During the first and second meetings of the Damascus governorate council’s first session in January 2022, a dispute broke out shedding light on the duties of the previous Directorate for Implementation of Decree No. 66, particularly the issues regarding the distribution of organisational shares and residents’ lack of access to alternative housing in Marota City.
Official media outlets did not publish the names of the two Damascus governorate council members who exchanged accusations during the dispute. However, one of them was described as a former member of the parliament and the other as a current member. According to the semi-official Al-Watan newspaper, the first member accused the former administration of the Directorate for Implementation of Decree No. 66 of causing obstructions that resulted in an incorrect number of organizational shares granted in lieu of equities. He added that 2,500 families had not yet benefited from alternative housing. The second council member responded to these accusations, saying that no member has the right to address any council director without presenting any documents or records.
Decree No. 66 stipulated the creation of a special directorate within the Damascus governorate to implement the terms of the decree. The Minister of Local Administration would be in charge of appointing the administration’s members and determining its duties. Riyad Diab, a member of the Damascus governorate council, currently heads the directorate, while the former head was governorate council member Jamal Al-Youssef under former Damascus governor Bishr Al-Sabban.
Neither the Damascus governorate nor pro-regime media shared any further details about the disagreement, classifying the issue as a “dispute” between different viewpoints. The first council member’s accusations, as well as the responses to him, suggest that the media has avoided mentioning the responsibility of the previous Decree No. 66 directorate to distribute organizational shares.
However, during the same governorate council meeting, council member Ghaleb Uniz requested an amendment to the Ministry of Public Works and Housing Decree No. 112 of 2015, which concerns alternative housing. The 2015 decree had been issued to determine the mechanism for granting alternative housing stipulated within Decree No. 66. Decree No. 112 set several conditions for alternative housing, including that the house was inhabited before the issuance of Decree No. 66 and until the date of eviction, and that the occupant was either an owner or a tenant. The 2015 decree also obliged the administrative unit to verify the existence of official documents proving the ownership or tenancy of the occupants regardless of the property’s description in the land registries.
Mr Youssef said in 2019 that 8,200 people had declared their rights to alternative housing in Marota City. When screened by the Directorate of Cadastral Affairs, 5,500 were able to confirm their ownership, while the remaining 2,700 people could not.
The previous Directorate for Implementation of Decree No. 66 faced criticism on many fronts, including for the complicated conditions it imposed to prove ownership or tenancy, which were not mentioned in Decree No. 112. For example, the directorate required rights holders to present statements of emigration from the Department of Emigration and Passports in order to prevent emigrants from proving their property rights. Furthermore, some people who were otherwise eligible for alternative housing were unable to complete their files out of fear of arrest by the security forces or of forced mandatory military service.
Decree No. 66 entitled people who had built their homes on public property within the Decree No. 66 zone to receive rent compensation for a period of two years and to obtain alternative housing. Those who owned agricultural land and built housing or commercial properties on top of it could obtain annual rent compensation until they received their alternative housing. Meanwhile, whoever had been a tenant was given 30 and 40 percent of the rental property’s share depending on whether the property had been residential or commercial, respectively. Finally, those who owned agricultural land within the decree zone would only be entitled to financial compensation. In all cases, alternative housing is defined as housing given to those who owned or occupied residential property in the Decree No. 66 implementation zone and had vacated the property. Beneficiaries must pay for the alternative housing in interest-bearing installments according to the estimated construction costs.