“No cash,” Regime obliges universities to get tuitions via bank transfers
Enab Baladi – Baraa Khattab
The Syrian regime’s government issued a decision on July 9 stipulating that tuition fees for students of higher education for public and private universities and student registration fees for private educational institutions be paid exclusively through bank accounts starting from the next academic year.
The decision obligated the collection of all tuition fees for students of higher education in public and private universities through the student’s bank account, and it also required all private educational institutions (schools, institutes, laboratories, etc.) to open a bank account with public banks.
The decision raises questions about the reason for obligating these institutions to use bank-based payment in light of a dilapidated banking environment and repeated criticisms they face in terms of the lack of electricity and the Internet in a way that is able to cover services with the best quality.
Technically incomplete service
The government continues to promote the “digital transformation” plan that it talks about from time to time, with no actual change on the ground, amid a range of living crises that residents suffer from in the areas under its control.
It justifies its approach to impose electronic financial transactions by “facilitating citizens’ transactions.” On the other hand, citizens within the regime’s areas object to this type of decision as it impedes their transactions as a result of the lack of infrastructure and technology necessary to implement the decisions.
Syrian citizens do not benefit from electronic government services, and they still rely on queues as an automatic means to organize their access to services, including withdrawing money from ATMs or paying through their accounts in government institutions.
Ahmad al-Masri, a civil engineer, who owns a bank account, which he obtained after many “complex” transactions, told Enab Baladi that it is difficult to implement this decision given the absence of infrastructure and software in Syria.
He considered that such a decision requires electricity, Internet service, and high-level organization at various levels, things that are not available in Syria.
The student, George Bishara, complained to Enab Baladi about bank payments in general. He is a parallel education student at Damascus University, explaining that he pays every year at the Real Estate Bank. The last time he waited three hours in front of the bank, they told him later, with dozens of waiting students, that the Internet was not available and that they had to come the next day to make the payment.
The culture of banking dealings in Syria is “almost absent” due to the laws imposed by the government of the regime, such as a specific daily withdrawal ceiling on the one hand and the deterioration of the value of the pound on the other hand, which means the loss of the value of money if it is kept in banks with the continued depreciation of the Syrian pound.
($1=13,900 SYP) according to the S-P Today website, which covers the trading rate of the Syrian pound to the dollar.
Some electronic transactions in this context are also considered unavailable, due to the absence of infrastructure and software, amid almost daily problems that residents of Syria suffer from related to poor access to electricity and the Internet.
With a government admission, a director in the banking sector spoke to the Damascus-based al-Watan newspaper (which did not name him), in April 2022, about the decline in the ATMs services in the areas of the regime’s government, summarizing the reasons for this with several problems, for which the government has not succeeded in finding radical solutions so far.
Among the problems was the electrical rationing, which caused many ATMs to go out of business, prompting some banks to redistribute their ATMs and regroup them in specific areas. For example, the Real Estate Bank placed 33 ATMs in the bank’s hall at the administration’s headquarters in the Governorate Square in Damascus.
The manager in the banking sector also spoke about the decrease in the number of ATMs compared to the required service, as the number of them operating in both the Syrian Commercial and Real Estate banks does not actually exceed 500, while the need is about 5000 ATMs.
The director suggested that the solution be to link all the ATMs available at banks (public and private) with each other through a “national connection system,” allowing the cardholder to use any ATM near him or available to him to use.
He also requested securing a sufficient number of new ATMs and ensuring that they are fed with electricity, especially in vital and crowded areas, in addition to training more workers in the banking sector to deal with ATMs and how to operate and supply them.
The newspaper quoted “banking experts” as saying that there is no serious desire on the part of the government to address the ATM file, and all that is being taken in the matter is “patching and transferring crises” pending the fulfillment of the “dream” of online payment.
Cash action to keep up
Expert Imad al-Din al-Musabih, Ph.D. in Economics, told Enab Baladi that the decision to transfer transactions through banks is a monetary administrative measure.
Al-Musabih added that there are benefits through conducting these transactions, such as improving the efficiency of the administrative process in the university (registration departments in universities and colleges), as it shortens the time and effort for employees in these departments, speeds up registration processes, improves the level of security and reduces incidents of theft and corruption.
Al-Musabih believes that the decision would enhance transparency, monitor the movement of funds, and reduce tax evasion for private universities, considering that it is a sound measure that the government is seeking in an attempt to keep pace with global developments in this regard on a monetary level as well.
The expert said that as long as the amounts that the student will pay are very large, the generalization of the experiment will mean the possibility of reducing the costs of printing money that is more vulnerable to damage as a result of frequent transfers between hands.
Al-Musabih pointed to the poor situation of the banking reality in Syria, considering that most Syrians do not have bank accounts, and those who have a bank account certainly do not have sufficient income to deposit their money in it, amid income levels that do not exceed an average of $15 US per month.
The financial and banking sector in Syria consists of operating banks, microfinance banks, and exchange institutions, all of which are subject to the supervision of the Central Bank of Syria (CBS).
There are six public banks, most notably the Commercial Bank, Real Estate Bank, Industrial Bank, and Cooperative Agricultural Bank, in addition to 11 traditional private banks and three private Islamic banks.
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