Legal Briefing- Up to Mid-March 2017

Property

  • The Council of Ministers approved a bill on missing and damaged real estate documents, which will be deemed legally valid in order to preserve citizens’ rights to their properties.
  • Syrian investors plan to incorporate a special purpose vehicle with the public sector to profit from governmental investment in a real estate project.

Planning

  • The Council of Ministers instructed the Ministry of Public Works and Housing to reactivate the activities of the Regional Planning Agency to play a role in the reconstruction stage.

Commerce

  • The Prime Minister toured the Souk Al-Hamadiyeh in Damascus to investigate commercial obstacles faced by Damascene merchants. Challenges affecting the merchants include electricity rationing, difficulty providing paperwork for handcrafted items, taxes, customs and shipping. To improve production in the public and private sectors and procure the needs of merchants, the steps the government plans to take include exemptions from fees and fines and the rescheduling of loans.
  • The Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection decided not to push for legislation permitting the referral of certain market violators to the military justice system. Rather, proposed amendments to the Consumer Protection Law include increasing penalties on market violators for certain breaches.
  • The Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade claimed that the latest mechanism for granting import licenses is clear, transparent and achieves equality. The mechanism focused on production requirements and raw materials, which amounted to 95% of imports four months after it was implemented. The Minister also held that a decrease in imports indicates a greater reliance on local production while an increase in exports improved Syria’s trade balance. The Minister affirmed that Syria’s private sector is managing to export goods to over 80 countries.
  • The Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade stated that sugar importation is open to anyone as there were 64 importers in 2016, meaning there is no monopoly on this item.
  • The Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade denied that a decision was taken to permit the importation of new and used cars and affirmed that no such permission was granted at all.
  • An official in the Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade called on the Ministry to resume the responsibilities that were relinquished from it over the years. The Ministry of National Economy in the 1950s was responsible for all aspects of economic policy, monetary, banking and financial affairs, foreign trade and international cooperation. The banking and insurance sectors were ceded to the Ministry of Finance whereas responsibilities for tobacco and cotton were delegated to the Ministry of Industry over the years. The relevant official called for the Syrian Investment Agency, insurance companies and banks to be subjected to the jurisdiction of the Ministry. The Ministry does not oversee the operations of the Syrian Investment Agency despite a provision in Legislative Decree 21/2007 that obliges the Ministry to facilitate investments. There are further calls for the Ministry to play a greater role in supervising investments and small and medium-sized enterprises. Currently, a Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade committee is studying a new decree that would reevaluate the functions of the Ministry by revising previous legislation. The committee is studying options from other Arab countries to consider the structure of the Ministry. It is worth recalling that Legislative Decree 46/2012 established both the Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade and the Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection after they were previously merged into one Ministry. Relevant legislation concerning the Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade include Decree 2804/1969, Legislative Decree 69/2003 and Legislative Decree 21/2007.
  • The Council of Ministers approved a bill allowing standing facilities that have not yet received administrative licensing to carry out activities temporarily.
  • According to the government, the smart card system should be operational in Syria by mid-2017.

Industry

  • Syrian industrialists are allegedly to be given priority when purchasing oil products if they procure them in foreign currency, i.e. US Dollars.

Finance

  • The Minister of Finance denied any current plans to merge some of the public banks together but nevertheless leaves the door open to future possibilities.
  • The Monetary and Credit Council revoked the license of a foreign exchange company and banned its general manager from carrying on in the profession due to violations.

Taxation

  • The Customs Directorate reduced duties on raw materials imported for industrial purposes by 50%.
  • A decision to collect customs duties on armored vehicles and the settlements of violations was deemed necessary due to the presence of unlicensed vehicles. The customs duties will provide funds for the Public Treasury as the owners of such vehicles are required to pay sums of SYP 50 million or more for each settlement.
  • The Council of Ministers planned to reconsider permission granted to Customs officers to enter shops within the cities. The cabinet tasked the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade with meeting businessmen to hear their suggestions as to how to formulate new instructions in this respect.
  • There was allegedly a new law imposing tax on mineral ores derived from investments in quarries, which are expected to give a boost to public revenues.

Insurance

  • The Prime Minister ratified the Articles of Association of the Arab Insurance Institute with a capital of $10 million (US). The foundation stone of the Arab Insurance Institute was initially laid by former Prime Minister Naji Otri before the current conflict broke out.

Maritime

  • A new bill approved by the Council of Ministers amends the fees for building ships, registering them, transferring their ownership and imposes other fees on ships that enter Syrian docks or drop anchor in Syrian territorial waters.

Employment

  • The Prime Minister issued a decision requiring employees located in conflict areas to be paid their salaries by their employers. Employees must present their identity cards, signatures and fingerprints in order to claim their salaries. The decision targets any attempts at manipulation.
  • The Prime Minister restructured the committee charged with responding to specific queries concerning the Public Employment Law.

Media

  • The Council of Ministers approved a decision to license a number of newspapers and publications.

Immigration

  • The Council of Ministers approved a bill amending consular fees for granting and renewing passports and travel documents for Syrians residing overseas. The bill adds a category allowing an immediate and expeditious issuing of passports. The bill provides for the possibility of issuing the passport within Syria to families and persons with a power of attorney.
  • According to the Minister of National Reconciliation, Syrians abroad who want to return to Syria can send requests to the Ministry through fax, e-mail or through the embassies. Such measures apply to Syrians who are unsure about their status should they return to Syria. In this respect, the Syrian embassies abroad are to coordinate with the Ministry of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs.

Education

  • The Council of Ministers planned to divide the University of Damascus into two entities- one named the First University of Damascus and the other the Second University of Damascus. The cabinet also approved a bill licensing a private university in Qamishli city in Hassakeh province and a branch of it in Maa’ret Saidnaya in Rural Damascus.

Local Councils

  • The ceasefire agreement to stop hostilities in the Waer district just outside Homs city portrays the degree of authority being wielded by provincial governors throughout the conflict in Syria as the Governor of Homs played an instrumental role in this agreement.

Judiciary

  • A suicide bomber struck the Palace of Justice in Damascus targeting Syria’s judges and lawyers on March 15th, the sixth anniversary of the start of the conflict in the country. The attack was followed by another blast in the Rabweh district of Damascus.
  • The Minister of Justice established a number of courts and judicial departments in Rural Damascus province following a decision by the Supreme Judicial Council.

Military

  • The agreements reached between the Syrian Arab Army and the resource-rich Kurdish-majority areas in northeastern Syria are likely to provide an economic boost in energy and agriculture.

Humanitarian

  • The Council of Ministers approved a request from the World Food Programme to allow United Nations humanitarian agencies to import limited quantities of fuel from Lebanon.

International

  • Contracts signed between Syria and Iran in early 2017 form part of a joint economic cooperation agreement to bring in foreign investment and considerable capital. The investments will be for land reclamation, livestock, mining, fuel reserves and cellular network projects in Syria. Attracting foreign investments benefit citizens and create job opportunities which increase national production, economic activity, GDP and so forth.
  • According to President Bashar Al-Assad, Syria is ready for Chinese investments in every sector of the war-damaged economy during the reconstruction stage.
  • India continues to prepare to take part in Syria’s reconstruction process.
  • The Philippines is the latest country to maintain friendly relations with Syria after sending its Deputy Foreign Minister to visit Aleppo city.

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