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Daily News - Thursday, 30 August 2007

Working together for better education
Education Minister Alejandrina German has defended the quality of the Dominican educational system, saying that the improvements are due in part to the government's efforts. German says that the quality of education has improved also due to long-standing strategic alliances between several business institutions and Dominican civil society. German, responding to criticisms about the deficiencies in the educational system, pointed to agreements made with the National Council for Business (CONEP) The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) Action for Basic Education (EDUCA), USAID and the Foundation for Institutionalism and Justice (FINJUS). She said that these organizations have not only helped by formulating and influencing policy, but maintain cooperation agreements with the Ministry of Education to improve education in the country. German made these comments during a ceremony recognizing the academic achievements of 181 students who had maintained grade point averages of 92 points or more over their high school period. German added that under her tenure, policies aimed at strengthening the teaching profession have been put into place and that resources for the education system are being increased.

Wiki hits the DR
The Ministry of Education is taking education into the 21st Century with the introduction of "Wiki Dominicana." The online interactive encyclopedia, based on the extremely popular Wikipedia, will be an ongoing project edited by readers. The site, which is similar in style to the original Wikipedia site, seeks to connect Dominicans through the Internet.

The education priorities
In comments earlier this week in Santiago on occasion of the inauguration of millionaire facilities for university students, President Leonel Fernandez explained that the government could not invest more in education because of the massive public debt it had inherited from its predecessor, the Hipolito Mejia administration.
In his column in El Caribe today, news commentator Miguel Guerrero wonders why the President did not refer to the borrowing in his two terms in government.
Furthermore, he stressed the ample resources the government enjoys. "The statement is not very original when not a day goes by when we are not reminded of the efficiency of the authorities in collecting taxes, which has provided the government with the greatest availability of resources ever had," he comments.
He highlights the comment of the President is in contrast to the government sending to Congress a complementary budget for the use of a RD$11 million surplus and the increase in government spending, despite there being an Austerity Law and a government commitment to rationalize spending.
"The President's statement should be enough to convince where the priorities of the government stand," he explains. It is obvious the servicing of the debt does not affect the construction pace of the metro, nor deters appointments to continue fattening the government payroll, nor is a reason to reduce government spending on propaganda, he points out.
He concludes that there is no denying the hefty investment the government is making to improve schools. But he stresses the investment has predominantly financed the construction and equipping of deluxe university facilities. "The images on the advances of the metro contrast with those of the school children that sit on empty cans in dilapidated school rooms," he concludes.

Fernandez spends big on propaganda
Clave newspaper reports on hefty increases in government propaganda during the Fernandez administration's first three years. The newspaper points out that despite the 2007 Austerity Law that requires the government to reduce advertising spending by 25% of the 2005 level of advertising, the opposite has been the case. For the first half of 2007, government self-promotion was up 71%, to RD$1.09 billion, up from RD$1.05 billion in 2006. This increase in spending coincided with campaigning to promote President Fernandez's candidacy for the PLD presidential nomination.
The newspaper indicates that government propaganda spending had already almost doubled the previous year's same semester, rising from RD$641.6 million to RD$1.05, coinciding with the Congressional and Municipal elections. During the last semester of government (Jan-June 2004), Fernandez's predecessor President Hipolito Mejia's government had spent what was then a record RD$475 million on government advertising.

Transparency in government
According to a transparency in government index presented by civil society group Citizen Participation (PC), the Attorney General's Office (at 78.40%) is the most transparent government office and the Ministry of Agriculture (at 12.23%) the least. Also analyzed were the ministries of Education-SEE (45.66%), Public Health-SESPAS (34.56%), Public Works-SEOPC (66.49%), Labor-SET (48.47%), Environment-SEMARN (35.26%), Foreign Relations-SEREX (20.04%). PC used the Colombian national transparency index for the study that was prepared by consultants Isis Duarte, Ramonina Brea and Jose Oviedo and presented on Wednesday. Transparency indicators were institutionalism and efficiency, investigations, penalties and openness and accountability. Under these, the researchers studied the departments posting of information on the Internet, systems to attend to complaints and requests, existence of complaints, statement of assets by officials, contracting risks, investigations and penalties for faults, among others.
The consultants say that to their surprise one of the lowest indexes was the lack of existing rulings and their fulfillment.

Cineas on Haitian migration
Haitian Ambassador Fritz Cineas says that Haitians make up 85% of the laborers in the country's construction sector. In an interview for Hoy, Cineas added that Haitians work as electricians, plumbers, carpenters and even site managers. Cineas also highlighted the work of Haitians in the development of the country's agricultural sector, especially the sugar, coffee and rice industries. The ambassador said that the Haitians make a very large contribution to the DR. The ambassador, quoted in Hoy, said that 12,000 Haitians study at the DR's universities, receiving approximately US$120 million from their parents, which must be added to the remittances that make up an important part of the Dominican economy. Cineas also referred to the book "Aportes del inmigrante haitiano a la economia dominicana" (Haitian Immigrants and their Contribution to the Dominican Economy), which was released by the Haitian Dominican Cultural Center (CCDH).
The Haitian population in the DR is estimated at about 600,000, he said, based on figures from the Ministry of Interior and Police. He explained that it is difficult to get a reliable statistic since most of the Haitians in the country are here illegally and it is a very transient population.
"Many are legal, but most are not. Most have come with a six-month visa and have stayed," he explained.

DR-born Haitians are Haitians
"Offspring of Haitian parents born in the DR are as Haitian as I am, when I was born in Port-au-Prince," said Haitian Ambassador Fritz Cineas in an interview published by El Dia newspaper. He said it is not up to Haiti to decide the nationality of children born in the DR, because that is clearly explained in the Dominican Constitution. Nevertheless, he stressed that children of Haitian parents born in the DR are as Haitian as those who were born in Haiti.
He said that the Haitian Embassy has always defined children aged less than five who are declared as their nationals, with a single presentation of medical documents and two witnesses to the birth. He said there are problems in defining the status of adults, and there are many cases when parents have presented false witnesses.
He said the Haitian government is making efforts to reactivate the registration process for undocumented Haitians living in the DR. He said the process, which was started four or five years ago, is no longer under way.

Illegal boat trips down
US Embassy Charge d'Affaires Roland Bullen has commended the work of the Dominican authorities and ports in their work against illegal trips to Puerto Rico. The interim ambassador says that illegal trips from Higuey province to Puerto Rico have been reduced. Bullen added that since 2006, 42 illegal vessels have been intercepted before entering US waters and it is the work of Dominican officials that has allowed the US Coast Guard authorities to lift a ban on Dominican ships from entering US waters. Bullen also revealed that more than 900 kilos of cocaine and heroin have been seized, and many people have been arrested by the DR and US authorities, in special operations. Bullen made his comments during a conference sponsored by US Southern Command.

Lower taxes for tourism industry
The National Hotel & Restaurant Association (ASONAHORES) is proposing that the DR should introduce a special reduced taxation regime for tourists, similar to that in effect in competitor countries. This would call for lowering ITBIS (VAT), air fees and administrative charges that affect the DR tourist sector's competitiveness. Asonahores president Luis Lopez made the comments in the keynote speech on occasion of the opening of the Asonahores Annual Trade Show at the Dominican Fiesta Hotel. He says that the sector is affected by the current heavy tax burden and the overvaluation of the peso. He called for measures to prevent a decline in travel on the grounds that tourism is an export activity, and the universal principle that taxes should not be exported.
According to Lopez, last year the government received at least RD$25 billion in taxes from the four million tourists who visited the DR in 2006. He added that it's a myth that tourists aren't taxed. Lopez said that tourists are taxed before they even get on the plane, right until they return home and added that taxes are an important topic relating to the sustainability of the tourism sector. In 2004 the government received US$119 per tourist and this increased to US$159 in 2005, for a 30% increase. In 2006 the government received US$191 per tourist for a 20% increase compared to 2005, and a 71% increase from 2004. For the current year the government is receiving US$200 per tourist.

20 years for Baninter
As the Baninter fraud case first phase draws to a close, government prosecutors are calling for 20 years in jail and a fine of RD$2.5 million for former Banco Intercontinental (Baninter) president Ramon Baez Figueroa and bank advisor Luis Alvarez Renta, accused of being the principal figures responsible for the collapse of the Dominican Republic's largest bank in 2003. The bank collapse sent the economy into an inflationary spiral never lived before, costing taxpayers upwards of RD$74 billion.
Prosecutors also called for six-year prison terms and fines of RD$1 million and RD$1.5 million for bank executives Jesus Maria Troncoso Ferrua and Vivian Lubrano de Castillo, respectively.
Special prosecutor for banking fraud Francisco Garcia asked the court to declare bank vice president Marcos Baez Cocco guilty of the same charges of hiding operations and documents, altering documents, asset laundering and abuse of confidence in prejudice of Dominican society and the state, but did not call for a sanction as he would be tried separately according to a 15 September 2006 petition.
In the prosecutors' summing up of the case, Listin Diario, the oldest Dominican newspaper in circulation, was left out of the list of assets that would be confiscated by the state. El Caribe pointed today to the contradiction in the exclusion that comes "despite the fact that during the trial the prosecutors and experts in banking fraud referred to Listin Diario as one of the Baninter Group media that benefited from depositor money.
Prosecutors instructed the state to confiscate the assets and rights of Intercontinental de Medios, RNN (Channel 27), Radio Supra, Radio Cielo, Radio Mil, Circuito Comercial, Isla Vision (Channels 53 and 57), Aster Comunicaciones, Medcon and Telecentro.
In the same trial, the prosecutors called for the confiscation of the N919 registration Bell helicopter 206B, an Augusta 109C jet, the Reliance Watchman, S.A. company, Casa del Faro and Bahia Minitas homes, and Lexus and Hyundai vehicles.
Defense lawyer Vinicio Castillo Seman is quoted in today's Listin Diario: "All the garbage presented as accusations by the prosecutors will be pulverized by Ramon Baez Figueroa's defense that opens on Monday, 3 September, including the infamous charge of asset laundering that they are trying to pin on our client," he stated.
After the defense presents its statements, the judges will have approximately 20 days to issue a verdict. Then the process is expected to move on to the appeals period, and then it could be taken to the Supreme Court.

10 Grammy nods for Dominicans
Dominican singer/songwriter Juan Luis Guerra was the big winner in the 8th Latin Grammy Awards nominations announced yesterday. He leads with five nominations, followed by Calle 13 and Ricky Martin with four apiece. The nominations recognize established and emerging artists and spotlight creative collaborations. Guerra's five nominations were for Album Of The Year and Best Merengue Album for "La llave de mi corazon" and Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, and Best Tropical Song for the title track.
Other Dominican nominations are for Kinito Mendez ("Con sabor a mi", Best Merengue Album), Tono Rosario ("A tu gusto", Best Merengue Album), Aventura ("K.O.B. Live", Best Contemporary Tropical Album), and Michel Camilo ("Spain Again", Michel Camilo & Tomatito and "Spirit of the Moment", Best Latin Jazz Album).
The 8th Annual Latin Grammy Awards are set for 8 November in Las Vegas. They will be broadcast live on Univision Network from 8 to 11pm ET.
For a complete list of nominees, see www.grammy.com/latin/8_latin
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