Legal Briefing- September 2017

Finance

  • The Council of Ministers approved a bill to establish the Federation of Syrian Banks (FSB) to include all the public and private banks in the country. Its membership will include the 20 Syrian banks, six of which are public banks and 14 are privately owned, three of which are Islamic banks. The move follows a proposal by the Commercial Bank of Syria and studies carried out by the Central Bank. The FSB, based in Damascus, will have legal personality along with financial and administrative independence. It will represent and protect the interests of the banks, make proposals, organize the banking sector, resolve disputes and so forth. In this respect, the FSB will provide consultations and not have executive authority as the latter falls under the domain of the Monetary and Credit Council. It will also have the right to own movable and immovable properties in order to realize its objectives.
  • The Council of Ministers discussed legislation relating to the financing and incorporation of factoring companies that purchase non-performing loans.
  • The People’s Assembly approved a bill amending Articles 4(a) and 4(b) of the Foreign Exchange Law to raise the minimum capital requirements for foreign exchange offices and companies. After President Bashar Al-Assad ratified Law 29/2017, the minimum capital requirements became SYP 200 million for offices in remote areas, SYP 400 million for offices in general and SYP 2 billion for companies. Foreign exchange offices and companies are given a maximum period of two years to settle their statuses in accordance with Law 29/2017.
  • A committee is to investigate previous foreign exchange policies adopted by the Central Bank and their effects on the Syrian Pound.
  • A Syrian youth trained dogs to detect illegal foreign currencies in Syria as foreign exchange remains heavily regulated in the country.
  • Following a proposal by the Central Supervisory and Inspection Agency, the Minister of Finance ordered an asset freeze on five transport and freight companies. The asset freezes apply to the movable and immovable properties of the companies in Tartous. They were imposed due to suspected fraudulent activities and the failure to pay the required fees.

Taxation

  • Frustration mounts in certain sectors over policies adopted by the tax authorities.
  • Dentists vented their anger at the tax authorities due to the unjustified imposition of tax bills on their profession as they perceive it.
  • An Aleppo MP was surprised that fabrics and yarns are considered production inputs, which are subjected to a 50% reduction in customs duties as provided for in Decree 172/2017. In this respect, the government is to allow merchants and industrialists to import fabrics accordingly with a 50% discount on customs duties. The government also dismantled the committee charged with supervising and overseeing the importation of fabrics into Syria.
  • The Minister of Finance highlighted the importance of the committee charged with determining actual market valuations for real estate properties, which will be used for calculating sales tax liabilities. Such a move will lead to greater revenues for the Public Treasury through real estate sales taxes and will help curb corrupt practices.
  • The formation of a committee to revise the taxation regime reflects the government’s acknowledgment that the current system is not keeping up with the economy.

Insurance

  • 80% of lawsuits in the insurance sector are linked to compulsory insurance policies.
  • Two-thirds of insurance companies are in breach of legal provisions with respect to their auditing obligations. 12 insurance companies operate in the Syrian market while eight are in breach.
  • A study is being undertaken to establish an investment fund for insurance companies to employ part of their financial reserves.
  • Reform in the insurance industry is to reflect the expected increase of volume in the insurance market that will accompany reconstruction.
  • The government is moving forward with its focus on health insurance as it topped the agenda during a meeting of the Council of Ministers. In this respect, the Prime Minister and the government addressed the file concerning health insurance for public sector employees.

Commerce

  • Following the Damascus International Fair, the objective of new legislation is to develop trade ties with friendly countries.
  • 250 local and foreign companies took part in a reconstruction fair in Damascus.
  • According to the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, Syria will not accept a dominant position for foreign states and companies in the reconstruction phase.
  • According to the Syrian Minister of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs, if Europeans want to participate in Syria’s reconstruction, they must first lift the sanctions they imposed against the country.
  • There is a surge in the number of businesses being established in Syria.
  • The Economic Committee linked to the Council of Ministers agreed to the request of industrialists to import used machinery to operate their factories.
  • The Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection carried out surprise visits to a number of food outlets in Damascus to monitor compliance with price controls.
  • The Council of Ministers issued two decisions calling for the formation of two committees. One committee will be tasked with studying the economic feasibility of the state-owned Syrian Trading Establishment. The second committee will be responsible for strengthening the capabilities of the Competition Protection and Anti-Monopoly Commission.

Agriculture

  • The People’s Assembly deliberated on the Agricultural Engineering Profession Bill, specifically its representative body and the means by which to resolve disputes.
  • The Agriculture and Water Resources Committee in the People’s Assembly discussed the provisions of Legislative Decree 5/2007 concerning forests and forest lands.

Property

  • Cases have emerged whereby the ownership of electricity and water meters are transferred to the names of tenants without the knowledge of landlords.
  • A clampdown on unlicensed real estate agents is underway as their actions are having detrimental effects on property markets.

Media

  • Amendments to the Media Law passed in 2011 are expected by the end of the year. There will be more focus on developing private sector media outlets. The legislative changes follow the transfer of competencies of the National Media Council to the Ministry of Information.
  • Amendments to the Journalists Union Law will focus on the admission of private media journalists into the syndicate alongside state media journalists.

Electricity

  • The Minister of Electricity visited Iran to agree a number of contracts to import electricity generation plants to Syria.

Education

  • The Ministry of Education issued the new school curriculum, which was subjected to heavy criticism. The Minister of Education told the People’s Assembly that he is open to constructive criticism in formulating a curriculum that meets today’s requirements. The People’s Assembly looked to set up a committee to look into the recently released curriculum.
  • Millions of dollars pledged to educate Syrian children seeking refuge overseas did not reach their intended beneficiaries last year.
  • A Syrian MP called for independent legislation to regulate the salaries of teachers separate from the Public Employment Law.
  • President Bashar Al-Assad issued Decree 282/2017, which amends Articles 117 and 171 of the Executive Regulations of the Universities Law. The Decree concerns transfers of students between universities.
  • The Supreme Education Council agreed to adopt the criteria for the recognition of foreign universities.

Telecommunications

  • The Information and IT Committee in the People’s Assembly discussed the Postal Bill, which seeks to restructure the sector to improve its performance.

Craftsmen

  • The Council of Ministers granted non-licensed craftsmen and workshop owners a two-year grace period to encourage their work.

Immigration

  • Lebanese immigration authorities amended the regulations for Syrian nationals in Lebanon to ease their visa renewal process. The regulations give Syrians on a work visa until December 31, 2017 to renew their sponsorships within Lebanon with new sponsors. Previously, if their current sponsor refused to renew their sponsorship, they would have to leave Lebanon before re-applying. The Lebanese sponsor maintains full responsibility for the Syrian national during their stay in Lebanon. Syrians who entered Lebanon legally for touristic purposes after January 4, 2015 and overstayed can now pay a financial settlement in order to leave Lebanon. The current regulations allow Syrians to apply for six types of entry visas including for touristic, business, educational, transit, short stay and medical purposes.
  • Concerns are growing over state-sponsored discrimination against Syrians in Lebanon by Lebanese municipalities that are banning Syrians from certain places.
  • The United Arab Emirates resumed regular visa approvals for Syrian applicants after a six-year hiatus.
  • The Trump Administration renewed its travel ban affecting Syrian nationals.

Civil Status

  • Over a million refugees have left Syria and not obtained their civil status documents.

Judiciary

  • According to the Judicial Inspectorate, the authorities are going after employees who conceal judicial files to prolong litigation or delay the execution of judgments.

Government

  • Concerns emerge that executives who oversee various ministries are behaving as if they have the authority of ministers themselves.
  • According to the President of the General Federation of Trade Unions, some ministers are not living up to their responsibilities.
  • According to the Minister of Foreign and Expatriate Affairs, Syrian Kurds want a type of self-management within Syria. He stated that this issue is negotiable and can be discussed once ISIS is eradicated.

Parliament

  • The Baath Party Regional Command nominated Hammoudeh Sabbagh to assume the post of Speaker of the People’s Assembly as the Baathists and their allies enjoy a majority in the Parliament. The next day, 193 MPs out of 250 in total voted Sabbagh, the first Christian since Fares Khoury to hold this post, into office. Sabbagh’s election follows a move by MPs to remove the former Speaker Hadiyeh Abbas from the post back in July. According to Article 20 of the Rules of Procedure of the People’s Assembly, if only one candidate runs for the post of Speaker, a second round of voting becomes mandatory. If only one candidate runs on the second round, he or she shall be declared the winner by acclamation.
  • In the first incident of its kind, an alleged verbal altercation broke out between two MPs in the lobby of the People’s Assembly. The fight erupted apparently after one male MP attacked another female MP’s line of questioning directed towards the Minister of Education. It allegedly included verbal insults and an attempted physical altercation, which was prevented by other MPs. The verbal assault was said to have been accompanied by accusations of lack of patriotism stemming from the MP’s mode of questioning directed towards the Minister. The MP accused of these actions denied that they took place as mentioned in the description offered by his colleague in the People’s Assembly. The current Parliament has witnessed events not seen for decades, such as the sacking of its own Speaker, the first woman to hold the post since 1919, by MPs and the temporary installment of a non-Baathist for the first time in decades as Acting Speaker.
  • 12 candidates submitted nomination papers to compete for a seat in the Deir Ez-Zor by-election.

Local Councils

  • The Governorate of Damascus increased the fines for violating the conditions for excavations and drilling activities in the capital.
  • The discharged Mayor of the Damascus district of Qudsaya refused to hand over his duties to the new Mayor following a decision by the Ministry of Local Administration and the Environment to this effect.
  • The Ministry of Local Administration and the Environment submitted a bill to exempt municipal fee payers from fine and interest payments for delays in settling their dues. The bill seeks to improve the financial liquidity of local authorities throughout Syria and to encourage taxpayers to settle their dues.

Criminal Law

  • The Chairman of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee in the People’s Assembly decried the spread of cybercrime on websites in governmental institutions. He also criticized the lack of relevant legislation to deal with the phenomenon of cybercrime. The Head of the Cybercrime Unit in the Criminal Security Department, which falls under the authority of the Internal Security Forces, laid blame on employees within governmental institutions for hackings of their employers’ websites.
  • There is confusion as to how a drug dealer escaped from the Palace of Justice in Damascus.
  • A legal dispute continues between Syrian actor Mustafa Khani and his ex-father-in-law Bashar Al-Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, over libelous claims. Khani was briefly imprisoned over the matter.

International

  • Egyptian figures filed two lawsuits to revoke the decision of ousted Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi to sever diplomatic ties between Egypt and Syria. The second lawsuit seeks to expel elements of the Syrian opposition from Egyptian territories.

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