Law No. 12 of 2014 regulates the profession of transaction facilitators and petition writers. A transaction facilitator is a person authorised to handle professionally and complete transactions at public and non-public entities on behalf of their owners for a fee. This includes all real estate transactions, payment of fees at the financial departments in Syria’s governorates, documentation at the Cadastral Affairs Directorates, and tracking them in courts.
The bureaucracy of government bodies and institutions, along with legal complexities, often makes completing a simple official transaction at a public entity a time-consuming and complicated task should someone attempt it on their own. Therefore, through their experience and relationships with government employees, transaction facilitators have become vital to expediting transactions and overcoming legal obstacles or by bribing employees.
Since 2011, reliance on transaction facilitators has noticeably increased with the increase in the number of people wanted for security reasons and compulsory military service who fear approaching government bodies. The client base has expanded to include displaced and expatriate Syrians who have lost the ability to follow up on their official transactions at government bodies.
Law No. 12 regulated the terms of transaction facilitators’ work. It specified the conditions that must be met for a professional licence, imposing disciplinary and financial penalties on violators. Among the qualifications for the job, a transaction facilitator must be Syrian, over 18 years old, a high school graduated, without felonies, employed outside of the public sector, dedicated to the profession, and have a permanent office.
Notably, Law No. 12 considers the profession of transaction facilitation a craft supervised by the Ministry of Industry and the General Union of Craftsmen. To practise this profession, a facilitator must pass a conduct examination set by the Ministry of Industry, be a member of the Craft Association in their governorate, have a licence from the specialised Craft Association certified by the head of the Union of Craft Associations in their governorate, the General Union of Craftsmen and the Ministry of Industry.
The law granted the General Union of Craftsmen the authority to determine the fees charged by transaction facilitators. However, in practice, the union does not set these fees; instead, the facilitators autonomously determine their charges. Often, these fees include amounts and gifts given to employees as bribes to expedite the transaction or to find solutions and loopholes to circumvent the law.
A transaction facilitator takes an oath before the Magistrate’s Court to practise their profession with honour and integrity. However, university degree holders are exempt from this oath. The law also allows members of the “Craft Associations for Licensed Real Estate, Administrative and Surveying Activities” in the governorates to engage in transaction facilitation and petition writing.
Law No. 12 stipulates one to three months in prison and a SYP 25,000 fine for anyone working as a transaction facilitator without a licence. Patrols and judicial officers are deployed to Cadastral Affairs departments and government offices to ensure compliance with professional practice conditions and issue warnings or legal notices to those working without a licence.
Before Law No. 12 of 2014, Law No. 119 of 1951 regulated the profession of transaction facilitation and allowed its workers to form their union, which operated until it dissolved in 1969. A craft association for transaction facilitators was established in 1974 under the supervision of the Ministry of Industry. Generally, the provisions of Law No. 119 of 1951 remained in effect until the enactment of Law No. 12 of 2014.
State-run media often report complaints from licensed transaction facilitators about the increasing number of unlicensed individuals in the profession attracted by its good income. This situation creates competition that further relies on networks of corruption and favouritism within government bodies. Some facilitators note that poor internet connectivity and frequent power outages are obstacles to their work, in addition to bureaucracy and the whims of public sector employees. Some local media point out the existence of networks of employees who work exclusively with certain facilitators and deliberately delay transactions for others. Due to declining incomes and difficult living conditions, some lawyers have started working as unlicensed transaction facilitators in recent years.
Besides the high fees charged by transaction facilitators, their work is often marred by delays and procrastination, and they frequently fail to complete transactions within the agreed timeframe. In many transactions involving legal issues, a transaction facilitator may demand a hefty upfront fee, justifying it as necessary for bribing officials or facilitating security clearance in real estate sales. This places clients at the mercy of the facilitator, often without the ability to recover the fee in case of a dispute or the facilitator’s inability to complete the transaction. Some facilitators delay completing transactions to pressure clients for more money, claiming additional funds are needed to bribe officials.
Thousands of people work in transaction facilitation across areas under the Damascus government’s control. For instance, in Lattakia, there are 965 licensed facilitators affiliated with the Craft Association, and in Damascus, there are about 1,200 licensed facilitators, not to mention many unlicensed facilitators.