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Daily News - Friday, 07 December 2007

Fernandez guarantees stability
President Leonel Fernandez says that despite the government's many responsibilities, it is obliged to maintain economic stability. He claimed that poverty in the country has decreased significantly during his presidential term. Fernandez made these comments during a visit to Santiago where he handed out the 300,000th solidarity card to Ana Silvia Duran Minaya. The debit card is part of a welfare program where poor people can use it to make purchases of foodstuffs worth $550 a month, and disbursements of $300-$600 for parents with children in school. President Fernandez announced that holders of the Solidaridad card are assigned double disbursements for Christmas, saying that 1.5 million impoverished Dominicans were benefiting from the program. Vice President Rafael Alburquerque, who is in charge of the Solidaridad program, said that 307,455 households would be affiliated by the end of the year. He said that the government has disbursed a total of RD$4 billion since the program was launched.

Government at an impasse with IMF
The government has yet to send the 2008 budget to Congress because it hasn't been able to fulfill the requirements set forth by the International Monetary Fund. Among the IMF's requirements is that the level of primary budget surplus, meaning total expenditures minus interest payments on the public debt, should be 2.0% of the GDP, which in this case would be RD$30 billion. The government however wants this figure to be 1.3% of the GDP. Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa said that the public would be informed about all the details of the 2008 budget next week. Hoy reports that the 2008 budget could reach RD$300 billion, about RD$63 billion more than in 2007. As reported, there will be significant increases in funding for education, health and the Central Electoral Board, the latter because 2008 is a presidential election year. In the hope of resolving some remaining issues, government officials will be holding a videoconference with IMF officials based in Washington, D.C.

FTA talks with Canada
The first round of Free Trade Agreement negotiations with Canada is scheduled for 10 to 14 December 2007 in Ottawa. It is anticipated that Canada and the DR will exchange initial tariff offers for goods by early 2008 with subsequent requests for improvements to the other party's tariff offer.
On 7 June 2007, David Emerson, Minister of International Trade, had announced the launch of the FTA talks. Negotiating for the Dominican Republic is the Ministry of Foreign Relations, through its office of Trade Negotiations.
The DR is an important and established trade and investment partner for Canada. Two-way merchandise trade between Canada and the DR totaled $277 million in 2006, according to the Canadian government. Of this, most are imports from Canada. Canadian investments in the DR are worth over US$2 billion.
The FTA seeks to restore the competitiveness of Canadian exports that were affected by the implementation of DR-CAFTA with the United States that provides duty free entry for most US goods.
See http://dr1.com/trade/categories/Trading-Partners/North-America/Canada/

The 14th salary
Fernandez administration comptroller Simon Lizardo wants to know where the 14th salary, which Congress is proposing for public employees, will come from. The wage would be paid in July and would help cover back to school costs. In a letter sent to the head of the Labor Commission at the Chamber of Deputies, Lizardo says that the program's viability would depend on knowing beforehand where the funds to pay for it will come from. Diario Libre writes that the third article of the bill states that the funds will come from the Central Government's budget, which will force all institutions to make the proper appropriations.

DR hosting spelling bee
The Education Ministry has announced that beginning on Tuesday the DR will be hosting the eighth annual Hispanic American Spelling Bee. Twenty countries will take part in the competition and will be taking place at Santo Domingo's UASD University.

Huchi gets some studies
Several months after journalist Luis Eduardo "Huchi" Lora caused a stir by asking the Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET) to hand over the studies for the Santo Domingo Metro Project, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Lora and is forcing OPRET to release all documents about the Metro's construction. Hoy writes that OPRET, and its president Diandino Pena, applied for an injunction exempting them from the obligation to release Metro documents, but Supreme Court President Dr. Jorge Subero Isa rejected this plea, which had been passed by the Contentious and Administrative Chamber on 27 April 2007, paving the way for the documents to be released.
The catch is that Lora will not receive all the requested documents for the simple reason that some do not actually exist. Lora has been asking for the documents under Law 200-04 on citizens' right to free access to information.
Lora requested the Metro documents after geologist Osiris de Leon claimed that the proper geological studies weren't carried out before construction on the Metro began, prompting Lora to do some of his own digging. Although he obtained a first instance court ruling in his favor, Pena refused to comply, and Lora took the case to the Supreme Court. The initial court's ruling also indicates that OPRET must pay Lora RD$5,000 for each day that OPRET delays delivering the papers.

Police, parties - the most corrupt
According to a new study by civic group Participacion Ciudadana, the Dominican public feels that the National Police and the political parties are the country's most corrupt entities. The Armed Forces, National Congress and Judicial Branch of government follow in the perception of most corrupt.
The study found that 59% of Dominicans believe that corruption will increase. This is in line with a worldwide trend whereby 54% of the world's population believes that corruption is going to increase.
45% of polled Dominicans have a negative perception of the efforts of the government to fight corruption. 44% consider efforts efficient and 12% do not have an opinion. Worldwide, 28% consider their government's efficient at fighting corruption, while 54% say efforts are weak.
The Global Corruption Barometer 2007 reflects the findings of a public opinion survey that looks at the citizens' perceptions and experiences of corruption in 60 countries and territories. It explored the issue of petty bribery in greater depth than ever before, identifying the sectors most affected by corruption and highlighting people's personal experience of bribery, its frequency and how much individuals must pay. It also asks how people see corruption evolving in the future and how effective they rate their governments' efforts to fight it.
Accordingly, the DR received a score of 3, on a scale from 1 to 10, on Transparency International's list of most corrupt nations. Hoy reports that Transparency International's 2007 Global Corruption Barometer states that in most cases it is the poor who are most likely to be victims of corruption. The study was designed by the Gallup Company. This year 471 Dominicans living in urban areas, were polled by the Sigma Dos Company.
The coordinator for Participacion Ciudadana, Porfirio Rodriguez said there is no will power in government to fight corruption, to tell from the many cases that have been uncovered.
See http://www.transparency.org/news_room/in_focus/2007/gcb_2007

Sun Land far from over
PRD secretary general Orlando Jorge Mera is criticizing comments by Senate leader Reinaldo Pared Perez and Attorney General Radhames Jimenez about the Sun Land case, saying that their statements demonstrate that both are acting according to the wishes of President Leonel Fernandez. The PRD accuses the government of violating the Constitution by taking on a US$130 million debt on behalf of Sun Land without Congressional approval. Earlier this week Jimenez said that the Sun Land case was a pure political chess game, which Jorge Mera seconded, and said that in the highest parts of this government there is no real interest in finding out what really happened in the Sun Land case. Quoted in Listin Diario, Jorge Mera added that Perez's comments constitute a new manifestation of the serious institutional deterioration that has taken place during Leonel Fernandez's presidency. He added that that Pared has been disrespectful to the Constitution and to the democratic process. Presidential candidate Miguel Vargas Maldonado reminded Pared Perez that the case is in fact in the Supreme Court. Using the case as political leverage, Vargas added that it was the PRD that presented the case documents to the Supreme Court and to the IMF.

Estrella warns of corruption risk
Former PRSC presidential candidate and current Fourth Way presidential hopeful Eduardo Estrella has spoken out against the government's plan to subsidize diesel for selected unionized transporters. Estrella was reacting to yesterday's news that select drivers' unions will now receive subsidized fuel depending on their routes. Each driver will pay RD$102 per gallon of fuel and the process will be monitored by Ministry of Industry and Commerce staff. Estrella says that instead of solving problems, this move creates new ones. Estrella also indicated that the government's plan to subsidize the fuel doesn't take into account small and medium-sized businesses and farmers who use the fuel to transport their goods and power their back-up generators and operate farming machinery.

Tobacco taxation back on the table
Although President George Bush vetoed a bill aimed at taxing tobacco importation and promised to veto any similar bills in future, politicians in the US have not given up on taxing tobacco as a way of funding a child healthcare program. Listin Diario reports that politicians now intend to propose a one-dollar tax on imported cigars instead of the original plan for US$10. George Bush said he would keep his promise to Leonel Fernandez and veto the bill. Senator Charles Rengel, quoted in Listin Diario, explained that he proposed the US$1 tax because there was a greater chance of the bill being signed that way. He added that many tobacco-producing nations, not just the DR, would be affected by the tax.

Increased beer competition
Javier Aisa, director of the Dominican National Brewery (CND), says that accumulated sales of beer in October show that the CND has 92.34% of the total market share while Ambev has 7.19%. Imported beers make up just 0.47% of the total market share. Nonetheless in October Ambev recorded a record 11.5% of the market share. CND's products include Presidente, Bohemia, Miller, Smirnoff Ice and Lowenbrau while Ambev's range consists of Brahma, Quilmes, Budweiser and Stella Artois.

Consul wasn't fired
The Ministry of Foreign Relations is denying reports that an 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. Deputy minister of Consular Affairs Rosario Graciano de los Santos says that the Ministry is awaiting the end of legal proceedings in order to determine whether a dismissal is merited. Bocio is investigated for association with Alberto Brito Sanchez, the supposed head of a mafia that conned people through visa scams, who is under arrest and awaiting trial in La Vega.
Bocio says he is innocent and has nothing to do with Brito and that "just because a man comes near you shouldn't mean that you are guilty". Bocio added that even some of his own family members had been conned by Brito.

Some drugs were dummies
The National Drug Control Department (DNCD) is reporting that 68 kilos of the drug haul found at the Multimodal Caucedo port on Tuesday turned out to be fake, which according to DNCD spokesperson Robert Lebron, shows that international drug rings cheat each other. Lebron said that about 488 kilos of drugs were actually genuine cocaine. Lebron said that the entire haul would be incinerated later today.
In other drug news, customs officials seized a 34kg shipment of cocaine that was being sent to Holland in a container departing from Punta Cana. Lebron says that the investigation is ongoing.

Juan Luis for a Grammy
Sweeping the Latin Grammy awards ceremony wasn't enough for Dominican singer-composer Juan Luis Guerra. After winning six Latin Grammy awards for his "La Llave de mi Corazon" production, he has now been nominated in the 50th Annual Grammy's in Category 61, Best Tropical Latin Album. He is up against Cubanismo: Greetings from Havana; Issac Delgado: En Primera Plana; El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico: Arroz con Habichuela; and Spanish Harlem Orchestra: United We Swing.
The Grammys will be celebrating its 50th year of music recognition at the 10 February 2008 ceremony, to be held at Los Angeles' Staples Center.

Baseball updates
Behind a strong performance by Jose Reyes, the Estrellas beat Escogido 2-0. In other baseball action the Gigantes beat the Azucareros 3-1 and are now five games away from classifying for the winter league post-season. The victory by the Gigantes pushed them to a first place tie with Licey.
Current Standings
Team Win Lost Percent Games Behind
Licey 23 14 .621 --
Gigantes 23 14 .621 0.5
Aguilas 19 18 .513 4.0
Escogido 16 22 .421 7.5
Azucareros 16 22 .421 7.5
Estrellas 16 23 .410 8.0
Tonight's games:
Estadio Quisqueya, Santo Domingo 7:30pm - Aguilas vs Licey
Estadio Julian Javier, San Francisco de Macoris 7:30pm - Azucareros vs Gigantes
Estadio Tetelo Vargas, San Pedro de Macoris 8pm - Escogido vs Estrellas
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