The Damascus governorate announced, for the third time, a sealed public auction in early September in order to recycle debris from buildings in the Al-Tadhamon district south of the capital, as well as from buildings and public facilities in the Qaboun Industrial zone to the northeast.
According to the announcement, September 10 was the deadline for submitting bids to the Directorate of Correspondence in the governorate headquarters, located in Yousef Al-Azma Square.
Though more than two weeks have passed since the deadline for bids, the governorate has yet to issue updates on the auction for either of the two regions.
According to The Syria Report’s correspondent in Damascus, the area targeted by the auction in Al-Tadhamon is a residential neighbourhood that overlooks the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp. It served as a line of military defence during the period of opposition control in Al-Tadhamon from 2012 to 2015 and afterwards under Islamic State control from 2015 to 2018, when regime forces recaptured control in a destructive ground and aerial campaign. After regaining control, the governorate has demolished dozens of buildings in the area leading up to Palestine Street in the Yarmouk camp.
Regime forces only allowed some displaced Al-Tadhamon residents, who had obtained security approval and whose homes were not destroyed, to return to the area. They then had to restore their homes at their own expense after paying bribes to checkpoint security personnel and members of the military in order to bring in the necessary construction supplies.
As for the Qaboun Industrial Zone, it is virtually destroyed and slated for demolition under Decree No. 237 issued on September 14, 2021. This decree stipulated establishing a zoned real estate area at the northern entrance of Damascus in line with Law No. 10 of 2018 that allowed creating such areas within the general zoning plan of an administrative unit.
Decree No. 237 of 2021 is based on the Zoning Plan No. 104 of June 2019 for the Qaboun Industrial Zone, which included facilities for both the public and private sectors. However, from 2013 to 2018 the area became a frontline between regime and rebel forces, the latter of which were entrenched in the Qaboun residential area, as well as neighbouring Jobar and East Ghouta. Regime forces have not yet allowed anyone to return to the Qaboun Industrial Zone, including owners of factories and other industrial facilities.
Though battles in these areas ended in 2018 with the forced displacement of opposition fighters, piles of debris remain. The Damascus governorate and its local municipalities justify this problem by saying there is a lack of funds to remove the rubble, as well as shortages of equipment, labour and fuel. Meanwhile, security forces prohibit the transport of debris to regulated dumping grounds without licences from the governorate.
The month’s announcement of a sealed public auction for the two areas is not the first of its kind, and resembles previous announcements issued by other governorates aimed at getting private sector contractors to remove and transport rubble. The Ministry of Local Administration organises these auctions through the Damascus governorate and its municipalities, via administrative decisions made according to the unified contract system established in Law No. 51 of 2004.
Notably, the most recent auction announcement makes no mention of Rubble Removal Law No. 3 of 2018. Amid its numerous shortcomings, the 2018 law gave real estate owners only a one-month period in which to prove their rights and ownership over their properties, as well as to take their private possessions and debris. In other words, the debris is only the property of the owners after they prove their rights within a narrow timeframe and according to legally valid documentation. This means that the issue of debris removal, despite its extreme sensitivity, is not approached from the standpoint of ownership rights but rather as merely a technical administrative issue.
The Syria Report’s local correspondent asked an informed Damascus governorate source how such auctions are conducted. The source indicated that local NGOs, funded by international donors, usually serve as intermediaries between the governorate and the public sector institutions and companies, as well as private companies and building contractors, in order to implement such activities. These local NGOs can help fund the Damascus governorate directly in order to present such projects to potential applicants – or they may enter into direct contracts with the governorate to offer up the projects. In many cases, this chain of intermediaries does not reach the final state of contracting and launching work until there is a mutual understanding that includes paying bribes to municipal officials and security and military apparatuses that control the concerned areas.
The Syria Report reviewed the technical conditions booklet that the Damascus governorate distributed to potential auction bidders, and which includes various required tasks and methods for implementation. According to the booklet, bidders must possess a jaw crusher (a machine used in demolition and rubble recycling) capable of crushing at least 100 tonnes of debris per hour. A jaw crusher can sort iron for recycling in furnaces, as well as sift other debris to extract aggregate and sand for reuse in other construction projects.
According to the booklet, the Damascus governorate has estimated there to be 260,000 cubic metres of debris in need of recycling: 200,000 cubic metres in Al-Tadhamon, and 60,000 cubic metres in the Qaboun Industrial Zone.
Contractors must ensure that the recycling output ratio is not less than 60 percent of the total amount of debris, including 80 percent aggregate, 20 percent sand and one kilogram of iron for every cubic metre of debris. By calculation, the quantity of recycled debris is about 156,000 cubic metres, including 124,000 cubic metres of aggregate, 31,000 cubic metres of sand and 156 tonnes of scrap iron.
Finally, the booklet also clarifies that contractors must ensure all the recycled products are clean and free of impurities, and that the governorate will supervise analysis of test samples.
So far, there have been few applicants, as they must have special heavy machinery, The Syria Report’s correspondent explained. Only limited numbers of these machines are available from public sector construction companies and associations, particularly the Military Construction Establishment (MCE), which is affiliated with the Ministry of Defence. The MCE is run by Brig. Gen. Riyad Shalish, a cousin of Bashar al-Assad who has been on the EU’s sanctions list since 2011 for his role in suppressing peaceful protests.
The MCE dominates the implementation of large infrastructure projects in Syria, especially those within the public sector, thanks to privileges granted by the government, including tax and customs exemptions, low labour costs and the ability to secure fuel – features severely lacking among private companies. These benefits have, time after time, allowed the MCE to offer cheaper offers than other bidders in order to win tenders. It is expected that the new sealed auctions in Tadhamon and Qaboun will also be awarded to the MCE, sources told The Syria Report.
According to these sources, after the implementing agency has finished recycling the debris, the governorate will likely sell the scrap iron at a symbolic price to an iron smelting factory in the Adra Industrial City. The factory is owned by Damascus businessman Mohammad Hamsho, who is close to General Maher Al-Assad, the commander of the Fourth Division in the regime forces. Hamsho has been on the American and European sanctions lists since 2011.
The iron smelting factory in turn produces structural reinforcement steel from the scrap and sells it in the local market at prices not less than the global price.
Even the process of transporting iron scrap from its extraction sites in Qaboun and Tadhamon to the smelting factory in Adra is carried out by companies exclusively licensed by the security office of the Fourth Division. Initially, approval must be obtained from the security office of the Fourth Division before any transport operation is carried out.
As for the sand and aggregate, it is believed that the Damascus governorate will use part of it in its projects such as the repair and rehabilitation of public roads, and will sell the remaining part to public and private sector construction companies and institutions.
Sources pointed out to The Syria Report that the owners of the demolished buildings in Qaboun and Tadhamon will not receive any compensation for their debris. The governorate considers this debris as its property, and that it has the right to dispose of it without consulting with the original owners. Moreover, owners of the destroyed properties must prove their previous ownership to be later allowed to rebuild them at their expense, and to buy the recycled iron and collected sand from the debris of their homes at the global market price.