The Free Engineers’ Syndicate in Idlib is negogiating with the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG), the political arm of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, to amend parts of Decree No. 307, which the SSG’s Ministry of Local Administration and Services issued on May 22, 2023. The decree established a Directorate of Engineering Affairs within the ministry and assigned various tasks previously under the auspices of the Engineers’ Syndicate.
Sources from the ministry claimed that the decree stemmed from the devastating impacts of the February 6 earthquake and the lack of any role for the Syndicate in reconstruction or infrastructure development work. The source said there has also been a need for more recent engineering studies to keep up with the pace of construction and address resulting issues.
The earthquake caused the partial and complete collapse of hundreds of buildings in areas under SSG control in Idlib and Aleppo governorates. The scale of destruction was due, notably, to existing damage from previous bombings of the regime forces in the area, a lack of engineering supervision in zoning and implementation, and rapid urban expansion via unlicensed construction.
The SSG’s Ministry of Local Administration and Services issued Decree No. 307 based on a decision from the Presidency of the Shura Council, a quasi-legislative authority, and with the approval of the SSG’s prime minister.
The decree outlined the duties of the Directorate of Engineering Affairs, which include: examining all engineering plans related to administrative transactions within the Ministry of Local Administration and Services; examining engineering projects and studies in all work sectors; granting professional licenses to engineers; classifying engineering offices and companies; classifying and granting engineers’ rankings; and approving the engineering staff for studying and supervising all engineering studies in Idlib.
Decree No. 307 also cancelled the powers previously granted to entities carrying out the tasks mentioned above, making the newly established engineering directorate the sole entity empowered to do those duties. Those older entities include the Idlib Branch of the Free Engineers’ Syndicate, founded in 2014 in opposition-controlled areas. It has two branches: one in Idlib and another in Aleppo. In 2020, the Idlib branch was restructured and named the Syrian Engineers’ Syndicate-Idlib Branch, with 850 members. Decree No. 307 barred them from the revenue they previously received from engineering studies and supervision work, which had constituted the primary source of the Syndicate funding and served as the “Mutual Takaful Fund” for members. The Syndicate used to distribute the engineering work among its members, and those members received wages through that fund.
The Syria Report also understands that the Ministry of Local Administration and Services will now require contracting companies operating in Idlib to employ an engineer from its directorate, whose task will be supervising and monitoring the project implementation. Contractors must pay a salary to the delegated engineer of about USD 600 per month (in USD). This requirement was made without a formal written decision but communicated verbally to contractors and contracting companies hoping to continue working in SSG-controlled areas. The ministry also now requires its contractors to use concrete produced by the Ishebilia Stone Works Company (Ishbilia stands for Sevilla in Arabic). It is unclear who owns the company, located near the Bab Al-Hawa crossing north of Idlib. However, it produces gravel, sand, and concrete necessary for construction. Engineers from the ministry oversee the production of construction materials in the quarry and test them for their engineering properties.
The construction sector in Idlib has faced numerous crises in recent years, including the spread of unlicensed construction and the inability of municipal authorities and the Engineers’ Syndicate to enforce building codes. These problems were made more evident by the widespread destruction of the February 6 earthquake.
Saeed Al-Ashqar, an advisor to the SSG’s Minsitry of Local Administration and Services, told The Syria Report that it was necessary to impose stricter monitoring of all engineering studies provided by local engineering offices and companies to ensure adherence to the Syrian Arab Code and its appendix on the basic principles for earthquake-resistant building design, and to verify architectural plans and implementation of proper construction.
Meanwhile, the Syndicate has denied responsibility for the poor execution of construction works before the earthquake. One syndicate member told The Syria Report that most buildings damaged by the earthquake were built during a period of unlicensed construction and lack of permits, and the Syndicate does not have executive authority to enforce building regulations. The engineer added that the government and municipalities are the ones who enforce the law, grant building permits and follow up on their implementation. They are responsible for the chaos and informal construction, he added.
He also urged integration between the ministry and the Engineers’ Syndicate rather than removing certain powers from the latter. He added that the ministry has monopolised the engineering work, handpicking a few affiliated engineers, some of whom have less than one year of experience, and tasking them with monitoring the works of contracting companies. He added that Decree No. 307 favours the ministry at the expense of the Free Engineers’ Syndicate. This is in addition to the potential harm that could occur in the future to the proper functioning of construction as the Syndicate’s expertise is sidelined.
The Engineers’ Syndicate put forth great efforts after the earthquake, collaborating with the Ministry of Local Administration and its Technical Services Department to form committees of volunteer engineers and assess the damage, he said. These committees surveyed cracked buildings and evaluated their structural integrity, determining if they were fit for habitation or needed to be evacuated or repaired.
Amid the exchange of accusations between the two sides, a joint committee consisting of seven engineers from the Syndicate and the ministry was formed to study the rules of procedure governing the Syndicate’s work. The committee will determine the tasks of the Syndicate by preparing new rules of procedure and regulating the work of engineering offices and companies in Idlib. The committee is also working on establishing a financial system that will provide regular income for engineers and implement the decisions issued by the Syndicate’s elected general committee, the highest authority in the Syndicate.