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Daily News - Monday, 10 December 2007

Government to Barahona
The Government Council is meeting in Barahona today and President Fernandez will chair the meeting. On the agenda is a look at the recovery efforts after the damage caused by Tropical Storm Noel. Local farmers are waiting to hear what the government has to say about the requests for machinery to begin the next farming season. There is a need to clean canals, level fields and start plowing in the region. All the main sectors of Barahona society will attend the meeting. According to some estimates, 90% of the crops in most of Barahona province were damaged by Noel.

DR and Canada start FTA talks
Representatives from the Dominican Republic and Canada have begun the first of five rounds of talks aimed at reaching a Free Trade Agreement between the two nations. The talks are being held in Ottawa, according to the head of the Dominican-Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Eduardo Dominguez. The FTA with Canada will be based on a similar agreement already in place with Costa Rica, but with a much wider scope, according to the DCCC. The first items on the agenda will include intellectual property and all the aspects relating to copyrights and market access. Juan Giuliani Cury, the vice-minister for Foreign Relations for Economic and Trade Negotiations and a team of 20 experts are attending the meeting.

Ministry bans fireworks sales
Resolution 02-07 from the Ministry of the Interior and Police has banned the sale of fireworks to individuals. The resolution also prohibits the sale of fireworks in stalls. Chapter V of the resolution limits sales of fireworks to professional pyrotechnical personnel who must obtain permits for any activities. All public sale of fireworks is prohibited. The Society of Plastic Surgery earlier this month had urged parents to keep fireworks off limits from their children.

More housing for Guajimia
Reconstruction of the barrios surrounding the Guajimia Creek continues with the start of construction of 1,072 low-cost apartments. President Leonel Fernandez led the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The new construction is budgeted at RD$532 million and is part of a relocation program for residents living within the Guajimia flood plain. The whole project is being financed with donations and loans from Canada and is administered by the Santo Domingo Water Authority (CAASD).

Pending IMF goals
At least five of the goals set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have not been reached by the current administration. The IMF Stand-by arrangement ends on 31 January 2008. Among the issues still pending are the modifications to the Monetary and Finance Law, the lack of rules for financial intermediaries, and the fiscal surplus target for next year. These points are added to the failure to get legislation through Congress aimed at criminalizing electricity theft and the failure to fulfill most of the items on the electricity distributors list of measures aimed at improving collection rates. In documents sent to the IMF in August, the government promised to have the modifications to the Monetary Law approved by 30 October, but the legislation was not sent to Congress until last week. As far as electricity distributors cash flow is concerned, according to Listin Diario, the aim was for the three distributors to achieve a collection rate of 64.9%, but so far the EDEs have reached just 58.5%. The electricity sector was also budgeted to receive a subsidy of US$400 million, but circumstances forced the government to pay out more than US$600 million in subsidies to the sector.

New kids' park for Santo Domingo
The Santo Domingo municipality inaugurated a new children's playground at Plaza Cristo Libre yesterday in the green area at the extreme north end of Tiradentes Avenue in La Augustianita barrio in Cristo Rey. The park includes children's recreational equipment, is well lighted and there is plenty of seating in the 6,400 square meter area.

ONAP questions salary 14
The National Administration and Personnel Office (ONAP) has openly questioned the feasibility of the proposed fourteenth salary that Congress could pass benefiting government employees in July 2008. The idea behind the proposal is to enable public employees to cover the costs of sending their children to school. ONAP says that there is no way to guarantee that the additional salary would be used for this purpose. In a letter sent to the Chamber of Deputies, Ramon Ventura Camejo proposed strengthening Ministry of Education programs that work towards the same end. Legal expert Lupo Hernandez Rueda told Diario Libre reporter Socorro Arias that the budget should assign the funds to the Ministry of Education, to be used to obtain the necessary school supplies and uniforms.

24 parties in May elections
Twenty four parties will be represented at next May's Presidential elections, but there will only be voting for six candidates: Leonel Fernandez, Amable Aristy, Miguel Vargas, Eduardo Estrella, Pedro de Jesus Candelier and Trajano Santana. Few of the smaller parties have strong enough candidates to go it alone, and so they ally themselves with larger parties to have a presence in the elections. Current President, Leonel Fernandez has forged alliances with at least half of the 22 smaller parties in the run-up to the elections, in large part thanks to a policy of broadening his PLD party's electoral base. Eduardo Estrella heads a coalition of parties as he makes his second bid for the presidency. Vargas, who has never been a presidential candidate, once tried to become the mayor of Santo Domingo. Amable Aristy has been elected to many different offices, but this is his first try for the presidency. His party is alone in the elections, since some of the former allies have gone over to Eduardo Estrella's Fourth Way or to the PLD. Candelier served twice as National Police chief, but had never entered into politics up till now. His party, the Popular Alliance Party (PAP), had to struggle in order to get official Central Electoral Board recognition. Trajano Santana is trying to gain the presidency for the second time, and his tiny Independent Revolutionary Party (PRI) does not have any allies.

Fernandez ahead in polls
A long-awaited Gallup-Hoy poll was released today showing President Leonel Fernandez (PLD) leading in the polls with 47%, Miguel Vargas (PRD) with 31% and Amable Aristy (PRSC) with 10%. 53% of Dominicans believe that one of the candidates will win in a first round vote. In the DR, 50%+1 of the vote is needed to win outright. A total of 36% believe a second round will be needed to decide the vote. Of those who believe there will be a winner in the first round, 57% believe it will be President Leonel Fernandez. The survey polled 1,200 eligible voters from 28 November to 2 December in 31 provinces and the National District. The sampling has a 2.8% margin of error.

Most pressing problems
The Gallup-Hoy poll indicated that Dominicans consider that their most pressing problems are inflation and the high cost of living, unemployment, and blackouts and security problems are tied in third place as the leading priorities. Dominicans perceive that there have been improvements, nevertheless. The poll reflects significant differences between results in August 2007 and November 2007. Inflation and cost of living changed from 68.1% in Aug 07 to 66.6% in Nov 07; blackouts improved significantly from 51.3% in Aug 07 to 32.9% in Nov 07; unemployment changed from 44% in Aug 07 to 37.3% in Nov 07; security improved from 36.9% in Aug 07 to 32.8% in Nov 07. Other issues covered are lack of drinking water that changed from 21.7% in Aug 07 to 13.6% in Nov 07; drug trafficking and consumption increased from 4.8% in Aug 07 to 5.7% in Nov 07; concern about education went from 15% to 16.3%, and concern about administrative corruption went from 5.8% to 7.3%.

Dominicans pessimistic
Seventy percent of Dominicans think that the economy is performing badly (28.1% very bad, 41.8% bad), compared to 11% who consider it to be performing very well or well (0.8% and 10.2%).
Furthermore, the same Gallup-Hoy poll of 28 Nov-2 December showed that 48% believes that the country's economic situation will worsen by the time the Fernandez term comes to an end next summer. This is up from 33% who believed so in August 2007. A total of 39% expect an improvement, and 11.8% say things will remain the same, compared to 16.7% who believed so in August 2007.

Sun Land contract revoked
The Dominican government, under immense pressure from all sides, has decided to rescind its contract with the Sun Land Corporation, signed on 15 May 2006. The deal involved the signing of US$130 million in IOUs by the Supervising Engineer of State Public Works, Felix Bautista, with the authorization of the Executive Branch. The government indicated lack of fulfilment of contractual obligations as the reason for the rescinding of the contract. El Caribe says that all agreements between the two parties were cancelled. According to the Sun Land Corp., S.A., the government will have to pay the sum of US$32 million for work already completed.

18 scandals in 33 months
The Leonel Fernandez government has had to face 18 major scandals in just 33 months in office. These issues have forced the President to come to the defense of his administration in the most notorious of cases. The PEME case, which dated back to the first Fernandez administration, was dropped in March. Other cases include the accusation against the head of the Frontier Development Office, Yorman Vasquez, who was accused of extorting money from businessmen in order to obtain exonerations under law 28-01. Then there was the issue of the completion and furnishing of the new Supreme Court Building, a budget that went from RD$400 million to RD$1.0 billion, and was only uncovered after an audit by the Chamber of Accounts. The artificial island, Enade, the case of the former director of the State Businesses Reform Commission, the purchase of equipment for the Police and false papers provided by personnel at the Ministry of Labor are just some of the cases mentioned in the Diario Libre article. Of course, the journalist, Leoncio Compres, ends the article with a mention of the Sun Land case, where US$130 million dollars of debt was somehow left off the books.

Spain deports 1,000+
At least 1,054 Dominicans have been deported from Spain, according to the latest reports. The Diario Libre says that most of the deportees were sent back to the Dominican Republic because of fake documents. Close to 75% of the deportees were female (723). Among the forged documents used were birth certificates, residence cards, passports and other documents from Venezuela. These documents are popular because of the facilities that many European countries offer citizens from that country. A Spanish official who requested anonymity told Diario Libre reporters that, "if they (the deportees) left this country from (Las Americas International) airport, someone is helping them".

Red Alert just like Noel
The National Metereological Office (Onamet) has issued a Red Alert and local emergency services are preparing for a new weather system that is approaching from the east-northeast. According to Onamet director, Gloria Ceballos, the "area of disturbance" could become a tropical storm and is quite near the island. This system will carry heavy rains for the eastern part of the Dominican Republic. Ceballos held a press conference accompanied by Major General Luis Luna Paulino, head of the Civil Defense corps, and the head of the Emergency Operations Committee (COE) Juan Manuel Mendez. According to El Caribe, the authorities were scurrying about in order to avoid a repetition of the disaster caused by Tropical Storm Noel, and which was attributed to a lack of preparation and early warnings. According to these entities, the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida has said, "conditions are favorable for the disturbance to become a tropical storm in the next 24 hours." A press conference is scheduled for 10am this morning. According to Hoy newspaper, residents of the lower Yuna river basin are being urged to take all precautions against flooding.

Baseball update
Not much baseball was played over the weekend, but Friday's results changed the standing quite a bit. The Aguilas Cibaenas defeated the Tigres del Licey, 4-0, behind the wonderful pitching of Derek Lee. Lee threw 8 1/3 innings of shutout baseball against the Tigres. He allowed just four hits, and Nicaraguan Deven Hansack got the last two outs. Sebastian Boucher was the leading batter for the Aguilas going 3-4, and Edwin Encarnacion batted in two runs.
In San Francisco de Macoris, the Gigantes del Cibao beat the Toros del Este 5-1, and climbed into first place in the standing. Brad Nelson hit a home run and batted in three runs for the Gigantes.
In San Pedro de Macoris, the Estrellas Orientales defeated the Leones del Escogido and climbed into fourth place in the standings, the last play-off position in this year's tournament.
There were no games on Saturday or Sunday and no games are scheduled for today. The schedule starts again tomorrow with games in Santo Domingo, La Romana and San Francisco de Macoris.
Current Standings
Team Win Lost Percent Games Behind
Gigantes 24 14 .632 --
Licey 24 15 .615 0.5
Aguilas 20 19 .513 4.5
Estrellas 17 22 .436 7.5
Escogido 16 23 .410 8.5
Azucareros 16 24 .400 9.0
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