Earthquake aid in the regime’s mill and close circles
Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa
Since the first hours of the earthquake, the Syrian regime has achieved many gains, including political and economic ones, as relief and cash aid began to flow to the areas under its control in the first days following the earthquake disaster.
In an unprecedented decision, the US Department of the Treasury issued a decision exempting the regime from penalties imposed under the Caesar Act for a period of six months for all earthquake response transactions, which is what the Syrian regime has demanded for years, without any US response before the date of this decision. This allows the regime to benefit from the transfer of funds and the import of fuel, construction products, and infrastructure.
On the other hand, and after years of intransigence, the Central Bank of Syria (CBS) began applying the price of the remittance and exchange bulletin, which is close to the black market exchange rate (6900 SYP for $1), to remittances allocated for emergency response to earthquakes by UN and international humanitarian organizations, according to a decision issued on February 9 without an official announcement. By means of such a decision, the regime attempts to attract remittances through its official channels and reduce the difference between the real price of the Syrian pound and the price it sets after donor countries’ pressure.
The volume of aid that arrived or would later reach regime-held areas in response to the earthquake and the regime’s access to monetary assistance resulting from the assumed and real exchange rate differential, in addition to the temporary US exemption that will make it easier to deal with all countries financially in the “earthquake response framework,” had opened the door to questions about the truth about the Syrian regime’s benefits, whether the fruits of post-disaster foreign aid would be reaped by the regime, and the extent to which the response of countries and organizations would reflect on the people affected by the earthquake.
“Red Crescent” and “Syria Trust”- stamped
In an interview with Enab Baladi, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Economics at the Turkish University of Mardin, Syrian economist Pr. Abdel Nasser al-Jassem, argues that the regime’s gains from the earthquake disaster on the political level are greater than on the economic level in the short term, stressing that there are many economic gains for it.
These gains are represented by the entry of aid into regime-controlled areas, particularly cash donations, said al-Jassem, because international organizations need local agents who are supposed to be independent civil society organizations to be allowed to bring funds into Syria, but Syria’s reality is otherwise.
The regime always presents two organizations, the Syrian Red Crescent and the Syria Trust for Development, as agents for relief organizations.
Today, the Syrian Red Crescent is considered, to a greater extent, as a security organization run by one of the security services in Syria rather than a civil society organization, al-Jassem added. While Asma al-Assad, the wife of the head of the regime and her clique, runs the Syria Trust for Development. Thus, the regime has an opportunity to benefit from funds through these channels, either through corruption and theft or by taking advantage of the exchange rate differences.
The Syrian Red Crescent was founded in 1942 and joined the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1946.
The organization works with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and United Nations organizations and has relations with the Syrian regime because its core activity is concentrated in regime-controlled areas in Syria.
The head of the organization in Syria is appointed by government decision, which occurred upon the appointment of Khaled Hboubati as the head of the organization in December 2016, by decision of the former Prime Minister, Imad Khamis, after amending Article 20, which allowed the head of government to select one of the four candidates to head the organization’s board of directors.
The organization has been linked to corruption and has been accused of discriminating in distributing aid and denying civilians access to it.
The Syria Trust for Development was established in 2007 after merging a large number of non-governmental organizations founded by Asma al-Assad in 2000.
Since its establishment in 2007, the Trust for Development has become one of the regime’s most “valuable” public relations projects towards the West and the international community, according to what was stated in a study on “the role of charitable work in the Syrian war” by researchers at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, Ayman al-Dassouky, and Sinan Hatahet.
Corruption is an inherent feature of the regime’s structures and institutions, according to economist Pr. Abdel Nasser al-Jassem. As a result, the disbursement of the arriving funds requires reporting, auditing, monitoring, invoicing, etc., which brings the regime further economic benefit from the earthquake disaster.
According to Transparency International’s CPI Corruption Perceptions Index’s 2022 annual report monitoring the cases of transparency and corruption in 180 countries around the world, Syria maintained its lagging position, ranking 178th with 13 points out of 100.
The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) measures several practices that play a role in assessing a country’s score on the index, namely:
- Diversion of public funds;
- Officials using their public office for private gain without facing consequences;
- Ability of governments to contain corruption in the public sector;
- Excessive red tape in the public sector, which may increase opportunities for corruption;
- Nepotistic appointments in the civil service;
- Laws ensuring that public officials must disclose their finances and potential conflicts of interest;
- Legal protection for people who report cases of bribery and corruption;
- State capture by narrow vested interests;
- Access to information on public affairs/government activities.
No impact on the people
Pr. Abdel Nasser al-Jassem does not believe that the large volume of aid will have any reflection on the lives of residents in regime-controlled areas, especially those affected by the earthquake who deserve and are actually in dire need of such aid, as only the regime and its entourage will benefit from it, as he put it.
According to estimates published by Dimensions for Strategic Studies (DSS) on February 9, regarding preliminary estimates of the losses of the earthquake that affected 10 Turkish provinces and 4 Syrian governorates, The economic cost of the earthquake is represented by the cost of the approximately 600 homes that were destroyed in Syria, the thousands of buildings that were not destroyed but will not be usable, government facilities and infrastructure, in addition to citizens’ personal properties, cars in particular.
According to the report, Syria’s governorates are less affected by the earthquake than Turkey’s regions for several reasons, including war-induced destruction, weak economic activity, and the disruption of infrastructure modernization. The main losses are therefore confined to the multi-story buildings (which consist of four floors on average), the dilapidated infrastructure, and some public utility institutions. These losses can be estimated at between two to three hundred million US dollars as a direct cost.
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