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Daily News - Friday, 28 December 2007

DR1 breaks for the holidays
Best wishes for a prosperous 2008!
DR1 Daily News journalistic staff is taking a break for the holidays and there will be no updates posted or mailed out from Monday, 31 December through Thursday, 3 January. Headline news for the DR will be compiled for a next Friday, 4 January issue. In the meantime, breaking news can be posted and discussed in the DR1 Forums at http://www.dr1.com/forums that are open 24/7.

Senate postpones passing budget
The PLD-majority Senate announced it was postponing to Friday, 4 January the studying of the 2008 National Budget Bill. The Fernandez administration sent the bill to Congress on 22 December. It was promptly passed in the Chamber of Deputies without any changes. The president of the Senate, Reinaldo Pared Perez announced the majority of PLD senators agreed to send the bill to the Permanent Budget Commission for study.
Meanwhile, Cristian Paredes, spokesman for the PRD opposition party, criticized yesterday that the bill includes US$640 million in new loans or RD$22 billion. He questioned the priority of several international loans, including a US$21 million loan to modernize the Ministry of Hacienda, US$10 million to modernize the Department of Statistics, US$93 million to purchase Brazilian airplanes, US$70 million to finish the Guaigui dam, among others. He also criticized that the Santo Domingo metro construction will receive RD$12 billion, while the government is allotting RD$6 billion to the Ministry of Agriculture.
By Dominican law, if the budget is not approved by year's end, the government will operate using the previous year's budget. Surpluses will be at the discretion of the Executive Branch.
There are 32 senators, of these 22 represent the ruling PLD party, 6 the PRD and 4 the PRSC.

JCE's Rosario: case closed
Central Electoral Board (JCE) administrative chamber president Roberto Rosario said that the case is closed in regards to the discussion of the budget allotment to the JCE for 2008. The outspoken judge has been critical that the Executive Branch only allotted RD$3 billion of the RD$7 billion requested by the JCE for the 2008 National Budget. JCE's judges had complained that this amount would not be enough to complete a variety of outstanding projects along with the staging of the 2008 presidential election. Rosario said that he has said what he has to say on the matter. Rosario said that at the moment the JCE is deciding which projects would be suspended due to lack of funding.

Strengthening ban on fireworks
The director of the Robert Reid Cabral Children's Hospital, Dr. Emilio Mena Castro, has joined other physicians who want the government to strengthen the ban on fireworks. He says that fireworks should only handled by trained professionals. Castro's opinion seconds comments made earlier this week by Dr. Hector Maceo Quezada, head of the Dario Contreras Hospital. Dr. Quezada has called for tighter controls on fireworks and on alcohol sales. Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas, speaking in the Listin Diario, said that there should be increased controls on fireworks and added that parents of children who are burned by explosives should be brought to trial. Rojas said there is already legislation ready to control the sale and distribution of fireworks.
Three children who were severely burned after playing with fireworks in Santiago during the holiday season are now in stable condition. The children suffered facial and hand burns and one child has potential hearing damage due to the explosives. Santiago Arturo Grullon Children's Hospital officials say that the children could be released sometime next week though doctors say that it could take up to one year for them to heal from their injuries.

COE will control motorbikes
The Center for Emergency Operations (COE) announced that with the help of the National Police and the Transit Authority (AMET), officials will coordinate a plan to confiscate bikes from motorbikers that drive without helmets, with more than two passengers, or are caught drunk driving. COE announced 5,000 additional volunteers will be patrolling cities, bringing the total of agents at work during the holidays to 40,000.

Haitians students in the DR on the rise
Education Minister Alejandrina German says ministry records show 20,767 Haitian nationals are enrolled in Dominican schools. The minister added that 19,446 students receive an education in public schools while 1,321 study in private institutions. German says that the number includes only those who have registered as Haitian nationals. German says this is proof the DR doesn't have ill feelings or exercise discriminatory practices against Haitians. The Minister said that the Haitians have the same rights as Dominican students.

Government courting Haitians?
Political analyst Orlando Gil of the Listin Diario speculates in his Orlando Dice column that the PLD administration could be behind the recently announced intention of Dominicans of Haitian origin to seek their own political space. Gil makes the speculation on grounds that Ruben Jean-Batiste Latorti, spokesman for the Movimiento Politico Comunitario Dominicano-Haitiano, is to the best of his knowledge, a government officer. Gil says he is a political leader representing the Bloque Institutional Social Democrata, an ally to the PLD in the past election, and that he was appointed to government in September 2004 at the start of the Fernandez administration. Latorti was named deputy director at the Adult Education Department of the Ministry of Education. Gil writes that his appointment was part of the distribution of positions to political allies. Gil speculates that the new movement could decide an election. The movement says they represent 3-5% of the electorate.

Decision on IMF due January
Economic, Planning and Development Minister Temistocles Montas says that the government is postponing to January announcing whether it will sign a stand-by or other kind of financial supervision agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The current stand by arrangement expires on 31 January 2008. He spoke during a TeleAntillas televised debate on the economy.
Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa has publicly favored not signing a new agreement with the IMF. Business sectors strongly favor the IMF surveillance to control government borrowing abroad and spending, especially given that 2008 is an electoral year.
Montas is optimistic that 2008 will be a good year, given what he describes as the prudent monetary policy instrumented by the government over the past three years. Montas stresses the economy grew 8% in 2007, despite the rising price of petroleum. He recognized that the weakening US economy would affect the DR, and forecast that for for every percentage point that the US economy declines, the DR economy will not grow by 1.4%.
During the same debate, former Central Bank governor Carlos Despradel said that the current Dominican economic model is unsustainable. He stressed that the growth of the economy has come from an increase in imports and commerce, rather than growth of the productive sectors, as it should be. Despradel is quoted in Hoy saying that "change needs to happen in the way the DR grows and in the way stability is being maintained."
Economist Apolinar Veloz, a former Central Bank manager, pointed out that the fiscal reform enforced in January 2007 had budgeted RD$17 billion in additional revenues, but instead reaped RD$35 billion. He criticized that the government chose to spend the surplus instead of building a reserve or applying it to the quasi-fiscal debt. He pointed out that while there has been growth, local industries have lost competitiveness.
On the other hand, economist Jose Luis de Ramon pointed out that the DR is flush in hard currency with more dollars entering the DR than is necessary. De Ramon said that the DR has accumulated US$400 million more in dollar reserves than last year. De Ramon criticized the excessive spending of the government, and called for increased funding of education.

Challenges for 2008
Business groups say the sector's biggest challenge in 2008 is the correct implementation of the Competitiveness Law and to find ways so that local industries can benefit from the free trade agreements signed with the United States and Europe in 2007. Representatives from the Association of Dominican Industries (AIRD), Herrera Industries (AIEH) and the Federation of Industrial Associations (FAI) expressed confidence that the 2008 presidential elections will not affect the country's plans to increase competitiveness. According to Jesus Moreno, president of AIEH, while the economy grew in 2007, the industrial sector has lost competitiveness. He feels the implementation of the new law can contribute significantly to improving industrial competitiveness in 2008.

Dona Chucha dies
Maria de las Nieves Sierra, better known as Dona Chucha, will be buried at the Cristo Salvador Cemetery today. The 93-year old woman dedicated her life to helping homeless children. She operated one of Santo Domingo's better known orphanages and her dedication garnered the support of many over the years. Dona Chucha opened the Hogar Escuela de Ninas Dona Chucha in 1967 and had been helping children ever since.

Last days of Christmas exhibit
Wood carved Christmas nativity scene figures are on display at Centro Leon through 6 January, Epiphany Day. The exhibit showcases a centuries-old tradition inherited from the early Spanish settlers in the Dominican Republic. The exhibition focuses on local traditional Christmas figures, including the Three Kings, and Old Bethlehem (Vieja Belen), in addition to Nativity scene figures. It is the work of the Santos de Palo group from Bonao. The exhibition provides an insight into the craft and how the figures are prepared. The exhibit is another reason to visit the Centro Cultural Leon, currently the leading cultural museum in the country, in Santiago de los Caballeros. Santiago is an hour and a half drive from Santo Domingo and less than an hour from Puerto Plata.
For more events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar

Post season awards
Emilio Bonifacio of the Tigres del Licey was voted this year's MVP batting .300 with 27 runs, 37 hits, 11 RBI and 7 stolen bases while young Licey pitcher Onelis Perez was voted Most Valuable Rookie Pitcher and Rookie of the Year in the 2007-2008 Winter Baseball Championship. Perez pitched 17.1 innings giving up 9 hits, 1 earned run and a 0.52 ERA and striking out 19 batters. Following a tremendous turn around year, Arturo De Freites, coach of the Estrellas Orientales, was the unanimous choice for Manager of the Year. Juan Melo of the Escogido was chosen as the Batter of the Year for his .318 with 48 hits while Roberto Giron, who went 5-0 with a 3.73 ERA was chosen as the Pitcher of the Year. Juan Melo was also Veteran of the Year.

Post season update
Could this be the year the Estrellas win a championship? They seem the team to beat so far. But yesterday, the Estrellas took a big hit yesterday when the NY Yankees prohibited star second baseman Robinson Cano from playing more games in the Dominican Winter Baseball League. Quoted in Hoy, Cano said that the Yankees only allowed him to play in order to see how he had recovered from an abdomen injury and once determined he was ok sent word for him to stop playing. Cano batted .350 with one homerun in 10 games and was only used as a designated hitter. Cano says he would appeal the decision.
Regardless, the Estrellas, playing without Cano, beat up on perennial favorite the Licey and took control of first place in this year's round robin tournament. The Estrellas, who won 4-1, have 2 wins with no loses while the Tigres del Licey have 2 wins with 1 loss.
In Santiago, the Gigantes massacred the Aguilas 10-1. This year the Gigantes are another favorite to win the title. Tigres and Aguilas fans are hoping that at last minute the two teams that have "been there, done that" will push ahead and make it to the finals to earn the right to represent the country in the 50th anniversary Caribbean Series tournament scheduled for February 2008.
Tonight's games:
- Estadio Cibao (Santiago) 8pm - Estrellas vs Aguilas
- Estadio Julian Javier (San Francisco) 7:30pm - Licey vs Gigantes
For more information on the round robin and standings, see http://www.lidom.com
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