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Daily News - Thursday, 16 August 2007

Restoration Day
President Leonel Fernandez will be in Santiago to celebrate today's national holiday, Restoration Day. Although the DR gained its independence from Haiti in 1844, by 1861 it had reverted back to being a colony of Spain. With the help of Haitian revolutionaries who feared the presence of Spain on the island, the war against Spain broke out. Restoration Day celebrates the day, August 16 1863, on which the national war of "restoration" began. By 1865, Ulises Heureaux and Gregorio Luperon had restored the Republic. Fernandez will be present at the unveiling of the remodeled Heroes Monument in Santiago. The Monument, which is 55 years old, has undergone a five-month restoration project led by the Ministry of Culture. Dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo built the Monument in his own honor in 1944, but after his regime was ousted the imposing structure was renamed in memory of the Heroes of the 1863 Restoration War against Spain.

Fernandez faces new challenges
On occasion of the start of the fourth year in office of President Leonel Fernandez begins his fourth year in office Temple University Sociology Professor Rosario Espinal analyzes the challenges ahead, as reported in Hoy. Espinal believes that while Fernandez's popularity will continue to erode in coming months, his political positioning is strong enough for him to be re-elected in May 2008.
On the positive side, she highlights that the country has attained a level of economic stability, despite the heavy foreign debt, inherited from the days of banking collapse under the past administration and increased by his own administration.
She says that the burden of debt burden, accumulated inflation and increases in taxation are the reasons why the population in general does not feel their personal finances are improving.
She says that improvements in quality of life haven't been noticed because of higher taxes and continuing inflation, adding that the challenge for the President would be to make some moves that have an impact on society.
Corruption was also a topic of Espinal's speech. She said that this administration has been weak in fighting corruption even though it was a main point in the 2004 campaigns. She says there has just been "more of the same."
Finally Espinal says that more social policies aimed at helping the public were needed, as well as a need for restructuring state sponsored services.

Economists want IMF to stay
Economists Carlos Despradel, Andres Dauhajre, Jose Luis de Ramon and Miguel Ceara Hatton focused yesterday on where the country is at three years into the administration of President Leonel Fernandez during an interview with Hoy newspaper.
All recommend that the country continue with IMF supervision of government finances once the current stand-by arrangement runs out in January 2008. The group says that an agreement with the IMF is a positive message that is sent to the international community that has invested in Dominican sovereign bonds. Dauhajre says that an agreement of any kind, not necessarily of the stand-by variety is recommended, and needs to last for 18 months. Despradel added that public spending should not be increased at the whims of some public officials. Spokesmen for the government, even President Leonel Fernandez, have stated that once the agreement finalizes in January 2008, the government will have a freer hand.
In the last four years, even with the stand by arrangement, government spending has increased by 131% and inflation has increased by 59%, according to Despradel, who pointed out that the government has not been constrained. This would coincide with the presidential elections set for 16 May 2008.
Jose Luis de Ramon called for more attention to the cuasi-fiscal deficit that has been on the rise. The deficit has grown from US$2.3 billion at the change of government in 2004 to US$5.4 billion in August 2007. He said the deficit has since been controlled with resources from new taxation.
Ceara Hatton stressed that the government has failed to strengthen its institutions, giving greater leeway to political patronage. He said that there has been stagnation of exports, with the exception of ferronickel that benefited from better international prices. Hatton concurred with Despradel that the present growth is due to a boom in international capital inflows attracted by the macroeconomic stability.
Despradel alerted that the Dominican economy is highly dependent on imports. He said that sectors that have grown are commerce, communications, transport and services, not so industry and farming. He pointed out that in the first quarer of the year, industry and farming grew 3%, while imports increased 58%.
Despradel said that by keeping a cap on the exchange rate, the government is stimulating imports and penalizing productive farming and industry, creating a major trade deficit that is financed with the inflow of foreign capitals. Despradel feels that the exchange rate should be at 37-38%, not at 32-33%.

Country's streets getting facelift
The government is announcing that beginning in November, with a RD$13,990 million budget, a number of public works projects will be launched, including paving roads and sidewalks. This announcement of a series of very visible government works coincides with the forthcoming presidential elections, set for 16 May 2008.
Felix Bautista, director of the State Works Engineers Supervising Office (OISOE) explained that 1,677 kilometers of roads and streets in all 31 provinces, including Santo Domingo, would be repaved. Bautista says that the projects should be finished before the end of next May. Among the projects will be the completion of the San Cristobal -Bani highway and the repair of the Autopista 6 de Noviembre. This project is costing RD$145 million. The Azua - San Juan de la Maguana road, which cost RD$1,608 million, is also being completed and will be finished in no more than 60 days, according to Bautista. A 37-kilometer highway, Cruce Mata Yaya - Banica - Pedro Santana, is another planned project that will be completed at a cost of RD$490 million. These road projects are accompanied by the construction of educational centers, including the state university (UASD) building in San Juan that will also provide services for students in Elias Pina and Azua. Another regional education center that will serve Elias Pina, Baoruco, Independencia and others is being constructed, as well as technological community centers (CTC), which come under the supervision of the First Lady's Office. A total of 56 CTC centers will be turned into small universities thanks to President Fernandez's recent visit to Mexico. Another UASD regional center will be constructed in the east of the country as well as paving roads in San Pedro de Macoris, La Romana and Higuey. Bautista says that these roads are important because they are connecting the country.

Registering foreign-born children
The Ministry of Public Health Resolution No. 9 puts into effect today the use of a pink-colored form for certifying births to non-resident foreigners in Dominican hospitals. The document is issued to confirm that the birth took place in the Dominican Republic and is required by foreign consulates for the registration of their foreign-born nationals in the DR. This is not the same as the official birth certificate that is issued to mothers who present their Dominican ID cards or foreigners with DR residency cards. The birth will also be registered in the Foreigners Register (Libro de Extranjeria) if it is determined that the child does not qualify for Dominican nationality at birth. The Ministry of Public Health is responsible for making the forms available to hospitals nationwide.

Alcohol sales extended
As part of Restoration Day celebrations the government announced it is temporarily suspending the alcohol decree that limits the sale of alcoholic beverages. Traders will be allowed to sell alcohol without restriction until Friday. The decree limits the sale of alcohol until 12am Sunday through Thursday and until 2am Fridays and Saturdays. Since the decree was introduced, there has been intense debate about its effectiveness and artists and business owners have lobbied for a repeal while church groups, family organizations and health officials have campaigned against changing the decree.
The timing of the announcement is questionable, though, because the Ministry of Labor has stated that Thursday, 16 August is a working day, and the holiday will be instead be celebrated on Monday, 20 August.
See http://www.seip.gov.do/

Vargas speaks out
The PRD presidential candidate Miguel Vargas Maldonado, usually known as a man of few words, added his two cents when he blasted President Leonel Fernandez's current administration. Vargas, quoted in Hoy described Fernandez's first three years in office as incompetent, inefficient and full of unfulfilled promises. Vargas said that the current situation isn't going to be fixed by changing government officials, but by removing the PLD from government, saying that the party had fallen short of expectations since they were voted into power in 2004. Vargas added that in the areas of health and education, instead of moving forward the country has taken a retrograde step and said that investment in public works has only been concentrated in two or three projects while the barrios and the provinces have been abandoned. Vargas said that the current administration has violated laws and that the government's three fiscal reforms have only resulted in bankrupting various sectors of the Dominican economy.

A RD$450,000 pension
Clave newspaper is questioning Leonardo Matos Berrido's work at the helm of the National Housing Bank (BNV). Last week, the newspaper criticized the fact that in the course of his two year term Matos Berrido has increased his wages from the RD$175,000 earned by his predecessor to more than RD$500,000 and awarded himself a life pension worth RD$450,000 upon leaving the organization. The pension plan terms establish that in the event of his death, his wife would inherit his pension.
Today's edition of the newspaper reports that the BNV's earnings as of 31 December 2004 were RD$613 million. A year later they had declined to RD$230 million and by 31 April 2007 they were down to RD$35 million.
The newspaper has published several reports questioning recent deals at the BNV under Matos Berrido's management.
The newspaper points out that Matos Berrido has refused to respond to requests for an interview with the newspaper, and instead has chosen to publish pages on his work at the BNV in local newspapers. The BNV paid for the advertisements.
Matos Berrido is known to be a PRSC party member who is allied with the ruling PLD party.

Transporters refuse to pay license tax
Spokesmen for leading transport associations told the government yesterday that they are instructing their members to refrain from paying the fees being charged for license plate renewals. Rates for vehicles that are 10 years old or more have only been increased by RD$300; but minibus drivers, cargo truck owners and owners of vehicles dated from 2004 to present are being asked to pay hefty tax increases. Bus license renewal rates range from RD$3,000 to RD$43,800. Transport Unions Conatra, CNTU, Cambita, Mochotran and Consetran told El Nacional that they would not pay the fees. They said they would set their position in an upcoming meeting with the government, saying that they want the government to establish better rates for public transport service providers.

Airport authorities fight drugs
Diario Libre is reporting that authorities at Las Americas International Airport (AILA) have apprehended 24-year old Peruvian, Alex Javier Rojas Toribio who was traveling with 119 small packets in his stomach. The man had arrived from Panama and was being held at the Armed Forces Central Hospital before being transferred to the custody of the Drug Control Department (DNCD). The authorities are trying to figure out who contracted the young man as a drug "mule". During the year 14,118.83 pounds of drugs have been seized and 15,200 people have been arrested.

Kudos to Kudo
Japanese volunteer Tadahisa Kudo is setting an example to Dominicans. Every day for the last year Kudo has spent an hour and half of his day going around the area by the Heroes Monument in Santiago and collecting the trash left behind, as reported in the Listin Diario. He uses a plastic bag to collect the trash and then takes it to be disposed of. Kudo, who is a volunteer with the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) says that he doesn't get paid for his work and that it is not just the municipal authorities' duty but also up to the citizenry to keep their city clean. He added that Dominicans need more education and discipline in this regard. Kudo pointed to the beauty of the Monument and says that it is a tribute to the values of the Heroes who fought to restore the nation's independence.

Diaz's feat intrigues the press
Dominican swimmer Marco Diaz's new feat is attracting the interest not only of the Dominican press but of the US media as well. CNN, Univision, Telemundo, ESPN and Fox have all been covering Diaz' training, leading up to his attempt to swim around Manhattan Island twice. Swimming World and Men's Health magazines have also shown an interest in Diaz's attempt. Diaz's representative Nathalia Bentz says that the event has gone to another level in the light of the media attention it has been receiving. Diaz is attempting to swim the Hudson River and navigate around Manhattan Island twice, swimming an estimated 92 kilometers, a feat that is expected to take about 20 hours.

Dean expected to pass well south
The present five-day forecast issued by the US National Hurricane Center and most other forecasters, shows Hurricane Dean passing sufficiently south of the island of Hispaniola to avoid affecting both the DR and Haiti. Hurricane hunting reconnaissance flights are going out today, and their reports will provide input for more accurate predictions. So far, a subtropical ridge is holding the storm south. Anyone interested in following the storm as it makes its way into the vicinity of the DR, can check www.dr1.com/forums/weather-beyond/65445-tropical-storm-dean.html
For those interested in more on Caribbean hurricanes, DR1 offers several links for access to timely and comprehensive information to help readers monitor storms before and after they happen.
Preparedness tips page for prevention before the storm:
www.dr1.com/forums/514432-post1.html
Historic overview of storms in the DR:
www.dr1.com/weather/hurricanes.shtml
Daily storms in the Caribbean coverage during hurricane season:
www.dr1.com/forums/weather-beyond/63020-hurricane-season-2007-a.html
Updates on Tropical Storm Dean:
www.dr1.com/forums/weather-beyond/65445-tropical-storm-dean.html
Nationwide hotel updates in case a storm does hit:
www.dr1.com/status/
 
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