OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE
The President insisted that the role of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment in governing this activity must be strengthened. Photo: José Manuel Correa

Led by Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, the Council of Ministers addressed important issues of current economic and social concern in the country, this Wednesday, April 25.

On this occasion, the agenda included the impact of irregularities in foreign trade operations; overdue accounts payable and receivable; and results from the latest national internal accounting audit.

Additionally analyzed were the proposed placement plan for this year's university graduates; progress on the comprehensive program to address violations of zoning and land use regulations; as well the 2018 Economic Plan's performance through the month of March.

PLACEMENT OF UNIVERSITY GRADUATES

Some 10,000 students are currently enrolled in weekend courses and distance learning programs. Photo: Julio Martínez Molina

As is customary this time of year, the Council of Ministers considered a proposal from Margarita González Fernández, minister of Labor and Social Security, on the placement of 2017-2018 graduates from standard university programs. Taken into account in the plan's development were requests submitted by central and provincial administration bodies, as well projections regarding the qualified workforce needed in different regions during the period 2018-2022.

More than 9,000 students are graduating this year from Cuban universities, of whom 94% already have employment offers, and by the end of the semester, all will be placed.

The issue generated a broad discussion among those attending the meeting, who commented on unmet needs in activities like economics and law, among other issues.

Díaz-Canel Bermúdez stated that entities responsible for negative economic impacts should recount the events to government bodies, to make use of the experience. Photo: Estudio Revolución

José Ramón Saborido Loidi, minister of Higher Education, recalled that currently some 10,000 students are enrolled in weekend courses and distance learning programs, which also contribute to completing staffs, and therefore require more attention from those responsible.

Education Minister Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, addressed the issue of intermediate level technicians and skilled workers, who are trained in secondary schools and constitute an important part of the workforce, but not always requested by enterprises or agencies.

President Díaz-Canel referred to the attention new graduates require, especially from directors and managers, so they remain where they are placed.

Beyond the salary issue, which is a real problem, he said, also affecting job satisfaction of graduates are responsibilities assigned and participation in decision making, that allow them to feel committed to the task at hand. He noted that needed support is not always provided.

Performance in industry at the end of March indicated that state orders are being filled in the main productive sectors. Photo: Ronald Suárez Rivas

Díaz-Canel agreed on the need to encourage intermediate technicians to continue their studies at a higher level, and that university graduates must understand the importance of post-graduate work and ongoing professional development.

He emphasized that the way in which placement of graduates is conducted must change, that it must be viewed as process of organizing human resources, and include ongoing interaction between entities that receive graduates and those who educate them, to better understand the skills each employer requires, as well as the needs of youth who are beginning their careers.

PROBLEMS IN FOREIGN TRADE AFFECT THE ECONOMY

Another issue examined was the economic impact of a downward trend in foreign trade.

Antonio Carricarte Corona, first deputy minister of Foreign Trade and Investment (Mincex) offered details about several international operations that have affected the economy negatively, as well as related criminal proceedings underway and some of the sanctions which have been imposed on those responsible.

President Diaz-Canel reiterated the statement made by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz that acts of this nature must be addressed with all due rigor.

He insisted that the role of the Ministry in governing this activity must be strengthened, adding that, beyond the economic benefits that exports imply, the image and prestige of the country is at stake.

Díaz-Canel Bermúdez indicated that, during the analysis of reports on cases of inappropriate conduct detected, noted was the need for entities responsible for these economic impacts to recount the events to the highest bodies of government, to make use of the experience.

ZONING AND LAND USE VIOLATIONS ADDRESSED

Violations of zoning and construction regulations continue to be common problems. Photo: Efraín Cedeño

The Council of Minister recognized the work done over the last several years to address violations of zoning and land use regulations, which has led to the eradication of a number of specific problems.

In the report presented by Samuel Rodiles Planas, head of the Institute of Physical Planning, noted was better organization of the enforcement process and strengthening of work done by the Party, government, and central state administration to direct, execute, and supervise the task.

Nonetheless, data reported also indicated that illegalities persist, often because their elimination requires resources, which will be allocated as the national economy allows.

Made clear during the discussion was that provincial and municipal governments have identified neighborhoods that require investment to support compliance with zoning regulations, since the main violations involve electrical and water service, as well as drainage.

Among the most common problems are failure to abide by zoning and construction regulations; the building, expansion, and relocation of dwellings without required documentation; the illegal occupation of land; and businesses conducted by self-employed workers in areas where this is not authorized.

Participants in the meeting agreed that the approval of a national housing policy will contribute to providing definitive order in this arena.

On this point, Díaz-Canel stated that, regardless of the fact that this policy has not been approved, more practical measures can be taken, in all areas, to mitigate land use and zoning problems.

ACCOUNTS PAYABLE AND RECEIVABLE

Also discussed was the issue of overdue accounts payable and receivable, an area in which some progress has been made in reducing these, since the implementation of a series a related measures began a few years ago.

Minister of Finances and Prices Lina Pedraza Rodríguez, reported that, at the end of 2017, the largest number of overdue accounts, both payable and receivable, were concentrated in the central administrations of enterprise groups in the sugar, agricultural, and cattle industries, along with the Cuban railroad company, and retail commerce systems supervised by provincial administrations in Artemisa, Camagüey, Santiago de Cuba, and Havana.

The Council of Ministers noted that this situation is, among other questions, a reflection of the lack of systematicity in control of cash deposits from daily sales in retail outlets; poor management of billing and payments on the part of enterprises and government agencies; as well as a lax approach to meeting contract obligations.

On the issue, Díaz-Canel Bermúdez emphasized that it is imperative that a sustainable system of managing these economic questions is established, since they create significant accounting problems, and can lead to the loss of financial resources and materials.

Getting this in order, he said, means confronting the problem and promoting greater rigor in analyses conducted by leadership councils in ministries and, enterprises, as well as in local governments that must systematically review finances with support from the Party and trade unions.

NATIONAL AUDIT OF INTERNAL ACCOUNTING

Between November and December of 2017, the 7th National Audit of Internal Accounting was conducted, which included 339 inspections by the Comptroller General's Office; 22 special reviews in entities subordinated to provincial Administrative Councils, and that of the Special Municipality of the Isle of Youth; as well as audits of 20 Central Organizations of Enterprise Management (OSDE), the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba, and the National Office of Statistics and Information.

Gladys Bejerano Portela explained that the audits were directed toward verifying the adequate management and use of inventories; adherence to established processes for contracting and managing accounts payable and receivable; control of fuel allotments and payments to self-employed workers.

In the case of inventories, failures to observe established norms were again noted. Idle and slow-moving resources remain in inventories, without needed analysis of the situation, and stored in inadequate conditions.

The process of contracting is still conducted inappropriately in many cases, since agreed-upon timetables for deliveries of supplies and availability of products are not respected.

In terms of payments to self-employed workers, the audit revealed cases of outlays to unlicensed persons, or those not authorized to exercise the line of work for which they were contracted; and instances of merchandise not delivered, or services not provided, which had been purchased by state entities from self-employed individuals.

The report indicated that shortcomings continue to exist in control of gasoline allotments and energy resources, which must be analyzed more carefully in leadership councils.

Generally speaking, analyses indicate that greater rigor is prevailing in this area, in the interest of ending impunity for those who violate the law.

THE ECONOMIC PLAN'S FIRST THREE MONTHS

The Council of Ministers meeting concluded with the presentation of a summary outlining the performance of fundamental elements of the year's Economic Plan, during the first three months of 2018.

First Vice President of Economy and Planning, Alejandro Gil Fernández, explained that "tensions in terms of the availability of hard currency as a result of shortfalls in planned exports and difficulties with the supply of fuel" continue to have an impact.

Investment plans for the first three months of 2018 are estimated to be 90% met. Among problems leading to this shortfall were the failure of a number of imported supplies to arrive; a deficit in the number of construction workers available; and the lack of preparation of all participants in the investment process.

Despite these tensions, performance in industry at the end of March indicated that state orders are being filled in the main productive sectors, including items for personal use - soap, toothpaste, perfumery, and cosmetics - medical packaging, polypropylene sacks, and furniture.

In the case of sanitary pads, a sensitive issue for the female population, it was reported that the necessary raw materials have arrived in the country and the situation should be stabilized during the month of May.

Lastly, it was stated that weather factors, including the severe drought, followed by heavy rainfall and Hurricane Irma, have had a negative impact on sugar production.