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Daily News - Friday, 17 August 2007

DR1 breaks for Monday holiday
DR1 Daily News will not be updated on Monday, 20 August on the occasion of the Restoration Day holiday. News events over the weekend will be compiled for the Tuesday issue. Remember though that DR1 is open 24/7 and updates on news developments, such as Hurricane Dean crossing by the island, are posted at the DR1 Forum at www.dr1.com/forums

Forget the IMF
Economy Minister Temistocles Montas says it is unlikely that the Dominican government will sign another agreement with the International Monetary Fund, according to Listin Diario. He said that President Leonel Fernandez would have the last word on any decision about a follow up arrangement with the IMF after the present Stand-by arrangement ends on 31 January 2008. Montas told Listin Diario journalists that the end of IMF involvement does not mean that there will be no controls on government spending. Montas admitted that the government is resorting to raising taxation to increase its resources. He said that the previous PRD government headed by Hipolito Mejia chose instead to increase the country's external debt using sovereign bonds. He argued that when Fernandez took office, social spending represented 7.1% of the government's expenditure, and in 2006 it was at 9.3%, which he said was proof that the government is spending more on education and health and other social services. He said that in 2004, the Ministry of Education had a budget of RD$12.7 billion, and today it is at RD$25 billion.

Inflation at 4.65% so far this year
Inflation increased by 0.26% in July, compared to June, as reported by the Central Bank. The accumulated Consumer Price Index for the year is at 4.65%. The Central Bank reports that there was a 1.17% increase in transport costs, and 0.53% in housing. There was a reported 0.45% decline in food, beverages and tobacco costs. The Central Bank reports increases in the price of beef (2.01%), poultry (0.34%), and fresh milk (1.38%). There were seasonal declines in the price of plantains (-513%), red onions (-4.02%), eggs (-2.10%), and avocados (-6.26%).
See www.bancentral.gov.do

Government progress and problems
Hoy newspaper summarized the challenges ahead for the Fernandez administration as it enters its fourth year. Economist Jose Luis de Ramon says that the government can point to achievements in macroeconomic stability, low inflation and interest rate reductions. This has attracted considerable investment, which in turn has generated "a sturdy growth in imports". He said that the government's Achilles heel continues to be the almost RD$180 billion (more than US$5 billion) in quasi-fiscal debt held in Central Bank certificates. He said that this large debt could weaken the country's macroeconomic stability. "The challenge is going to be how we can move to a more competitive exchange rate, without affecting the economy and interest rates," he said. He said that indirectly, macroeconomic stability enables companies to develop and become more competitive. He said that the present administration has raised taxes several times, which has increased their income. He said that government collections this year should reach a record RD$270 billion.
According to de Ramon, two of the most pressing problems that the government still needs to tackle are corruption and electricity. He said that even government officials themselves have spoken out against the high levels of corruption in government. He said that corruption has an economic effect, as it leads to inefficiency and affects wealth generation capacity. He said that an effective solution to the electricity problem has still not been found, and a flexible system has not yet been created. After three years in government, "there is not yet light at the end of the tunnel," he stated.

Economic boom not trickling down
Clave newspaper also focuses on the achievements and challenges ahead for the Fernandez administration as it enters its fourth year. Journalist Edwin Ruiz points out that on the positive side there is price stability and an impressive level of economic growth. A comparison between the first quarter of 2005 and the same period in 2007 shows an accumulated 21% growth. Inflation has been kept in single-digits, with a 5% rate in 2006. The peso has appreciated 22% in relation to the US dollar. In this way, President Leonel Fernandez was able to fulfill his promise of recovering stability and the road to growth.
Joel Santos, president of the National Association of Young Entrepreneurs, highlights these positive macroeconomic achievements, stressing that there is renewed confidence in the country, stability in the financial system, a decline in interest rates and economic growth.
But there are many shadows. Santos says that the government maintains an anti-exporter bias, reflected in their decision to anchor the exchange rate to one that is lower than that which would be in effect if the peso were allowed to float. He said this has contributed to the loss of 50,000 jobs in free zone industries.
Economy Minister Temistocles Montas told the newspaper that the Dominican economy is growing faster than the regional average - 7.3% compared to 5.1%.
Clave newspaper points out however that the positive effects of growth are not being felt by 71% of the population, which rated the economic situation as bad or very bad in a recent Gallup poll. This perception contrasts with reports from the Central Bank that say the government has created 345,000 new jobs, and that the unemployment rate has declined from 19.7% in October 2004 to 15.6% in April 2007.
"We are better off than in 2003, but worse off than in 2000," said economist Ayacx Mercedes, a member of the team that prepared the United Nations Human Development Report in 2005. "The economic situation has improved, but not enough." He pointed out that unemployment is more than the 13.9% rate for 2000. He said that 36.3% of Dominicans live in poverty, higher than the 26.8% who were living in poverty in April 2002.
Mercedes points out that there is not a direct correlation between economic growth, quality of jobs and the welfare of the population. "The gap between the rich and poor is just getting wider with economic growth".

Average 12% wage increase
A report by consulting company Ros Consultoria on wage increases nationwide indicates that so far this year the average wage has ranged from 3 to 28%, with the average at 12%. Miguelina Veras de Vargas, for Ros, said that 84% of companies polled reported increases in wages, 7% less than last year. Of 160 companies, 49% are small companies, 29% medium-sized and 22% are large companies. She said that 75% increased wages during the first half of the year, 14% would do so in the third quarter, and 11% on the employee's anniversary joining date. She said that increases for small companies averaged 9%, compared to 2006.
The best wage increases were in the financial sector, where staff received a 19% increase. The services sector average was 13%, and trade and industry averaged 12%.
She said that 90% of big companies said they gave their employees a raise this year, compared to 61% last year. She says this reflects an overall improvement in their performance.
She said that the minimum wage increase stipulated in May by the National Wage Commission also had a domino effect on other wages.

Bernal visits for honing EPA list
Ambassador Richard Bernal, director general of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery, has arrived in the DR. Bernal leads the team that represents the Caribbean in negotiations for the European Partnership Agreement with the European Union. The purpose of his visit to Santo Domingo is to meet with Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso and to review the list of products on which tariffs will be gradually removed with Dominican experts. The EPA seeks to achieve economic integration between Caribbean countries. Bernal's visit to the DR is part of a 15-day tour of the Caribbean as the deadline for the EPA approaches. Participants need to come to an agreement in time for a ministerial meeting set for 5-6 September.
Bernal's visit comes following European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson's call to the Caribbean for a timely conclusion of the negotiations process.
In a 25 July 2007 letter to Dame Billie Miller, Barbados Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Mandelson expressed his concern about the lack of progress in the area of tariff liberalization, that he stressed lies at the core of a WTO compatible agreement. In his letter, he says that the European Commission is not seeking reciprocity of commitments. "Our approach is based on asymmetry of commitments within the limits that the flexibility of existing WTO rules allows. We are willing and ready to work with you to ensure that we use WTO flexibility to the extent possible, and in line with Cariforum countries' development priorities."
Mandelson stresses that the one main objective in the area they have pursued in the area of market access is to ensure that the EPA becomes a vehicle for regional integration and market building and by that means a significant contributor to economic growth and sustainable development.
Caribbean countries have held back on dismantling of tariffs on the grounds that most of their revenue is customs-based.
Mandelson says that the best way to move forward is to work towards tariff convergence in the Cariforum region. He says they could envisage transition periods generally of up to 15 years. The EU has opposed differentiated tariffs in the region. "Negotiating a common Cariforum tariff schedule for goods coming from the EC, when taken with our offer for duty and quota free access, would allow us to benefit from the maximum flexibility in terms of the existing WTO requirements for free trade areas," he explained. He indicated that negotiating multiple schedules would diminish flexibility within WTO rules.
Mandelson asked Caribbean negotiators to finalize negotiations by early October so as not to jeopardize the application of the agreement on 1 January 2008.
Mandelson stresses that if the Caribbean fails at the convergence of tariff liberalization, it would be subject to competing within the EU's existing Generalized System of Preferences scheme, which would mean Caribbean countries having to compete with India and Brazil.

Citizens need to get involved
The coordinator of the Citizen Participation civic group, Porfirio Rodriguez told Hoy newspaper that three years into government, the PLD government has done little to fight corruption within its ranks. On the contrary, he stated that corruption is on the rise. He mentioned that even Customs Director Miguel Cocco has warned about the illicit wealth that government officers are acquiring. He mentioned the pension worth over RD$400,000 that was awarded to the manager of the National Housing Bank (BNV). "You do not see the higher authorities expressing concern about that press story," said Rodriguez.
In his opinion, citizens can fight corruption only by working together. He said that Dominicans are naive if they believe that political parties or governments will do so, as these have proven their commitment with political patronage instead.
Rodriguez says that the increasing levels of political patronage are one of the most serious negative aspects of the political system that are resulting in more and more disillusioned voters every day.
Rodriguez was speaking at the opening of a legal assistance center for citizens, aimed at helping them exercise their right to access public information, backed by the of the Americas Trust Fund with the cooperation of three legal firms.

Peruvian ambassador asks for help
Peruvian ambassador in the DR, Vicente Azula, is asking Dominicans for all the help they can offer in order to alleviate the affects of the earthquake that hit his country on Wednesday. The epicenter of the quake was registered at 7.9 on the Richter scale. According to Azula, President Leonel Fernandez has already sent a message of support to Peruvian President Alan Garcia but there still hasn't been discussion on whether the DR will send official help. The Peruvian embassy has drawn up a list of items that would be most helpful for Peruvian citizens at this time. All items can be sent to the Peruvian embassy in Santo Domingo, Mayreni No 31, Los Cacicazgos, which will then be taken via airplane to Peru.

5 dead in Monte Cristi accident
Five passengers on a commuter bus were killed and three more were hospitalized for injuries in a serious traffic accident on the Monte Cristi-Santiago highway. The accident happened when steel plates came loose from a passing truck and hit the inter city transport bus. The Police named the dead as bus driver Virgilio Martinez Mezquita, 42, Elida Garcia, 44, Porfirio Gonell, 76, Silvio Betances, 36, and Gilberto Surcar Ramirez, 84. Injured with fractures are Jose Maria Villalona, 35, Berta Reynoso, and Cirile Flores, 53. Twenty people were on the bus. The truck driver, Raul Duverge Alcantara was arrested for investigations and is being held at the Villa Vasquez police station. The Mack truck belongs to a private company.

Homicide rate down
During National Police Chief Bernardo Santana Paez's two-year tenure, homicides have been reduced by 12% in the National District and 19% in eastern Santo Domingo. Santana is comparing his tenure with his predecessors. In 2003-04 under Jaime Marte Martinez there were 1,053 homicides and from 2004-2005, under the watch of Manuel de Jesus Perez Sanchez there were 1,064 homicides. Santana also pointed to the fight against corruption under his watch and mentioned that 783 members of the police force, including 17 high-ranking officials, have been fired because of infractions committed.

No baseball in Puerto Rico?
Puerto Rico has decided to cancel its Winter Baseball Championship. This is a first after 69 years of participating in regional baseball league since 1949. Puerto Rico had the record for competing in all the Caribbean Series, where teams from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela and the DR have vied to be the region's best.
The president of the Puerto Rican Baseball League, Andreu Garcia has called off the upcoming season that was due start in October, citing financial reasons. The decision puts a damper on the 50th anniversary of the Caribbean Series that will be taking place in Santiago de los Caballeros, home base of the Aguilas Cibaenas team. The owners of the six Puerto Rican teams voted to shut down the league to reorganize for next year given the steady decline in attendance for the past decade. One of the reasons mentioned for the decline is that the league failed to attract MLB baseball players.
"Today is a day of mourning for Puerto Rican sport," said former St. Louis Cardinals' pitcher Mike Perez, president of the players' association on the island. "We knew the league was in a crisis but we didn't think this day would come."
Perez called for "an important intervention" by Major League Baseball. He told Puerto Rico's El Nuevo Dia newspaper that he supported the idea of MLB administering the Puerto Rican league.
Juan Francisco Puello Herrera, president of the Caribbean Baseball Confederation that organizes the Caribbean Series expressed his concern and said that the absence of Puerto Rico will definitely affect the series. Organizers of the Santiago Caribbean Series say that the rules of the tournament establish that if one of the countries does not take part, the host country can enter two teams. This means that the runner up Dominican Championship team will fill in for the Puerto Ricans.
Nevertheless, press reports say that Andreu Garcia, president of the Puerto Rican Professional League has said that even if the Puerto Rican championship is not played, Puerto Rico will take part in the Caribbean Series. Puello says that this is not in line with Caribbean Series rules.
For more on the upcoming Santiago Caribbean Series, see www.dr1.com/forums/dominican-baseball/...

Dominicans in Israel playoffs
It seems that no country or culture is too far away for Dominican baseball players. Dominicans Eladio Rodriguez plays for the Modiin Miracles and was a part of the 2006 Dominican team that took part in the Central American games. Hector de los Santos, a shortstop for the Netania Tigers, said that initially he was scared, believing it was a dangerous place, but continued by saying that apart from the food he loves everything.

A Golden Globe for "Yuniol"?
The movie "Yuniol" could become the first Dominican film to be nominated for the Best Foreign Film category at next year's Golden Globe Awards. Filmmaker Alfonso Rodriguez said that he has been given the opportunity to show the film to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the body that awards the Golden Globes. Rodriguez says that the film will be shown today at 7pm at the Creasky Theater in L.A. Some 150 guests are invited to the screening, including Jorge Camara, president of the association, director Brett Ratner, Vin Diesel, Juan Fernandez and others. Rodriguez commented, in an interview with "Alegria!" that Camara watched the film and loved it.

Long weekend for drinking
If you like to stay out late and enjoy your alcohol, this is the time to do it. From Thursday through Sunday at 2am, there are no limits on alcohol sales in the DR, at Ministry of Interior & Police orders. The relaxing of the rule comes on the occasion of the long weekend marking the 144th anniversary of the Restoration of the Republic that commemorates the DR regaining its independence from Spanish rule in 1865. The anniversary was actually on Thursday, 16 August, but is being celebrated on Monday, 20 August. The Ministry of Interior & Police has issued two decrees 308-06 (Thursday through Friday) and 316-06 (Friday through Sunday) setting the schedules.

Peter Pan and weekend shows
Peter Pan at the National Theater in Santo Domingo and Caetano Veloso at the Altos de Chavon amphitheater in La Romana are just two of the long list of performances scheduled for this long weekend.
For families there is Winnie the Pooh at the Palacio de los Deportes. Others on stage this weekend include Julieta Venegas at the Jaragua Hotel's Teatro La Fiesta, in Santo Domingo.
Meanwhile in Punta Cana's Bavaro Convention Center, there is the Latin Music Tour event, with performances by a selection of popular Latin music stars.
See www.dr1.com/calendar for a list of other events.

Dean still south of DR
The local Center for Emergency Operations (COE) is on alert in case Hurricane Dean decides to change course at last minute, as reported in Hoy. The US National Hurricane Center has issued a storm watch for the island, and Dean is expected to cross us on Saturday morning on its way to Jamaica and Mexico. Colonel Juan Mendez of the COE said that the storm does not currently pose a threat to the DR. He said that as part of Hurricane Season preparations, 1,977 hurricane shelters have been selected. He said that the country is more vulnerable to the effects of rains than strong winds. He called on all citizens to double check their preparedness plans. Dominican Weather Department (ONAMET) director, Gloria Ceballos said that they expect Dean to become a Category 3 hurricane when it passes by the DR. She said that the hurricane should pass the city of Santo Domingo at 8am on Saturday.
For updates on the hurricane, see http://www.dr1.com/forums/weather-beyond/...
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