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Daily News - Thursday, 27 December 2007

Budget approved without delay
The Chamber of Deputies approved the 2008 budget and public spending law yesterday. The budget is for a total of RD$300 billion. The budget's approval was declared urgent and was passed without any modifications by the Chamber where ruling party legislators hold the majority. PRSC deputies also voted in favor of approving the budget as sent by the President's office. PRSC spokesman Ramon Rogelio Genao argued that to fail to do so would place the RD$16 billion budgetary surplus at the discretion of the Executive Branch, which is likely to use it to fund President Leonel Fernandez's candidacy, as he told Listin Diario. President Fernandez is seeking re-election in May 2008. The budget should have been sent to Congress in October, but the Executive Branch delayed until last minute to present it for approval.
Hoy writes that 89 of the 121 deputies present voted in favor of the bill while 10 were against and 22 abstained. In the 178-legislator Chamber of Deputies, the ruling PLD has a majority of 96 deputies. Of the leading opposition parties, the PRD has 60 and the PRSC has 22.
Opposition PRD deputies had asked for the budget to be read at a bi-chamber committee, but that proposal was rejected. The budget now moves to the Senate and should be passed with no problems since 22 of the 32 Senators are PLD members.

First fireworks, now motorbikes
Dr. Hector Maceo Quezada, director of the Dario Contreras Hospital, the country's leading trauma and emergency care center, is asking the government to reinstate limits on alcoholic beverage sales to 2am and only extend the limit to 3am on 31 December. Dr. Quezada, quoted in Hoy, says that the Christmas holiday statistics indicate that motorcyclists and drinking caused most of the accidents. Dr. Quezada, while recognizing the possible unconstitutionality of his proposal, suggests limiting the use of motorcycles until 10pm on 31 December. He stressed that limiting truck circulation, which has been implemented for several years, has been successful in reducing accidents. The government has revoked restrictions on drinking around the clock for the holidays.
Nelson Rodriguez, deputy minister for collective health at the Ministry of Public Health said that a cultural change was needed among Dominicans, where having a good time does not entail all-night drinking. Rodriguez favored maintaining local restrictions on beverage sales during the holidays. "That is the experience in the DR, and I believe that even at Christmas the limitations should be maintained on alcoholic beverage sales," he told Hoy.
The Emergency Operations Center (COE) is reporting 20 deaths over the 22-25 December Christmas long weekend, an increase over 12 deaths last year. Juan Mendez Garcia, director of the COE, said that 148 accidents and 310 injuries were reported during the first part of the holiday season.
Nineteen of the reported deaths were related to drunken driving. From 23-25 December, the Dario Contreras hospital dealt with 504 emergencies. Of these 132 were motorcycle-related. Dr. Quezada said accidents are up 13% this year, compared to last year.

Parents to be held responsible
Dominican Attorney General Radhames Jimenez Pena said yesterday that parents or guardians of 13 children suffering from alcohol poisoning during the holidays would be brought to justice if found to be in any way responsible. Jimenez, quoted in Listin Diario, said that District Attorneys around the DR would be instructed to investigate the parents' role in their children's alcohol consumption.

Firework ban doesn't stop injuries
Although government officials have banned the sale of fireworks in order to reduce injuries, especially among children, Hoy reports that three youngsters, all 11 years old, were burned on their hands and faces after playing with fireworks on Christmas Eve. Doctor Julio Cesar Marte Sime explained that two of the children sustained severe facial burns and one child is likely to suffer permanent hearing damage. The children's parents blamed firefighters for the injuries. One parent claimed that a fireman had seized some fireworks and brought them home. Eventually her child found the fireworks and lit one. Another parent blamed a colmado owner who supposedly gave the explosives to neighborhood children. The injuries happened in Santiago. The government successfully imposed the ban on firework sales in Santo Domingo, where there were no injuries reported.

Holiday sales are a dud
According to Pedro Perez, president of the National Commercial Business Organization (ONEC), this year's holiday sales have been a flop, falling way below expectations. Perez did not present figures to support his comments but said he has spoken to business owners, most of whom reported a slow holiday season in terms of sales. Perez cited increased competition in the market and the delayed remodeling of the Barrio Chino in the Duarte commercial section of Santo Domingo as potential reasons for the lull in shopping.

Austerity Law: piece of paper
The Austerity Law passed by the government in December 2006 on the occasion of levying increased taxes on the Dominican people has been just another piece of paper, reports Clave Digital reporter Edwin Ruiz after studying what was promised and what happened. Ruiz reports that Law 497-06 instructed the government to reduce spending on advertising and campaigning by 25% compared to spending in 2005. Instead, from January to September of this year the government increased spending over the same period in 2005 by 55%. This adds up to an additional advertising spend of RD$806.7 million over what the austerity law submitted by the Executive Branch proposed.
The government spent RD$1.6 billion on advertising from January to September. Furthermore, the report indicates that government revenue increased RD$14.7 billion from January to September over what had been budgeted, or a 139% increase in non-taxed based revenue, thanks mainly to the high prices of ferronickel exports. The government also promised a reduction in the government payroll. But instead, the government payroll increased by 6.38%. The same law established that the Executive Branch would limit the number of assistants and advisors appointed to government departments. Instead, Ruiz points out, in October the government appointed 60 new government officials and deputy ministers in a move perceived as aimed at courting support from small political groups.
The government promised to tighten its belt, but instead, a RD$258.4 billion planned budget has been extended to spending RD$281.6 billion, or a 9% increase in spending due to the revenues surplus.

Jewelry and metal export ruling
The Customs Department (DGA) has announced that anyone trying to leave the country with jewelry or metal pieces must present an export application as away to counteract money laundering and other illegal activities. Customs says that travelers must present an application 24 hours in advance showing the source of the money used to purchase the jewelry or jewelry parts. The DGA suspects that jewelry export is being used to launder money. Exporters are also required to present sale receipts or any other document legitimizing the purchase of the metal in order to export this. The concern with metal scraps is that exporters are purchasing stolen goods, such as copper wiring, for export.

Pharmaceuticals welcome EPA
The January implementation of the European Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union has been welcomed by pharmaceutical exporters with the European markets in their sights. Laura Castellanos, executive director of the Dominican Pharmaceutical Industry Association (INFADOMI) said that logistical issues as well as the high freight and transport costs still pose a problem for the sector. Quoted in Hoy, Castellanos explained that costs have made it more difficult to export to Europe, in comparison to Latin America, but that the possibility for this to change exists, albeit slowly.
Despite the fact that the sector doesn't currently export anything to the EU, the doors are now wide open for exports to this market, says Castellanos.

Advantages of the EPA
The outgoing head of the European Union delegation in the Dominican Republic, Dino Sinigallia, points out that the fund to help Dominican producers to learn how to export to Europe is a major difference between the European Partnership Agreement (EPA), the European free trade agreement and the DR-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), signed with the United States. As reported in Clave Digital, Sinigallia said that from 2008-2013, RD$1.5 billion would be available to hone Dominican exporters' skills and local competitiveness. "Cooperation for development is an integral part of the agreement and it seeks to ensure that the Caribbean countries can maximize the opportunities and adjust to the challenges," he said. Sinigallia pointed out that the European Fund for Development is a EUR350 million fund of donations, not loans to help development in the Caribbean. Sinigallia also pointed out that the DR agreed not to grant trade advantages to emerging countries, such as Brazil, China and India that have not been conceded to Europe. The European Partnership Agreement was approved this month, and will begin to be implemented for duty free exports to Europe in January, and for duty free exports to the DR starting in April.

Exports to Canada decrease
Trade with Canada declined by 18.3% during the first 10 months of the year. Center for Exports and Investment (CEI-RD) statistics indicate that Canada went from number 8 to number 13 on the list of recipients of Dominican exports. Between January and October 2006, DR exports to Canada were valued at US$43 million, while during the same period in 2007 exports were valued at US$24 million. Among the products that are exported are nickel, eggplants, cacao, porcelain sinks, mangos, peppers and other products.
Canada and the Dominican Republic are holding talks for the signing of a free trade agreement, expected to increase trade between both countries. The first of five rounds of talks has already taken place and the next round is scheduled for February 2008.

UN asks for disaster relief funds
The United Nations is asking for an extra US$4.1 million to help with the damage caused by Tropical Storm Olga in the Dominican Republic. A memo sent to UN offices in New York explains that TS Olga made recovery efforts difficult while the DR was still recovering from TS Noel, which had hit the DR in October. The UN has asked for a total of US$25 million to be used in the recovery efforts. In all both Noel and Olga left 160 dead, displaced more than 130,000 people and damaged or destroyed 12,000 houses.

Fernandez celebrates birthday
President Leonel Fernandez celebrated his 54th birthday on 26 December and spent more than four hours at the Presidential Palace receiving greetings from well-wishers. Hoy reports that the President received numerous gifts.

Crime decreases
Police Chief Major General Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin says that one of his greatest achievements as head of the National Police Department is the reduction of common crime reports by 40%. He attributed the decline to preventive police efforts and the increase in the efficiency of police patrols.

No break to drug deals
The National Drug Control Department (DNCD) announced the seizure of 109 kilos of cocaine at the Las Americas International Airport and on a beach in La Altagracia province yesterday. Listin Diario writes that Leandro Alberto Acosta, Norton Odalis Mateo Beltre and Reginaldo Carrion Lopez were found in possession of 74 packets of drugs. The three men were shipping the drugs to Italy hidden in a consignment of crafts, and had gone to terminal 8 of Las Americas International Airport to prepare the shipment for travel. The remaining drugs, 40 packets, were found at Los Corales beach in Bavaro, although the authorities have not detained any suspects. Officials also reported the arrest of two men who were trying to fly to Boston, Massachusetts with drugs in their stomachs and a Spanish man with three liters of liquid cocaine and liquid heroin in his possession.

Licey wins first game
The Dominican Baseball League's round robin playoff began yesterday with the Tigres del Licey defeating rivals Aguilas del Cibao 3-1. Pitcher Jose Mercedes pitched six solid innings, giving up one run and five hits. In other baseball news, Willis Otanez's homerun gave the Estrellas Orientales a 1-0 lead and a victory over the Gigantes del Cibao. In the round robin format teams will play a total of 18 games and the two teams with the most wins will face off for the winter league championship.
For game details, see www.lidom.com
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