Legal Briefing- December 2016 to January 2017

Government

  • Following the return of Aleppo to complete state control, Prime Minister Imad Khamis arrived in the city to restart full governmental operations. He led a delegation of ministers to launch a reconstruction program after four and a half years of war and met with leading businessmen from the city’s industrial sector. Afterwards, the Council of Ministers approved an executive plan to rehabilitate the city in all major sectors.
  • There is a call to abolish Supreme Councils in charge of various sectors and instead let cabinet ministers exercise their authority to make strategic decisions. For example, there is currently the Supreme Investment Council and the Supreme Tourism Council with both being headed by the Prime Minister.

Commerce

  • The government considers adding goods to a list of items deemed permissible for importation into Syria.
  • The Directorate of Finance in Damascus is apparently granting no-objection clearances to importers within five minutes according to the Director of the General Commission for Taxes and Fees.
  • Syria states that it is ready to remove all obstacles that hinder developing trade and economic relations with Iraq. In this respect, the Federation of Chambers of Commerce in Syria and Iraq signed an agreement to bolster bilateral ties and enhance joint cooperation in foreign trade. The agreement anticipates a surge in trade activity between the two countries.
  • The Syrian Exporters Union and the Federation of Chambers of Industry are considering incorporating a company specialized in the exportation of Syrian goods.
  • The Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade called for strict adherence to quality standards for goods to be exported from Syria.
  • The Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade issued a decision permitting the sale of motor vehicles located in the free zones in the domestic markets.
  • 75 inspectors were sent by the Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection to help monitor the markets and curb cases of fraud and monopolization in Aleppo.
  • Proposed amendments to the Consumer Protection Law to consider increasing fines for violations by ten times.
  • According to the Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection, violations in the markets under Article 23 of the Consumer Protection Law amounted to SYP 500 million in 2016.
  • The Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection is obliging traders to sell certain goods according to their set prices.
  • The Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection issued Regulation 2679/2016, which introduces controls on the vendors of red meat.
  • The Damascus Chamber of Commerce joined the Damascus Center for Studies and Research for a seminar on a legal and practical perspective on commercial arbitration.

Industry

  • The Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade permitted the importation of diesel and fuel from Lebanon for industrialists.
  • The Ministry of Finance is preparing regulations to support the industrial sector in Syria.
  • A draft decree to settle non-performing loans in the industrial sector is to be deliberated by the government.

Finance

  • The Damascus Securities Exchange regards banks as responsible for ensuring that clean money is being traded on the stock market.
  • The Syrian Commission on Financial Markets and Securities amended its fees for services it renders.
  • Proposed monetary reform policies for the Central Bank include enhanced oversight over the foreign exchange rate and the supply of money. In this respect, Prime Minister Imad Khamis held a meeting to develop financial and banking policies at the Central Bank.
  • Criticism has been leveled against the government for failing to have its budget accounts audited by the People’s Assembly due to the extenuating circumstances facing the country. According to Article 82 of the Constitution, the final accounts of the fiscal year must be presented to the People’s Assembly within a period not exceeding one year following the end of the fiscal year. In other words, the final account must be done by law.

Taxation

  • Customs revenues in Syria exceeded SYP 170 billion in 2016.
  • The Ministry of Finance intends to raise the consumption tax on gold by five percent. As a result, gold prices are set for an increase.
  • Consumers going out in Syria today will find on their bills two taxes- one is the consumption tax, which is similar to value added tax, while the other is called the reconstruction tax.
  • Craftsmen lamented that the Minister of Finance is not granting them tax exemptions under the pretext of laws currently in force.

Insurance

  • A study is underway to establish a centre to oversee the automobile insurance industry.

Property

  • The Governorate of Damascus received a SYP 2.6 billion loan from the Commercial Bank of Syria for the purposes of executing the Project 66 Al-Razi Development in southern Damascus. Project 66 was sanctioned by Legislative Decree 66/2012 and is overseen by the recently established Damascus Cham Holding Company, which is fully owned by the Governorate of Damascus.

Investments

  • Prime Minister Imad Khamis chaired a meeting of the Supreme Investment Council after meetings were suspended for more than five years. The meeting was aimed at conducting a full review of the investment sector and its laws and regulations. It also sought to revise the duties and responsibilities of the Supreme Investment Council by expanding its powers. Developing the legislative environment of the investment sector in order to put it on the right track was a major objective of the meeting. The policies it wishes to implement are intended to encourage investors to undertake new projects in various sectors and to facilitate necessary legal measures to overcome obstacles. Its recommendations include amending the Investment Law and in the meantime developing the economy by taking quick effective steps until the Investment Law is amended.

Local Councils

  • A working group is reviewing the Local Administration Law in light of other countries’ experiences with a focus on structural reforms and responsibilities.

Employment

  • The Temporary Employees Law provided for in Legislative Decree 4/2017 stipulates that a minister may provide permanent job positions to temporary employees on an annual contractual basis. The Law applies to the families of martyrs, including their sons and daughters, and to those on youth contracts. According to the Minister of Social Affairs and Labour, 40,000 temporary employees stand to benefit from permanent employment under this Law.

Electricity

  • There were 3,369 complaints of electricity theft in a two-month period towards the end of 2016.
  • According to the electricity authority in Tartous, three factories were shut down for illegally drawing electrical power.

Transport

  • The Minister of Transport stressed on the need for full compliance with safety procedures at Damascus International Airport.

Tourism

  • The Ministry of Tourism shut down 56 touristic facilities over the last year.

Health

  • The Ministry of Health withdrew a bill to license medical facilities from the People’s Assembly in an effort to revise it to make it more appealing for investors. The bill is part of efforts to encourage Syria’s doctors to return home from abroad.

Education

  • One batch of 247 graduates from the Faculty of Law at the University of Damascus graduated as Syria continues to produce lawyers and judges.

Civil Status

  • The People’s Assembly passed amendments to the Civil Status Law provided for in Legislative Decree 26/2007 on the replacement of individual and family identity cards. They seek to facilitate the process while imposing fees for damaged identity cards and renewals.

Military

  • The Martyrdom Law 1/2017 grants a martyrdom certificate to injured military personnel who succumbed to their wounds after they completed their military service. The wounds include those sustained due to the ongoing war and military operations against hostile elements and terrorist groups. Accordingly, the families of such military personnel shall receive the rights afforded to the families of martyrs. Proof of martyrdom resulting from the conflict must be provided and the Law retroactively applies to cases dating back to March 15, 2011. It is worth noting that the rights resulting from martyrdom differ from those accorded to injured military personnel.
  • Law 3/2017 amends Articles 48 and 49 of the Military Service Law provided for in Legislative Decree 30/2007. It allows Syrians aged between 17 and 42 years to travel abroad upon obtaining approval from the General Conscription Directorate after paying SYP 50,000. The Law exempts civilian employees, those exempted from compulsory military service, Army and security personnel, those on government-sponsored study programs, or those who are part of official missions among others from paying the fee.

Religion

  • Law 2/2017 regulates inheritance and wills for the followers of the Evangelical denomination in Syria.
  • A newspaper article has laid down the differences between religious marriages and civil marriages while discussing the prospects of the latter. Nevertheless, it is doubtful that civil marriage could be envisioned in Syria in the foreseeable future.

Judiciary

  • Customs-related cases in 2016 reached 5,834 with fines worth SYP 4.316 billion. In October, the President of the Customs Court acknowledged that 45 cases touched on the issue of notifications in the newspaper service procedures.
  • New courts have been established in Sfeireh in rural Aleppo while a second first-instance civil court in Mount Semaan, which is also located in rural Aleppo, was set up. The court expansion also extended to Sahnaya in rural Damascus.

Administrative Matters

  • The Ministry of Justice plans to provide for electronic powers of attorney during 2017 as part of its automation program. As of this past January, the Ministry of Justice automated 8 million powers of attorney.

Criminal Law

  • The amendment to the Criminal Code providing for capital punishment for kidnappers resulted in a 70% reduction of kidnappings across the country.
  • Drug smuggling cases in Syria reached 4,131 in 2016 while 5,238 defendants were accused of smuggling drugs.

International

  • The United Nations adopted a Russian-sponsored resolution on a cessation of hostilities in Syria.
  • The outgoing Obama Administration sanctioned six ministers including the Minister of Finance and other banking officials. It also imposed economic sanctions on the private Syrian airline company Cham Wings.
  • United States Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is seeking to push through Congress her Stop Arming Terrorists Bill to cut off funding to terrorist groups inside Syria.
  • President Bashar Al-Assad received a French delegation comprised of parliamentarians and intellectuals.

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