually replace the "conchos" through a credit program. Motoconchos would in turn be replaced by small electrical cars. The government will apply for funding from the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the Andean Development Corporation.
The plan would start in Santo Domingo and would take five years to execute in full. It would involve merging the government offices that deal with transport, and measures to encourage use of lower costing fuels such as natural gas and propane gas for transport.
The proposal would require transport unions to convert into legally organized companies. According to Juan Gabriel Cajiao, a consultant who has worked on OPRET's "National Transport Policy" study, the transport unions need to be regulated. The plan then calls for the creation of the National Transit and Transport Authority (AUTRAN), an umbrella organization under which other transport entities, such as OMSA, OTTT, OPRET, AMET and AMETRASAN would fall.

Tourism will break the mold
Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez says that the DR is in the process of breaking the "sun and sand" tourism mold and working towards a development model consisting of a range of tourism offers, all involving the local community. He foresees new developments in wellness, scuba, golf, hunting, business and cultural tourism.
He said that it was important to support the tourism sector because it provided 21% of the country's revenue, adding that this figure is set to increase over the next 10 to 15 years.
According to Jimenez, RD$1.6 billion has been invested in infrastructure for the tourism sector to build aqueducts, sewage systems and housing projects in Puerto Plata, Samana and San Pedro de Macoris provinces and for regenerating beaches. Jimenez made his comments during an interview with Listin Diario. Jimenez added that only RD$1.1 million of the investment was spent on administrative costs.

Tourism affects environment
William Kaschak, of the USAID-backed Environmental Protection Investment Fund (FIPA) has warned that groundwater resources in the Dominican Republic's eastern tourism area are showing signs of stress and increased salinity due to extensive urbanization, tourism developments, and the cultivation of sugar cane for ethanol production, as reported in Hoy. He said that this environmental degradation would have a boomerang effect on tourism, an industry that represents 13% of the country's GDP. Kaschak mentioned that in the eastern region more fresh water is being removed than the environment can naturally replace, resulting in saltwater seepage into the underwater aquifers.
He spoke at the opening of the exhibition of 30 projects promoted by the Fund at Santo Domingo's UNPHU university since 2003.
The FIPA organic farming, eco tourism and renewable energy projects were also sponsored by the Ministry of Environment and the NGO Alliance and developed all around the country at a cost of US$4 million. USAID contributed US$1.4 million towards these projects.
Kaschak spoke on how sustainable development is a continuous process that calls for balancing human needs with environmental conservation and social and economic progress.

Norovirus visits again
Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez and Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez, speaking on yesterday's Nuria & Huchi afternoon CDN radio talk show, said that the gastroenteritis outbreak at the Bahia Principe Rio San Juan resort is now suspected to have been caused by the rapidly spreading virus known as norovirus, which would probably have been brought in by one of the tourists staying at the resort.
The hotel was closed to new bookings. The virus comes from cold climates, and is not endemic to the Dominican Republic or the Caribbean.
Norovirus, sometimes referred to as gastric flu, is second to the common cold in reported illnesses, and affects millions of people around the world each year. It was previously known as Norwalk Virus, for a land-based outbreak in Norwalk, Ohio, some 30 years ago. The US Centers for Disease Control explains that while noroviruses are highly contagious, infections are not usually serious. People may feel very sick and vomit often or get diarrhea, becoming dehydrated if liquid is not replaced. Most people recover within a day or two and do not suffer any long-term adverse health effects. The virus has occurred frequently on cruise ships, because all that is needed is for one passenger to come aboard for hundreds to be affected.
An all-inclusive resort has much in common with a cruise ship scenario - people arrive in groups, share activities, and the illness can then spread easily.

Coal contract is bad deal
The PRD opposition party has served President Leonel Fernandez with papers expressing opposition to the signing of legislation that would grant government authorization for the issue of a US$30 million revolving letter of credit for the construction of two coal-fired power plants, as reported in Listin Diario. PRD president Ramon Alburquerque and party secretary Orlando Jorge Mera insist that the contracts "are the worst ever signed in the electricity sector of the country." The contracts were signed with Emirates Power and Sichuan, and the PRD claims that they contain violations of the tender terms of reference and overvalue the construction costs. Furthermore, they described the clause that would allow the companies to be paid for served energy even if the power plants were shut down, as an aberration. The PRD is saying that the contracts are in violation of the General Electricity Law.

It's getting harder to sell drugs
The National Drug Control department (DNCD) says that so far this year it has closed 16,000 drug sales points nationwide, as reported in Listin Diario. Major General Rafael Radhames Ramirez Ferreira said that drug trafficking transactions are at an all-time low. He said that there is a perception that trafficking is on the rise because of press reports about dealers being arrested.
Drug trafficking decline in the DR is part of a Caribbean-wide trend as coordinated efforts increase. David Jessop, director of the Caribbean Council, reported that the increased efficiency of law enforcement agencies has resulted in a shift in transshipment operations to Africa. "According to Interpol, the international police agency, West Africa is fast becoming the cocaine trafficking hub between South America and Europe. While the more traditional routes through the Caribbean are unlikely to cease, there is growing evidence that coordinated police, naval and intelligence led activities in the region are slowing and displacing the Caribbean as a transit point," he writes.
He explains that what appears to be happening is that cocaine produced in Colombia is now being shipped through Venezuela, possibly with some support from military officers disillusioned with the Chavez Government, from where it moves through neighboring countries by sea to Ghana, Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal. He explains that there, the absence of the tight controls of the kind that the Caribbean countries have instituted, facilitates the transfer of narcotics to France, the United Kingdom, Spain and Italy. He explains that the main incentive for the trend to continue is that the 300 tons of cocaine now trafficked from Colombia through West Africa to Europe can be sold at double the price than in the US.

Dominicans the toast of the town
On Wednesday the New York Post published a list of 20 "Dominican Dynamos," highlighting the work of 20 influential Dominicans in the Big Apple. The accolades keep on coming in. Earlier this week New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at an event at his residence celebrating Dominican heritage, honored singer Milly Quezada, musician Michael Camilo, Jose Alberto "El Canario," swimmer Marcos Diaz and businessman Rafael Alvarez. A press release from Bloomberg's office says that the event is a way of acknowledging the efforts and contributions that Dominicans have made to New York City's culture and its economy.
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