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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 07:17 GMT 08:17 UK
Be more punctual, Ecuadorians are urged
President Gutierrez will lead ceremonials in Quito
Fire sirens will sound and church bells ring out at midday around Ecuador to mark the launch of the government's campaign to eradicate sloppy timekeeping - a vice which it says is hampering the country's economy.

According to the government, each Ecuadorian is held up unnecessarily by 15 minutes a day, which it calculates costs the country the extraordinarily precise sum of $723,947,653 and 13 cents.

To claw back this money, it has launched a nationwide drive for punctuality, under the slogan "he who is late steals time from another".

The campaign kicks off on Wednesday at noon - or thereabouts - with a nationwide synchronisation of watches.

Time is money

Delays ought to be taken seriously, some observers claim.

Indeed, some calculations peg the cost of unpunctuality at far higher than the government's reckoning: Ecuador's International University puts the figure at $2.5bn.

According to a recent survey, Ecuadorian businessmen are late 12% of the time, while only 1.3% of the labouring classes are behind schedule.

Ecuador's campaign, part-funded by the EU and the US Government, is being run by Cesar Montufar, a retired colonel and fanatical timekeeper.

As midday approaches, dignitaries are to gather in town squares around Ecuador; in the capital, Quito, President Lucio Gutierrez will be leading the ceremonies.

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