Damascus Governor Mohamed Tareq Krishati seems to be prioritising punishing unlicensed construction over other essential service issues, continuing his legacy from his tenure as governor of Hama between 2020 and 2022.
The governor has recently increased his threats of harsher penalties against employees colluding in covering up unlicensed construction or failing to suppress and report them, a source in the Damascus governorate told The Syria Report. In the past two years, many employees of the governorate and municipalities have been imprisoned, some without trial.
Mr Krishati insists on the governorate continuously monitoring construction and restoration permits (officially named Permits for Reinforcement and Partial Reconstruction), supervising the compliance of implemented works with licensing conditions, and preventing violations and changes to property specifications. He also holds the governorate’s employees responsible for failing to uncover violations in construction and restoration permits.
Mr Krishati regularly meets with heads and engineers of municipal departments in Damascus, emphasising the priority of suppressing unlicensed construction and referring both perpetrators and those neglecting the issue to the judiciary per the executive instructions of the Building Violations Law No. 40 of 2012.
However, sources in the Damascus governorate told The Syria Report they doubt Mr Krishati’s seriousness in stopping unlicensed construction, a significant source of corruption. These sources suggest that some major violations occur with the governor’s knowledge, who can prevent engineers from entering illegal construction sites by deeming them as having “special security status.” An example is a building in the Al-Malki district, owned by Wassim Al-Qattan, partially collapsed on September 11. Following the collapse, many officials and employees of the Damascus governorate and its municipal departments were suspended, including the mayor of the Muhajireen district, who was nearing retirement.
Another example is the collapse on November 13 of an unlicensed building in an informal settlement within the Al-Tadhamon district. The current mayor, along with several former mayors, were detained. This area is controlled by the pro-regime National Defence Militia, which restricts the movement of Damascus governorate employees.
In a rare move, the semi-official Al-Watan newspaper criticised the Damascus governorate in an article published on November 22, stating that the governorate’s actions following the collapse in Al-Tadhamon do not absolve it of responsibility. It called for more proactive measures to avoid potentially catastrophic consequences, emphasising that negligence in safety procedures by implementers and supervisors is a heinous crime.
The newspaper pointed out the widespread laxity, neglect, and exploitation by building contractors and owners, facilitated by the governorate’s restoration permits, considered a source of corruption and profit for employees, contractors, and owners. These parties allegedly pay bribes to municipalities and the governorate for work permits. The paper claimed that restoration permits for apartments are exploited to build additional storeys without structural safety compliance, often away from regulatory scrutiny, with authorities turning a blind eye in exchange for payments and gifts.
The governorate is trying to involve neighbourhood heads (mukhtars) in the issue of unlicensed construction by obligating them to report such cases, threatening them with dismissal and imprisonment if they fail to report. On November 20, Executive Office member Qais Ramadan stated that if the governorate catches any unreported building violation, legal action will be taken against the mukhtars. He also mentioned the need to appoint 15 new mukhtars to replace those dismissed due to legal violations, death, or travel.
The mukhtars’ powers are limited, primarily issuing residency certificates for neighbourhood residents and notifying them of court dates. According to Syrian laws, mukhtars are not responsible for reporting unlicensed construction.
The Syria Report’s sources indicate that the recent crackdown on unlicensed construction has hindered Damascus’s issuance of restoration permits. Employees now fear facilitating even legitimate procedures to avoid the consequences of unknowingly aiding violations. Consequently, some popular neighbourhoods in Damascus might face building collapses due to a lack of restoration and reinforcement, with construction materials being prevented from entering these areas.