Led by President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, the Council of Ministers met March 29, with the participation of Party and government leaders in all provinces and municipalities via video-conference. Issues on the agenda for the government’s highest leadership body included land use, foreign trade and investment, internal accounting, and the Cuban economy’s performance through February.
Samuel Rodiles Planas, head of the Physical Planning Institute, began the session with a presentation on land use and urban zoning plans for the Mariel Special Development Zone and the city of Trinidad, which were approved by the Council of Ministers.
Regarding the first, he said that the plan is a short term one, projecting through 2033 and identifies potentialities of the region such as its proximity to the Cuban capital, the existence of an available water supply, the presence of port infrastructure, airport, and communications, as well as highway and railroad access.The Plan divides the Special Zone into sectors, dedicated to industry and logistics; tourism; and livestock, forestry and agricultural development. In addition, it projects the creation of conditions in nearby settlements to receive the expanding workforce that is expected and the improvement of those existent.In terms of the General Urban Zoning Plan for the city of Trinidad, with the greatest potential for tourism within the province of Sancti Spíritus, Rodiles said that the design guarantees the orderly, planned development of the city from the functional, structural, and environmental point of view. It is a novel vision of Trinidad, seen in all its splendor from the sea, with new areas designated for future development, while protecting the historic central district, recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site, he said.Teresita Romero Rodríguez, president of the Sancti Spíritus Provincial Assembly of People's Power, said she considered the plan a good one, with urban regulations that will allow for harmonious development. In addition, she said, the heritage value of the city and its surroundings is preserved, adhering to established housing policy and measures that have been proposed as part of Tarea Vida, which guides adaptation to climate change. The plan was reconciled with the National Institute of Water Resources, given the municipality’s water supply issues.In this regard, Diaz-Canel said that the two plans should help to ensure that everything we do is coherent and better ordered development is achieved in these areas. Particularly Trinidad, he said, is a beautiful historic city, one of the first villas founded by the Spanish, with a great heritage and an active cultural and productive life.
FOREIGN TRADEAs part of the government's regular review of the economic effects of irregularities in foreign trade operations, the Council of Ministers also addressed the situation in this arena, as of the end of 2018.Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz explained that actions have been taken to reduce the damage and strengthen monitoring and accounting mechanisms put in place by the Ministry, as the governing body in this activity.He detailed follow-up action taken in such cases - contract breaches and violations of quality parameters, for example. He specified that, in cases which have been fully analyzed, measures were adopted and sanctions applied, given the economic impact on the country.Among the logistical problems that hinder the efficiency of export and import operations, he identified payments for overstays in ports. Despite a continuing downward trend with respect to 2017, an increase is evident in the case of containers from general cargo ships, as a result of problems in ports, the reception of goods, and storage capacity.The Minister stated that it has been possible to analyze the detected situation and improve management. Progress has been noted in the investigation of such cases, to determine underlying causes and individuals responsible.In this regard, he assured that the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment will continue to coordinate work with the Attorney General of the Republic’s Office.President Díaz-Canel recalled that Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, first secretary of the Party Central Committee, referred to the issue in 2017, stating that problems in foreign trade operations are extraordinary events, and merit close attention.Following this advice , Díaz-Canel emphasized, the governing authority of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment has been recovered. He acknowledged that, although a more coherent system of detection and enforcement has now been established, problems must be definitively resolved.He insisted that daily analysis of issues must be conducted, to ensure that problems do not accumulate, and a greater response capacity is developed.DEVELOPMENTS IN TRANSPORTATIONMinister Malmierca also presented a comprehensive report on work in the areas of foreign investment, use of external credits, and exports by entities affiliated with the Ministry of Transportation, a priority sector for the development of the country’s infrastructure, which has a significant impact on the functioning of the rest of the economy.Malmierca explained that the evaluation of these issues is vital to identify positive experiences, review difficulties, vulnerabilities, and project superior results.He recalled that transportation is among the sectors prioritized in foreign investment policy, to promote port infrastructure; construction and repair of ships and shipyards; the manufacture and repair of components, spare parts, and accessories; as well as the management of railroad shops, among others.He stressed that need is more attention to current operations and the identification of new ones. At the same time, systematic work is required in providing managers of established enterprises opportunities to continue their training, as well as that of negotiating teams, so that the process of preparing new investments is not delayed.Regarding the use of external credits, he commented that this modality is traditionally used in the sector and that currently important investments are being executed or negotiated in airport, maritime-port, and railway activities.The Cuban President highlighted the importance of transportation, since it plays a role in practically all economic activities. He stated that foreign investment is needed to improve airports and railways, as well as maritime-port activity, specifically cargo shipment, with great potential given our status as an island.Addressing foreign investment and credit, he insisted on more agile management, to take better advantage of opportunities, closely linked to the preparation of negotiating teams.He commented that the country has assumed a number of debts to fund transportation projects, with which an important impact can be achieved, for example, in the railroad system, for transportation of cargo and passengers.INTERNAL ACCOUNTING The Comptroller General of the Republic, Gladys Bejerano Portela, presented a report on the evaluation indiscipline, illegalities, and cases of administrative corruption in 2018, in which she assured that there exists a greater perception of risks and more urgency felt to implement effective internal control systems, focused on better financial-administrative management.Despite progress and the positive examples that are evident in various organizations, she insisted that problems detected are not new, and it has not been possible to put a stop to indiscipline, illegalities, and acts of corruption.As underlying causes, identified were vulnerabilities in accounting systems; lack of documentation and primary records; incorrect book keeping; absence of daily cross-checks; and the failure to issue receipts for deliveries or the return of products, with poor monitoring of bodies responsible for supervision.Internal accounting systems - she insisted - are not meant only to detect crime, but precisely to avoid it and support efficient management. "Where there is no effective accounting system, the results are ephemeral or do not exist."The most serious problem - the Comptroller stated - is at the basic production unit and enterprise level. Hence the importance of spending more time at the primary level and reordering our work to listen more to people. "We do not accomplish anything with people going to courses and acquiring theoretical knowledge, if they do not have management skills."Commenting on the issue, the Minister of Domestic Commerce, Betsy Díaz Velázquez, acknowledged that the greatest incidence of such criminal acts is within the wholesale and retail sector, hence her ministry’s work has focused on prevention in these arenas.She commented that book keeping is not being adequately reconciled at the primary level, where most illegalities are taking place, and that measures are being taken to improve accounting.The President emphasized that, as part of efforts to confront illegalities, the problem of fuel theft must be addressed, noting that several measures have been adopted.He mentioned the recent investigation conducted at several transportation bases by Provincial Administration Councils, in which it was confirmed that the most common deficiencies are those identified by the Comptroller General, in relation to other crimes, such as the lack of primary documents to justify levels of activity; a reduction in mileage rates; lack of control of magnetic cards; and poor use of GPS.In many cases, deficiencies occur in entities that do not have defined procedural and enforcement plans. There is no control and this is the responsibility of leaders, who must play a more active role to achieve more efficient use of fuel, he said.THE ECONOMY’S PERFORMANCE Minister of Economy and Planning Alejandro Gil Fernández presented a report on the performance of the national economy as of the end of February, a period during which continued growth in exports of tobacco, rum, and seafood was noted.
He explained that in the months of January and February, some 2,093 vehicles arrived in the country, which should have a positive impact on the economy and in meeting the population’s needs. This, he said, should put us in a better position than last year.
Referring to energy resources, he explained that fuel allocations have been cut by 180 tons to entities that have not taken necessary steps to stem theft, as part of the implementation of a Council of Ministers directive to reduce by 50% the amount of fuel assigned for administrative work in entities given poor evaluations.
He also noted that, in the month of February, there were no outages in electrical service due to a deficit in generation during peak demand hours.
Gil reported that delivery plans for rice and beans were surpassed, and that planting projections for various food crops and tobacco are on schedule, with
449,900 hectares planted, representing 100.5% of what was expected by this date.
In terms of the sugar harvest, he pointed out that sugar production is falling short of projections by 16%, primarily as a result of breakdowns at mills. Despite the tension, he said, the industry remains determined to meet its commitments this season.
Tourist arrivals have increased, he said, as compared to the same period last year, and important markets like Canada and Russia have shown growth. On this point, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz added that Santa María Cay and Jardines del Rey are consolidating their condition as the country’s most popular tourist destinations.
Gil additionally reported on progress being made is the recovery and development of railroads, including the arrival of silo, flat bed, and tipper cars, which will allow for a significant increase in annual cargo capacity. Plus, a number of box cars and passenger cars are being repaired.
He addressed the situation that has led to a decrease in the production of eggs, mainly the result of shortfalls in the import of poultry feed, which is being stabilized. In February, a total of 133,700,000 eggs were produced, 97.8% of the monthly plan, providing the supply needed for allocated subsidized sales, but not enough to meet demand on the unregulated market. A greater quantity is projected for March, but not yet enough to meet demand.
Shortages of wheat flour have also occurred, due to mechanical and electrical problems in the milling industry. This situation continues to affect the unregulated sales of bread.In this regard, the Minister of Food Industry, Iris Quiñones Rojas, explained that production has stabilized, reaching 43,000 tons in March, a figure that remains below what was projected by some 4,000 tons.
Gil reported on several measures adopted by the government to deal with shortages of products of basic necessity in retail stores, and avoid hoarding. These involve imports for the months of April, May, June, and July of cooking oil, chicken, and MDM for the production of ground meat and cold cuts, although he insisted on the importance of exploiting all potential for agricultural production and advancing local development projects in the food industry.
Finally, the Minister referred to slow progress on housing plans. On this point, President Díaz-Canel directed that the greatest attention be paid to the construction program, noting that rigorous follow-up has not been maintained. If we begin to accumulate more delays and don’t get back on schedule immediately, goals will not be met, he stated.He noted, for example, "There are many housing units that were completed in 2018 but still haven’t been certified as habitable."
This is bureaucracy, he said, and we are creating another problem for people, since they are living in the homeillegally. Likewise noted were delays in granting construction licenses to both individuals and state entities.
These issues, Díaz-Canel added, will be more rigorously reviewed during coming visits to the provinces by the Council of Ministers, and working meetings will be devoted to evaluating progress in meeting goals for housing construction. Plus, the national press will publish reports, every three months, from provinces and municipalities, on results in this important program.