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Daily News - Thursday, 06 December 2007

Presidency decked for Xmas
Last night President Leonel Fernandez turned on the holiday lights and decorations at the Presidential Palace and sent the Dominican people a message of peace, love, prosperity and happiness for 2008. For the ceremony, the Youth Symphony Orchestra played Christmas carols on the front lawn. A Nativity play was also performed. Fernandez, his wife Margarita Cedeno and their daughter Yolanda America switched on the Christmas tree lights and then strolled around the lawn to view the lights and decorations.

8% budget to municipalities
President Leonel Fernandez has agreed to hand over 8% of expected 2008 fiscal revenues to the country's municipalities. According to the law, city governments receive 10% of these revenues. In 2007, city governments received 6.42% of fiscal revenues. The RD$14.9 billion sum is RD$1.3 billion more than was allocated in 2007. Fernandez also instructed the government to take on a RD$2 billion municipal debt so that city employees could be fully covered under the Social Security Plan. Fausto Ruiz, president of the Dominican Municipal Federation (FEDOMU) made the announcement after a three-hour meeting with the President yesterday. The municipalities have been criticized for spending most of their revenues on wages, when the law sets that the budget be split equally between wages and municipal works. Diario Libre in an editorial today urges that the additional funds come with more supervision in the use of the funds. Up to now the practice has been that the municipalities have spent most of the money on current wages, and have even needed government assistance to pay the Christmas bonus. All this, aside from a lack of supervision in the granting of works, and sometimes scandalous contracting of goods and services, comments the editorialist today. He says that the increased decentralization should imply greater responsibility and supervision in the use of the funds.

FTZs get money
The Ministry of Hacienda has disbursed RD$194.7 million to 250 free trade zone firms acting on instructions in Decree 552-07 that creates the Job Preservation and Creation Fund. Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa explained that a first installment of RD$194,754,000 was disbursed on 8 October and that the government will make a monthly RD$2,000 transfer for each FTZ employee. The program will last nine months and seeks to increase the competitiveness of the assembly plants. Luisa Fernandez, director of the National Free Trade Zone Council (CNZFE), quoted in Hoy, explained that the FTZs would finish 2007 with strong numbers that demonstrate their recovery and will post positive projections for 2008. She added that between September and November the CNZF had announced the installation of 25 new businesses that will create 3,172 new jobs at a cost of RD$1.8 billion and will generate revenues to the tune of US$37 million. Hoy points out that 500 companies are working in 58 free trade parks in the DR, generating 132,000 jobs.

Paraguayans study competitiveness
A Paraguayan delegation of business leaders and Ministry of Industry and Commerce representatives recently visited the DR to study the experiences the country has had in the preparation of the National Competitiveness Plan, which was drafted by the National Competitiveness Council. Carlos Peralta, coordinator of the mission and PYMES (Small and Medium-sized Business) program coordinator at the Paraguayan Ministry, explained that his country has been working on a competitiveness plan for a few years now and the delegation visited in order to learn from the DR's success in the area.

Government meeting with IMF
Government officials are meeting with an International Monetary Fund mission today to discuss the budget and government spending for 2008. Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa said the plan is to present the budget to Congress by next week. Bengoa said that the full amount of the budget would be revealed at some point next week, because the exact figure would depend on today's meeting with the IMF. The DR still has a stand-by arrangement in place with the IMF, which puts a limit on public spending and debt. The agreement expires in January 2008, unless the government agrees to renew it. Business sectors are in favor of the renewal in order to curb government spending and borrowing in an electoral year. It appears however that the consensus among government officials is leaning towards lifting the IMF restrictions.

Deputies approve 14th wage
The Chamber of Deputies has approved a bill granting government employees an annual "extra" bonus. The additional paycheck is intended for the purchase of children's school supplies. Diario Libre reports that the bonus will not be taxed. According to the proposal submitted by PRSC Deputy Luis Jose Gonzalez Sanchez, government employees who earn a minimum salary will get a 100% bonus, those who make RD$25,000 will have a 75% bonus. Those who make between RD$25,000 and RD$100,000 will receive a 50% bonus and those who make more than RD$100,000 will receive a 25% bonus. The bill needs to be cleared in Congress by the Senate so that the funds can be allotted in the 2008 budget.

Unions agree on something
CNTU union leader Ramon Perez Figuereo has announced that the unions and Ministry of Industry and Commerce have come to an agreement on the distribution of subsidized fuel to drivers, according to the routes they serve and not the unions they belong to. This provides a structure to the one million gallons of subsidized government fuel that could be distributed beginning next week. Fenatrado head Blas Peralta and Figuereo said that in order to prevent corruption, the fuel will be taken to the unions in tankers, and then would be sold to drivers at RD$102 per gallon. Sales will be supervised by an Industry and Commerce official and will only be sold to drivers registered on a particular route.

Judges comments "excessive"
PLD Secretary General Reinaldo Pared Perez has described Central Electoral Board (JCE) Judge Aura Celeste Fernandez's comments about suspending ribbon-cutting ceremonies at the inaugurations of public works projects three months before presidential elections as "excessive." Pared said that the JCE doesn't have the political muscle to stop the President from attending inauguration ceremonies and says that this is allowed by law. Aura Celeste Fernandez' comments, however, were welcomed by PRD general secretary Orlando Jorge Mera who said that his party would support her proposal and all efforts to ensure it is implemented, since the JCE should guarantee equality for all parties.

Sun Land case closed?
PLD Secretary General Reinaldo Pared Perez says that the Sun Land Case is closed and that he does not fear any reprisals from the International Monetary Fund. The Sun Land Case deals with the "borrowing" of US$130 million, for which the government signed, but later President Fernandez argued that the debt was on the part of the contractor, not the government. Some critics have suggested that the debt violated the borrowing ceiling as set out in the stand-by arrangement with the IMF.
Pared said that the case is not even on the agenda and said that the PRD was merely behaving like a trouble-making child. He added that the PLD is satisfied with President Leonel Fernandez's explanation about the case.

Consul fired in visa fraud case
Advisor to the Dominican Embassy in Haiti and consul to the Plateau Central based in Belladere, Andres Bocio Fortuna, was relieved of his diplomatic duties two months ago after an investigation revealed that he was suspected of forging visas used to traffic Haitians across the border. According to Diario Libre the visas were photocopied and since border officials don't have the proper equipment they could not tell that they were fakes. Diario Libre reports that Bocio, a high-ranking PLD party member, used his influence in the government to be excluded from Ministry of Foreign Relations' investigation into the case. Diario Libre reveals that nevertheless, Bocio is now being investigated for Dominican visa fraud and illegal migrant trafficking to Spain. The case was heard after eight Dominicans filed fraud charges for RD$1.8 million in payments to secure travel documents to Spain.

DNCD has info on drugs
The National Drug Control Department (DNCD) has identified two companies, one Venezuelan and one Spanish, as responsible for a 585-kilo (1,289lb) shipment that was uncovered at the Punta Caucedo Multi-Modal Port in Boca Chica. Suministra Sego CxA, Venezuela and Import-Export Jaramillo from Spain were named as the two companies. The shipment, which was en route to the southern Spanish port of Cadiz, was discovered on Tuesday. Venezuelan drug authorities and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) all aided the DNCD in the drug bust.

60 kilos off a police officer
The National Drug Control Department (DNCD) is reporting the arrest of a police officer caught with a 60kg cocaine haul on Wednesday evening. Police First Lieutenant Julio Cesar Nova Payano and civilian Juan Eligio Taveras Abreu were arrested at the intersection of the Autovia del Este with the road to Consuelo in San Pedro de Macoris. They were traveling in a blue Chevrolet, G069135. Taveras Abreu lives in La Vega and was in possession of an ID identifying him as Venezuelan, and another identifying him as a Dominican. The armed police officer, who was driving the vehicle, lives in Los Tres Brazos, Santo Domingo East municipality. The drugs were transported in a special compartment in the vehicle.

Murdered on the job
Fifteen drug control agents and police officers have been murdered during the last three months, as reported in Listin Diario. The National Drug Control Department (DNCD) reported 237 attacks against their agents with guns, stones, bottles and even trained dogs, especially in drug-trafficking related cases. The DNCD has lost three of its men while on duty, and another 42 have been injured by bullets, according to DNCD chief Major General Rafael Ramirez Ferreira. He said the attacks on DNCD patrols have increased in recent months, to the point that in September and October, 12 police officers died in confrontations with criminals. From January to August last year, 48 policemen died on the job. Families of police officers and DNCD agents who die in the line of duty receive RD$700,000 in compensation. Ramirez Ferreira said that despite the risks, their agents would continue to combat drug trafficking.

Baseball updates
Last night the Toros got a much-needed victory over Los Leones del Escogido and pushed themselves back into the playoff race. The night started off well for Escogido as star David Ortiz threw out the first pitch but the Leones couldn't do much more after that and left ten men on base in a 5-3 loss. The Gigantes beat up on the Tigres behind a 12-hit team effort and blanked Licey 8-0. The Gigantes were led by the offensive explosion of Alexi Casilla who went 3-5.
In other baseball news the Estrellas finally got a victory over the Aguilas on a game-winning hit from Willis Otanez. The final score was 5-4.
Current Standings
Team Win Lost Percent Games Behind
Licey 23 14 .621 --
Gigantes 22 14 .611 0.5
Aguilas 19 18 .513 4.0
Escogido 16 21 .432 7.0
Azucareros 16 22 .421 7.5
Estrellas 15 22 .405 8.0
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