Why the Syrian government’s ministries do not involve members of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry in the decision-making process

The Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce (the Federation's official website)

The Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce (the Federation's official website)

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Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa

Members of the Syrian Chambers of Commerce and Industry have objected numerous times to the decisions taken solely by the Syrian government’s ministries recently. 

Most of the objections show that the ministries take their decisions unilaterally, without referring to or involving those chambers, despite the fact that they are most affected by these decisions. 

Members of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry also do not have a mutual agreement on the effect of the decisions taken by the ministers without referring to them: Some applaud the ministries’ decisions while those adversely affected by the decisions try to invalidate the decisions to achieve different objectives. 

What is the nature of the differences?

Commenting on the recent difference between the ministries and the chambers of industry, President of the Federation of Chambers of Industry Fares al-Shihabi, said that allowing the import of the knitted fabrics is the most harmful decision to the industry sector the Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade of Syria (MEFTS), has made in years.”

Al-Shihabi told the pro-government local newspaper al-Watan that the consequences of the ministry’s decision would be reflected on the domestic knitted textiles first and their accessories next.  

The newspaper noted if the decision were implemented, factories of Knitted fabrics and textiles and garment dyeing facilities would be closed. 

In response to such criticisms, the MEFTS said that “it is the one responsible for issuing decisions that serve the interests of all local industry sectors. And it is not tended to benefit certain groups, which are seeking to affect public opinion, and get people to sympathize with them, via providing false information, or declaring publicly or hinting that the decisions issued are wrong.” 

Strategy to make a faster decision is required 

Karam Shaar, an economics professor and researcher at the Middle East Institute in Washington, told Enab Baladi that some ministries in the Syrian government are not involving those affected by their decisions, even though they basically have the right to discuss their issuance and be part of the decision making process. 

Shaar argued that the ministries follow this strategy to make fast decisions because, in this timeframe, they need to act quickly due to the economic crisis that the regime-controlled areas are facing. 

Shaar explained that the ministries take this turmoil caused by the ten years of war as grounds for issuing decisions on their own because they believe that “they are not ready” to discuss them with people who are going to be affected by such decisions.

Yahya al-Sayed Omar, a political economy researcher, told Enab Baladi that to understand what is happening in the corridors of the official economic institutions of the Syrian government, it is necessary to admit first that the logic of the state is absent in all these institutions. 

Al-Sayed Omar added that following the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, the Syrian government appoints ministerial officials in its ministries based on their political allegiance, not on their experience and competence in managing ministries. This led to this undesirable situation that we observe today, represented in issuing improper and sometimes entirely harmful decisions. 

To support businesspeople

Political economy researcher Yahya al-Sayed Omar believes that the ministerial decision-making mechanism is carried out under the direct guidance of senior businessmen close to the Syrian regime and some of those who strategically benefit from “the warlords.”

Thus, decisions are issued based on their desire to advance their best interests regardless of the interests of the state as a whole. According to the researcher, that’s how a gap is created between the opinions of members of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the government’s decisions.

In a previous article prepared by Enab Baladi entitled “Who really controls the Syrian economy? The Syrian regime or its loyal businessmen?” researchers confirmed the Syrian regime tends to benefit a specific segment of businessmen, known to be close to the Syrian government, to the detriment of the larger majority of other businessmen in its areas of control. 

On 16 August, the Syrian Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade issued a six-month ban on importing more than 20 commodities, including dates, almonds, cashews.

Hours after the decision, the voices of critics rose; the Secretary of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce, Muhammad al-Hallaq, considered that the government’s decision would lead to the suspension of work in “vital” sectors and thus stop many related activities.

Al-Hallaq pointed out that imposing a ban on the import of dates, for example, will contribute to the suspension of work at several factories due to the lack of an alternative commodity in the local market. Consequently, this will lead to the absence of money supplies circulating in the commercial markets.  

As a result of this ban, some business people will gain “unjustified profits” at the expense of others. 

He noted that the profits of people—suppliers, wholesalers, and traders—who already have significant supplies of walnuts, almonds, and cashews would grow by about 20 percent immediately after issuing the decision. In addition, other people would have to buy these commodities at “much higher prices” nowadays.

 The Secretary of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce considered that economic problems cannot always be solved via prohibitions and restrictions but rather through “balanced participation in decision-making.”

At the time, the Damascus Chamber of Industry submitted a letter to the Ministry of Economy, in which it demanded that walnuts and dates be excluded from the decision.

 Talal Qalaji, a member of the Board of Directors of Damascus and Head of the food sector, explained why the Damascus Chamber of Industry called for that exception. Qalaji said that walnuts are not available in sufficient quantities in local markets, especially with the start of the makdous season at the time. In addition, Syria is essentially a non-producing country for dates.

To support their political stands 

 The difference of opinions and conflicting effects of decisions were not confined to the ministries and chambers of commerce and industry during the last period but also emerged among the members of the same chamber. Each member seeks to individually interpret the effects of the decision to serve his personal interests or even his political stance.  

Karam Shaar, an economics professor and researcher at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said that many members of the commerce or industry chambers are not only representatives of the interests of the private sector, as many of them are already members of the private sector. 

Their bloc could constitute a form of pressure to preserve their personal interests first, then the interests of other industrialists and traders without really thinking about the country’s economic interests.

Commenting on the presence of members with views for or against the ministries’ decisions in the same chamber, Yahya al-Sayed Omar, a political economy researcher, said that those who support the ministries’ decisions try to get closer to “the warlords” on the one hand, and present a picture of their political loyalties on the other hand.

Most of the regime-held governorates issued an order stipulating specific opening and closing times for all commercial markets, shops, restaurants, and various economic activities in early August.

Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce, Abdullah Nassr, justified this decision by saying that it is intended to “save energy,” and “regulate working hours” across Syria.

Mazen Hassan, a member of the Board of Directors of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce, said that this order aims to save energy to be redirected to residentials users.

In response, Damascus merchants submitted an “objection letter” to the Damascus Chamber of Commerce. They said that the decision caused them great damage, especially since the issuance of this decision coincided with the opening of schools. And because of the rising temperatures in August, people were apt to shop for back-to-school supplies at night to avoid the heat during daylight hours. 

The traders demanded to extend scheduled working hours till 1:00 a.m, on the basis of the same working hours of the shopping malls, or until 10:30 p.m, to say the least.   

In response to the objection letter, Mazen Hassan, a member of the Board of Directors of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce, said that he does not mind extending working hours. Yet, he believes that traders and merchants can adjust to work schedule changes within a few days (shops, stores, and other economic activities are allowed to operate till 8 p.m.)

In another case, in which conflicting statements emerged within the same chamber, the president of the Aleppo Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Fares al-Shihabi, denied the large numbers circulating recently of industrialists who emigrated from Syria during the past few days. Al-Shihabi said that these numbers are exaggerated.

 Al-Shihabi’s comment came after the Minister of Industry in the Syrian government, Ziad Sabbagh, completely denied Syria is experiencing an emigration of businesspeople. In an interview with the local Sham FM radio on 26 September, he said that no industrialist had left Syria during the latest period.

In early August, the head of the textiles sector in the Damascus and Rural Chamber of Industry, Muhannad Daadoush, said that many industrialists have recently left areas controlled by the Syrian regime to Egypt due to endless difficulties they faced in their country.  

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