How is the Dismissed Damascus Countryside Governor Connected to Recent Building Violation Demolitions?
The Damascus Countryside governorate last week launched a campaign to demolish what it calls “building violations” in various parts of rural Damascus. The campaign included buildings in Darayya, Jdeidet Artouz, Sahnaya and Harasta, though official pro-government media only focused its attention on the demolition of buildings in the town of Al-Sabboura that had not been constructed according to building regulations.
The start of the demolition campaign came just one day after Alaa Ibrahim was removed from his post as governor of Damascus Countryside on December 02, in accordance with Presidential Decree No. 325 of 2020. Ibrahim was also subjected to a provisional seizure of his assets, as well as those of his wife and children, under Decree No. 2941 from the Ministry of Finance on December 03.
The demolition campaign targeted building violations licensed through exceptional decrees granted by the municipal councils and approved by the governorate while Ibrahim was still in office. Immediately after Ibrahim’s dismissal, the governorate cancelled the exemptions previously granted to owners of buildings that were in violation of code, without providing any justification. According to sources who spoke with The Syria Report, it appears that a large number of violating buildings in various parts of the rural areas outside Damascus had received exemptions from the governorate in recent years in return for bribes to the governor.
On December 03, the Central Demolition Committee (CDC) in the Damascus Countryside governorate began demolishing and removing building violations in the town of Al-Saboura west of Damascus. Officials from both the governorate and the municipality were present, as were law enforcement, in accordance with the provisions of Legislative Decree No. 40 of 2012 on Building Violations. The properties targeted for demolition included four residential buildings, each consisting of six storeys. CDCs were formed separately in each governorate, in accordance with instructions provided by Legislative Decree No. 59 of 2008 regarding the removal of building violations. The CDCs are aimed at providing support and counsel, and to carry out the demolition or transfer using both public and private sector capacity.
A violating building is a building constructed without obtaining a permit, or one whose builders violated the terms of the licence, according to Building Violations Law No. 1 for 2003. Meanwhile, Decree No. 40 of 2012 stipulates that the building be completely removed, regardless of its location, and that a fine and imprisonment be imposed on the perpetrators, as well as for contractors and hired workers who constructed the building. All construction equipment in their possession at the site of the violation must be confiscated, the building demolished, and the rubble removed at the owner’s expense.
Cases exempted from those measures include building violations that occurred before Decree No. 40 of 2012 went into effect, or those that could not be removed due to the potential dangers to surrounding buildings. In this case, the owner of the violating building must be charged a fee equal to twice the earnings he made from the building. In 2017, the governorate permitted legal settlement of some of the violations that occurred before 2012, provided that the owners submit an engineering report confirming the building’s structural integrity, and that the building does not disrupt the general appearance of its surrounding area.
However, during its current campaign, the governorate refused to conduct legal settlements in similar cases, without providing any justification as to why. Such settlements are permitted in some cases, according to Legislative Decree No. 59 of 2008, provided that there is no “change in the construction system according to specified controls and fines imposed on the violator, whether that is the owner of the building themselves, or the investor.”
Demolition work in Al-Saboura