Early in January 2022, the Damascus governorate began removing most of the portable commercial kiosks that had been set up on public property, given that the kiosks’ licencing period had ended last year. The governorate exempted kiosks owned by wounded regime veterans and family members of “martyrs.”
The Damascus governorate began distributing warnings in late 2021 informing kiosk owners that they must clear out and remove their portable shops, as per a circular issued by the Minister of Local Administration on December 19. The circular was based on the ministry’s previous Circular No. 347 of 2019, which granted licences to existing kiosks for a period of no more than three years, ending at the beginning of 2022. Kiosks owned by wounded regime soldiers and family members of “martyrs” were granted an additional one-year occupancy period, so long as the licence holders pledged not to demand renewal.
Removing the kiosks means demanding that owners permanently dismantle them and either move them outside Damascus or sell them to others who do have licences. This is because ownership of the kiosks belongs to the owners themselves, rather than to the Damascus governorate. The governorate’s role is simply to grant licences for the kiosks that will then occupy certain sidewalks and public spaces in return for an annual fee.
Until the end of 2021, there were around 500 such kiosks in the city of Damascus, divided into two categories according to the type of licence they had obtained:
“Support kiosks,” which had been granted to people with special needs and whose licences were previously not subject to any time limits. These are the category of kiosks that the Damascus governorate has now begun to remove. Usually, the licence for these kiosks ended with the death of the licence holder and could not be inherited. The licences for “support kiosks” were often granted to people who had collaborated with the security forces, with some kiosk owners tasked with certain security duties. In 2019, the Ministry of Local Administration decided to end licencing for this type of kiosk and forbade local administrative units from granting new licences of the kind. The ministry also informed owners of a three-year deadline to remove their kiosks. There are 300 of these “support kiosks” in Damascus city.
The second category is called “kiosks for wounded veterans or martyrs’ families.” These were granted over the past decade to some family members of regime soldiers or pro-regime militia members who had been killed at war and to some injured soldiers. There are around 200 of these kiosks in Damascus and were granted an additional one-year licence period, set to conclude at the end of 2022.
The Damascus governorate issued a booklet in 2017 that detailed the specifications that kiosks must meet in order to operate and the locations in which they are authorised to set up. The price of the new kiosk’s structure, which conforms to the specifications, amounted to SYP 1.5 million at the time.
Then in 2019, the Damascus governorate determined the criteria for granting licences for the second category of kiosks. Wounded beneficiaries must have a disability rate of 70 to 100 percent, according to government criteria. Meanwhile, for family members of killed soldiers, beneficiaries must not be employees or recipients of any other government support programmes. Licences for the kiosks would only be granted to Damascus city residents.
Neither the Ministry of Local Administration nor the Damascus governorate clarified whether there would be alternatives provided for the kiosks removed in 2022. However, there does seem to be a new plan to licence the kiosks at higher prices in the future, which is likely given the recent increases in the fees for occupying public property.
Article 16 of the Financial Law of Administrative Units No. 37 of 2021 states that occupancy of public properties, such as roads, sidewalks, squares, and parking lots, requires a licence granted by the local administrative unit’s executive office. This licence, which the grantee may not hand over to others, determines the surface area permitted for the occupancy, as well as the length and type of occupancy. Though the 2021 law did not mention kiosks by name, it set the fee for the occupancy of public spaces at SYP 100-3,000 per square metre daily. The fee would be collected in advance every three months or for the entirety of the occupancy period – whichever is less. The maximum annual fee for a four-square-metre kiosk in Damascus would be around SYP4.32 million, meaning that the Damascus governorate could collect at most SYP 2 billion from the 500 local kiosks annually.
The 2021 law also imposes a fine of SYP 10,000-50,000 on anyone who occupies a public space without a licence. The administrative unit’s executive office has the power to cancel licences, provided that the occupant is given no more than one month’s notice to vacate the property. The occupancy fee would still be in effect for this period.