More than 150 files have been referred to the “competent authorities” after the discovery of serious instances of corruption by the Aleppo City Council, the Director of Internal Oversight for the Aleppo governorate, Abeer Maktoubi, told semi-official newspaper Al-Watan on September 18.
According to Ms Maktoubi, the Directorate of Internal Oversight receives written or recorded verbal complaints about corruption and other irregularities on the part of the Aleppo City Council. Upon receiving a complaint, the directorate examines the city council’s files related to the complaint, inspects the implemented works, reviews records, documents and data, meets with concerned individuals in the council and in the service directorates, as well as with the complainants, and seeks assistance from technical and legal experts. After that, the directorate prepares a preliminary report on the complaint and may propose referring it to a “competent authority” to investigate the incident.
Most of the violations committed by the city council are issues related to housing, land and property rights. These violations include overlooking and covering up unlicensed construction in exchange for material benefits, granting illegal construction permits regardless of regulations and instructions, the proliferation of unlicensed building and restoration in the old city in a manner inconsistent with its architectural fabric, neglecting to address reports from public safety committees, settling building violations based on forged documents or distorted facts, and forging documents to buy more cement than granted for a construction project.
These violation cases were reportedly referred to the Central Authority for Supervision and Inspection, the Judiciary, and Criminal Security. These bodies are responsible for implementing recommendations, proposals and decisions to impose penalties and remove or address such violations. Maktoubi affirmed that the legal framework for addressing these cases is found within the provisions of the Building Violations Law No. 40 of 2012.
She added that more than 30 individuals have been referred to the competent authorities following proof of their involvement in the violations, some of whom are still detained. More than 55 individuals, including service and central directors in the city council, department heads, and monitoring workers, such as engineers and technicians, have been fired.
It is difficult to access independent sources in the city of Aleppo to obtain more information about those employees, their responsibilities, and the extent of their involvement in the attributed violations. The Syria Report managed to reach informed sources familiar with the work of the governorate council, who said they doubted the seriousness of the anti-corruption efforts led by Ms Maktoubi.
The sources confirmed that the 150 individuals referred to the competent authorities are mostly ordinary employees involved in corruption cases; they are not at the top of the corruption ladder. These employees are not supported by security agencies or influential militias in Aleppo, making their prosecution easier. However, the sources emphasised that this path of selective justice has little impact on reducing corruption in municipal councils.
For example, the above sources indicated that no charges have been brought against the director of Services Department at the Aleppo City Council, who is not among those referred to any competent authority. Meanwhile, this director is allegedly involved in violations related to war rubble and the February 6 earthquake in Aleppo city. However, this director is considered to be under the patronage of the city council president, who is in turn responsible for the rubble file, preventing them from being held accountable.
Rubble is a highly sensitive issue in the field of HLP rights, as it is considered private property and the ultimate proof of people’s ownership of their unlicensed properties. Law No. 3 of 2018 (concerning the removal of rubble from damaged buildings due to natural or unnatural causes, or because they are subject to laws requiring their demolition) gave the owners of demolished properties the right to the value of their rubble. It left the determination of that value to the administrative units after selling the rubble in public auctions, or recycling the rubble and deducting the cost of demolition and removal from it. In Aleppo, no one has been compensated for their rubble, and Law No. 3 of 2018 has not been applied. A similar situation occurred with the rubble in Lattakia city after the February 6 earthquake, which was dealt with without referring to Law No. 3 of 2018.
The Syria Report’s local correspondent reported that there is a rubble recycling factory in the Ramouseh area, affiliated with the Aleppo City Council, which has been out of operation for two years. The city council has repeatedly announced that the factory is up for investment, without the auction settling on any investor. The correspondent pointed to the lack of clarity regarding why the factory is not being activated, although working in rubble is considered attractive to many investors. The factory is equipped with an 85,000-square-metre landfill capable of holding up to about 400,000 cubic metres of rubble, up to a height of five metres. Since the factory partially closed, the rubble in it has reached its maximum storage capacity.
Nevertheless, what exists in the landfill is a modest amount compared to the rubble of the eastern neighbourhoods of Aleppo city, estimated at around 3.6 million cubic metres before the February 6, 2023 earthquake. In addition, between 5,000 and 10,000 buildings were damaged in last February’s earthquake, which need to be removed, according to official statements made to the residents. To this day, it is not clear how much rubble has been recycled in Aleppo amidst significant inconsistency in the official figures.
However, instead of activating the Ramouseh factory, the city council sold a large part of Aleppo’s rubble to private recycling plants, most of which are affiliated with militias supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, such as Liwa Al-Baqir. According to The Syria Report’s sources, the political representative of Liwa Al-Baqir, Omar Al-Hassan, has a rubble recycling plant in the Baeedeen area north of Aleppo, and has received hundreds of cubic metres of rubble transferred to it from Aleppo city in the past few months.
All of this occurs without any documentation of rubble ownership, and without any compensation to its owners. Nevertheless, the Internal Oversight Directorate insists on not seeing any violation in the rubble file that would require referring the officials responsible for it to investigation.