Retirees’ abilities paralyzed by loans taken out of necessity in Syria
Enab Baladi – Reem Hamoud
“I had no other choice but to obtain a loan to undergo a retinal operation for my eye in the coming days, but today I regret it,” expressed Saeed al-Rifai during his talk with Enab Baladi, reflecting on his regret after securing a retirement loan of four million Syrian pounds from the Popular Credit Bank to complete the necessary amount for surgery.
Al-Rifai had certain conditions imposed on him to approve his request, including bringing two employed guarantors and paying 100,000 Syrian pounds monthly for seven years until the amount is repaid, which will worsen his living conditions, according to his narrative.
The salary does not suffice
Al-Rifai, who worked on the railway in the city of Daraa, told Enab Baladi that he receives a retirement pension of 150,000 Syrian pounds after serving for 30 years, pointing out that the salary, under normal circumstances, would not last but a few days before borrowing the loan and committing to its repayment.
Al-Rifai, who refrained from mentioning his full name, was not blessed with children during his marriage to help him in life and financial expenses, as he lives with his wife without another job after his retirement.
Whereas Abdul Karim al-Shara’, a retiree from the government complex in the mechanics department, told Enab Baladi that after undergoing a back operation for a disc problem, he was no longer able to carry heavy or light family essentials for fear of exposure to health issues that may aggravate his pain, he decided to buy a motorcycle to help carry family necessities.
Al-Shara’, 61 years old, continued that after searching for prices, he found that one of his friends had a used motorcycle he wanted to sell for six million Syrian pounds, while he only had two million. He was thus compelled to decide to take a loan of four million Syrian pounds from the Real Estate Bank to complete the shortfall.
Initially, the idea of taking a loan was rejected by al-Shara’, especially given the difficulty of the stipulated conditions, but his health conditions were so dire, that he could not forego the option of buying the motorcycle.
The Real Estate Bank’s conditions required having two employed guarantors and bringing a property statement with the salaries of the guarantors and the loan owner, in addition to property contracts proving the existence of a registered property in the guarantors’ names, and another belonging to the loan owner.
Al-Shara’ received the amount two days after submitting the required papers to the Real Estate Bank, with an 11% interest rate on the loan, according to what he added to Enab Baladi.
Al-Shara’ hails from al-Kashef neighborhood in the city of Daraa and cannot work another job due to his illness. He receives a monthly pension of 200,000 Syrian pounds, while he must repay 100,000 Syrian pounds for seven years, which equates to 50% of the salary.
Salary increase ineffective
Despite the increase in salaries of employees according to a decree issued by the regime’s president, Bashar al-Assad, on February 5, 2024, the problem of al-Rifai, al-Shara’, and other retirees does not seem to end, as the increment, when measured against the volume of requirements, remains ineffective.
The decree grants a 50% increase of the retirement pension to retired military and civilian personnel, and those covered by the effective laws of insurance, pensions, and social security.
The decree also includes retired pensioners and partial injury disability pensioners among civilians who are not employed and do not receive another pension from any insurance entity.
The minimum wage, which has risen following the decision to approximately double, became 287,910 Syrian pounds monthly, about $19.5 according to the exchange rate on the S-P Today website, which specializes in monitoring currency movement.
Loan increase by 100%
In the event of default on installment payments, a travel ban is put in place on the loan owner and the guarantors, and they are referred to court, with a lien placed on their properties. If no response for payment is found, the properties are sold at public auction, according to an employee at the Real Estate Bank.
The General Institution for Social Insurance in regions under the control of the Syrian regime announced the increase of the retirees’ loan ceiling to four million Syrian pounds, up from two million.
The Institution also raised the loan ceiling for its employees to six million instead of three million, according to what it published on its official Facebook page on January 18 of the current year.
Today, one US dollar is equal to 14,650 Syrian pounds, thus four million is about $273, according to the S-P Today website specialized in monitoring currency movement, while the value of two million at the time of the loan increase in late 2022 was about $300.
Mohammad, an employee from the office of the bank registrar at the Real Estate Bank in Syria, told Enab Baladi that the bank grants loans based on salary. For someone earning 200,000 Syrian pounds, they can take a loan of four million pounds, and therefore pay 100,000 monthly.
Meanwhile, a retiree receiving 300,000 Syrian pounds can take out a loan of 10 million Syrian pounds, on the condition of repaying 300,000 Syrian pounds or more monthly, with an interest rate reaching up to 11%, up from the previous 6%, according to Mohammad (who withheld his full name for security fears).
A retiree can withdraw a loan from the Real Estate Bank in Syria based on their retirement salary, with loans starting from four million, according to the employee.
As for the Popular Credit Bank, the highest loan limit is four million Syrian pounds, with a lower interest rate of only 7%, with the necessity of having two employed guarantors.
Retirement in Syria
A retiree in Syria can end their service in two cases: either by reaching the age of 60 with at least 15 years of service accounted for in the pension, or through the early retirement system, which enables the employee to request retirement after reaching 25 years of employment, without adhering to the age requirement.
It should be noted that the retirement age in Syria is not standardized for all employees in government departments, as the Syrian regime president, Bashar al-Assad, at the end of 2022, issued Law No. “43” which allows the Minister of Higher Education to refer university professors, assisting professors within the teaching body to retirement upon reaching the age of 70, and the lecturer upon reaching the age of 65.
Retirement salaries of state employees in Syria, both retired and active, are not commensurate with basic life requirements, driving them to engage in another profession to reach an income that doubles their ability to adapt to rising prices.
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