People in Rural Homs “Buying” Security Stations to Challenge Municipalities
After the northern countryside of Homs entered into a “reconciliation” agreement, the governorate and municipalities allowed residents to rebuild their homes, or build new ones, without harassment or demands for construction permits.
However, this window of opportunity did not last for more than six months. The municipalities then began to prosecute violators and threaten to demolish homes if construction or repair permits were not issued, forcing residents to cooperate with the construction foremen and resort to “connected” men and the security. As such, they sought to confront demolition orders and issue licenses.
Despite the insistence of municipalities to issue licenses, and threats of demolition of violating construction projects, no residents in the area have abided by the municipal decision, and nor did construction contractors. The contractors agreed with the heads of security units, and some persons with connections in the intelligence services, to protect them from the municipality, in exchange for large monetary sums at the expense of property owners.
“Since the municipality began to prosecute residents for lack of building permits, we had to coordinate with the security units deployed in the city. It is impossible to work without such coordination,” Abu Ismail, a shop owner from the city of Rastan, told Enab Baladi. “The owner of the building is threatened with demolition, and the contractor is threatened with the confiscation of their construction equipment.”
Abu Ismail added that “We pay different amounts to the security units based on the size of the building, and these amounts are nothing compared to the costs of licenses and permits.” He explained that 25,000 SYP are paid for protection from the municipality during the preparation of a construction zone of 200 square meters. The cost of obtaining construction permits, however, may exceed 250,000 SYP.
A Decline in Construction
After the northern Homs countryside signed “reconciliation” agreements with the Syrian regime, residents began work on the restoration of their homes, or the construction of new ones, after they had become secure from the missiles and aerial bombardment. This caused a real surge in the construction sector, but the municipal demand for building permits, and the threat of demolition of violators, negatively impacted construction in the area, bringing the sector to a complete halt.
Abu Walid, the owner of a gravel processing business in the northern Homs countryside, said that in the period preceding the municipal crackdown, there was work around the clock, and that a workshop needed to be contracted months in advance before actual.
“Now, you can start immediately by agreeing with the owner of the workshop and the owner of the gravel processing equipment. The construction contractor is responsible for fending off the municipality, while the gravel processing contractor is responsible for supplying the necessary materials,” Abu Walid said.
After construction contractors began relying on the security units, the municipality’s efforts to curtail the informal and arbitrary expansion of the housing units have not succeeded. There is no authority above security agencies which can be bought with money.
Mohammad, a civil engineer from Talbiseh, who asked not to be named, said, “We live in a state, and there are plans that the population must abide by, so we can build in a civilized way. However, the method that the municipality and the governorate have adopted is faulty, and the wrong way to deal with the issue.”
He added that the high costs of permits pushed the population to illegal means to enable them to build their homes. It is unreasonable for a building with a total area of 200 meters to cost 400,000 SYP for permits, aside from bribes.
“I decided to build a new house on the ruins of my old house, and agreed with the construction contractor to take responsibility for the protection of the house,” said Samer Abu Munir, a resident of Kafr Laha in the Houla plain, whose home was demolished as a result of airstrikes during the period of opposition control. Speaking to Enab Baladi, he added, “The issue cost me an additional 160,000 SYP to protect the building from demolition by the municipality.”
Abu Munir continued, “The army and security are the ones who demolished our houses, and now we have to pay the money to them in return for allowing us to build new houses in which to have shelter.”