On December 28, 2023, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad issued Law No. 43, establishing the General Commission for the Management and Protection of State Properties (GCMPST). The aim is to secure steady and permanent resources for the public treasury through the management, maintenance and investment in the state’s privately owned properties.
This new General Commission is financially and administratively independent although it is funded from the government’s budget.
Before the establishment of this General Commission, the state’s private properties were managed by two entities; the Directorate of State Properties and Agrarian Reform under the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, and the Directorate of Property Affairs under the governorate councils. Law No. 43 stipulates that all employees of the aforementioned directorates are automatically transferred to the new GCMPST, retaining their legal status in terms of wages and seniority.
The Government had approved, at the beginning of October 2023, a draft law to establish a public authority with legal and financial independence to protect and manage state properties and optimise their investment in a manner that generates higher financial returns. This coincided with another draft law ratified by the Parliament on November 30, 2023, granting the Prime Minister the authority to manage and invest confiscated movable and immovable funds and properties under executed judicial rulings. The Parliament referred the law to the President for approval and publication. Law No. 43 related to the General Commission for the Management and Protection of State Properties is not specific on the subject of properties confiscated under executed judicial rulings, which is expected to be addressed in a subsequent specialised law.
Law No. 43 emphasised that the new Commission’s role is only to follow the implementation of the State Properties Law No. 252 of 1959, and the Agricultural Reform Law No. 161 of 1958 and their amendments. Law No. 43 did not grant the Commission the power to apply other previous laws regulating state properties, such as the Maritime Public Properties Law No. 65 of 2001. The reason for excluding these laws is unclear, despite anything indicating that they ceased to apply.
Law No. 43 defines the structure, powers and operational mechanism of the General Commission. It stipulates that the Commission will have a General Director and a board of 11 representatives from various ministries and bodies, chaired by the Minister of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform. The board includes the General Director of the Commission, the Deputy Director of the Commission, the Director of the Planning and International Cooperation Commission, representatives from the General Directorate of Cadastral Affairs, the Higher Regional Planning Council, the General Union of Farmers and the Ministries of Finance and Water Resources. The board’s chair can invite specialists to attend the board meetings as non-voting participants.
The board’s general responsibilities include approving strategies and annual plans related to the protection of the state’s private properties, approving the annual budget, the annual report on the Commission’s activities, proposing legislation and internal regulations related to the Commission’s work, and accepting donations and contracting with experts. These responsibilities are broadly similar to those granted by specific laws to other public authorities.
Law No. 43 states that the Prime Minister is responsible for appointing the General Director of the Commission, whereas other laws about public authorities specify that the General Director is appointed by presidential decree. The General Director exercises the powers of representing the Commission in legal matters, implementing the board’s decisions, plans, and programmes, and preparing the budget draft and annual report.
The law also makes the General Commission accountable solely to the Minister of Agriculture, who already chairs the Commission’s board. This is unusual because it is typically expected that such a public authority should be accountable to a different entity not involved in its management, such as the Ministry of Justice, especially given that the matter involves public properties, a large portion of which were private properties that have been confiscated or appropriated by the Syrian state. Additionally, the law does not require a representative from the Ministry of Justice to serve on the Commission’s board, whose key duties include proposing legislation and regulations related to the Commission’s operations.
Equally surprising is the exclusion of the Ministry of Interior from representation on the board of the General Commission. Instead of the Ministry of Interior being responsible for protecting public properties from encroachments and violations, Law 43 stipulates the establishment of a judicial police force specific to the Commission, appointed by the Minister of Agriculture upon the recommendation of the General Director. The law assigns this judicial police force the task of drawing up reports against violators, removing violations and referring these reports to the judiciary.