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Automated crisis: adverse impacts of “Smart Card” system on Syrians

Syrian citizens waiting in line for Gas cylinder in Al Abbasiyyin Square in Damascus, 13 February 2020 (Lens young Dimashqi)

Syrian citizens waiting in line for Gas cylinder in Al Abbasiyyin Square in Damascus, 13 February 2020 (Lens young Dimashqi)

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The story of the scientific-technological revolution, including automation technologies, has become reportedly widespread in the statements made by officials in the government of the Syrian regime. The Syrian officials announced that automation technology would have a significant impact on many aspects of life in Syria. Syrian citizens using “smart cards” will no longer have to stand in long queues for long hours to obtain a Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinders.  The citizens need only to wait for a phone message, informing them of the delivery date and the location of the authorized gas distribution centers. The Syrian citizens believed that the smart card system is like the “genie of the magic lamp of Aladdin that will end their domestic gas crisis.

On the 1 st of February, the Ministry of Oil and Mineral Resources of the Syrian regime initiated a new mechanism for distributing LPG cylinders among households via sending them SMS messages. Since then, citizens have rushed to take the necessary steps; making sure of their phone numbers registered in the “smart card,” and the name of their authorized gas distribution center via the application of “Way-in,” and ending with waiting for a message from the state Takamol company— a company that undertakes the automated smart card system for distributing subsidized gas products and other essential commodities.

The ministry highlighted in its statement that a citizen has a 72-hour deadline to receive his rationed quantity of gas. Later, the deadline was re-set to 48 hours and then to 24 hours starting from the time of receiving the “SMS.”

If a citizen fails to show up within the given deadline, the government will possess his gas cylinder to be redistributed to another citizen.

Gas cylinder… an inheritance from father to son!

Not even a week since the announcement of the Syrian government about its new mechanisms, and citizens, waiting for their share of gas cylinders, started to orchestrate a barrage of complaints about not receiving any messages in a while.

Enab Baladi monitored various stories and experiences on social media and Takamol company’s Facebook page.

A citizen was wondering how one authorized gas distribution center, which is provided with only 100 gas cylinders from Homs oil refinery, can deliver gas cylinders to 1800 smart cardholders. All these cardholders have to take their gas cylinders from the same center, which is something illogical. Otherwise, the gas distributor needs a year and a half to hand over the 1800 gas cylinder to the smart cardholders. Ironically speaking, the government has promised that every household will obtain a gas cylinder every 23 days. As for other gas authorized distribution centers, 3,500 smart cardholders are waiting in line for getting a gas cylinder in the al-Midan district in the capital, Damascus.

Several citizens also complained about not receiving any messages so that they can get a gas cylinder.

For its part, the state Takamol company posted a response to the citizens’ complaints on Facebook, highlighting that Takamol company is only an information and communication technology (ICT) company. The company is responsible for the implementation of the gas distribution automation system and not for the provision of gas cylinders to the citizens. The company also emphasized the distribution of gas cylinders will occur according to seniority in registration at the gas distribution center.

It concluded by saying that the number of “SMS” messages depends on the available number of gas cylinders.

A resident from the town of al-Maliha in the Rif Dimashq province, who declined to be named for security reasons, told Enab Baladi,” a gas cylinder truck arrived two days ago to the town of Kafr Batna in Rif Dimashq. However, the distributor refused to give the residents of the town their gas allocations for not receiving “SMS” messages despite being the area’s authorized distributor. The news was circulated among the residents about the unavailability of gas cylinders until next June.”

In the search for alternative solutions, a citizen said that “several citizens are willing to buy gas cylinders off the black markets or gas cylinder smugglers coming from Lebanon with a cost of 17,000 Syrian Pounds (SYP= 16 USD). In comparison, the subsidized gas cylinder is sold at the price of 6000 Syrian Pounds (SYP= 5 USD).

Although the Ministry of Oil and Mineral Resources reluctantly acknowledges the gas crisis, it attributes it to “greater reasons” such as economic sanctions imposed against Syria and their consequent difficulties in importing contracted quantities of petroleum products, according to what was reported by the Syrian regime pro-government newspaper al-Thawra, on 11 February.

On the other hand, “Mahrukat,” a petroleum public sector company responsible for distributing hydrocarbons in the Syrian regime-controlled areas, repudiated the crisis since last January.

According to local newspaper al-Watan, “Mahrukat” said that gas and diesel are available on the black market because some distributors stole large quantities of families’ fuel share from the distribution tanks through the manipulation of meters.

Domestic gas cylinders touring across Syrian provinces

Besides the delays in the gas distribution, there were images of “SMS” messages circulating on social media. Those messages came after long waiting, informing citizens of the necessity of receiving their gas cylinders from their authorized distribution center within 24 hours. Nevertheless, they were shocked to know that the distributor is located in a different city from theirs.

One user of the “Way-in” app for gas distribution, commented on Takamol company’s Facebook page, saying that he was thrilled when he obtained the message. Surprisingly, the user, who lives in the province of Latakia, has to go to Aleppo province to get his gas cylinder there.

Another user is supposed to get his gas cylinder from al-Kiswah in Rif Dimashq while he is living in Homs. Luckily, another user confirmed that he was sent to an authorized distributor, which happens to be his neighbor for a long time. However, he received a message to obtain his gas share from the town of Banias, meaning he must pay about 10,000 Syrian Pounds (SYP= 9 USD) for a taxi if he wants to go there.

On its part, the “Mahrukat” company justified these complaints about linking the “smart cardholders” with the last authorized gas distributor it has bought from. It added citizens could change their distributor, but they will lose their turn. Then, they must wait for a new turn all over again to get a gas cylinder.

Nonetheless, the Syrian citizen is not alone in a spiral of getting a gas cylinder; his sufferings are felt too by the People’s Council of Syria. Therefore, the members of the council questioned the Minister of Oil and Mineral Resources about finding a solution for the gas crisis in Syria. The Minister convinced them that everything happening is in the interest of Syrian citizens. He promised to increase the gas allocations to the families of the dead and wounded soldiers in the Syrian regime forces. Unfortunately, this increase always turns out to be at the expense of the remaining citizens.

 

 

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