Legal, transparency issues raised in Damascus Airport investment plan

DAMASCUS, Syria (North Press) – Limited information has been leaked regarding an investment project by Eloma, a company that has contracted with the Syrian Ministry of Transport to lease and manage the Damascus International Airport. The only known detail is that the company will pay up to $300 million for a 20-year lease.

As part of the agreement, Eloma has committed to retaining current employees and increasing their wages by up to 100 percent. However, approximately 3,000 workers at the airport feel that this increase is inadequate, as the highest salary would not exceed 250,000  SYP ($25). Even with incentives and rewards doubled, the salary would not cross 1 million SYP ($100). This is significantly less than what employees at the private Cham Wings Airlines earn, who are paid in dollars, according to one Syrian Airlines worker who spoke to North Press.

Fuzzy details

No party has the right to dispose of an institution that belongs to the Syrian people, regardless of the essential services it provides to the airport. The Airport remains a profitable institution, despite all the challenging conditions in which it operates. These challenges include the effects of the economic siege imposed on Syria, which have prevented the state from renewing its planes, as well as corruption, mismanagement, and Israeli strikes, which have dealt three major blows to the airport.

A former official at Damascus International Airport informed North Press that the airport’s investment plans, including cooperation with the private sector, must prioritize the treatment of human resources. Specifically, employees should receive fair compensation, health insurance, and other benefits similar to those provided by private companies.

Focusing solely on improving airlines’ operational lines, ticket sales, and increasing profits, as well as improving the working conditions of pilots, flight attendants, and technical engineers, would be meaningless and only amount to changing the employer. It’s important to also consider the financial and commercial aspects of the airline industry to bring about meaningful change, the official said.


The source added that he had seen the correspondences between the two parties and what impressed him the most was “the absence of names and signatures between the two sides, and this is contrary to the law and indicates that the parties behind the project go beyond the Syrian Air Force and perhaps the ministry itself.

The source stated that he had reviewed the offer between the two parties, and what caught his attention was “the absence of names and signatures in the correspondences exchanged, which is in violation of the law and suggests that the parties behind the project may go beyond the Syria’s Civil Aviation, and perhaps even the ministry itself.”

He stated that this mechanism is “no longer acceptable,” as it is the right of the Syrian people to be informed of any changes that may affect a facility that belongs to them, and then to decide whether or not to share ownership with other parties.

Meanwhile, a worker at the Ministry of Transport responded to this opinion by saying that “the people do not own any of these institutions, whether their ownership belongs to the public or private sector, because the authorities in charge of these facilities treat them as their own, helping theft, corruption and poor services to continue. Any traveler aboard Syrian airlines can discover that.”

The correspondence between the two parties indicates that the investing company intends to retain all of the employees and improve their salaries.

However, there are those who have other information indicating that the company will not retain the existing staff, or at least they will be marginalized. Instead, the company will rely on its own employees to replace the current flight attendants, engineers, and some pilots. “The contract is viewed as an investment, rather than a partnership with the state,” the source from the Ministry of Transport said.

An economic expert told North Press that implementing the project in its current form is unlikely, “because there is information indicating that, after the commotion surrounding the issue, the Ministry of Transport was asked to refer it to the State Planning Authority for further review.”

Monopolization transfer

The project in its current form means transferring the monopoly of aviation services in all Syrian airports from a public institution to a private one. When such facilities are invested in by private entities, which may be foreign or foreign-owned with Syrian facade, “they pose a threat to national security,” according to the economic expert.

Transferring the management of public sector to a private partner “requires verifying that companies and persons wishing to manage public utilities whether they are qualified to submit offers, in terms of previous experience in the same field, and that they have financial and technical competence, human resources and available technologies, the economist noted.

He added that the process of transferring the management of the public sector to a private one “requires verifying that the companies interested in managing public facilities are eligible to submit proposals, in terms of their previous experience in the same field, as well as their financial, technical, and human resources.”

Then, the project will be announced and bids will be solicited from qualified bidders. After that, the contracting process follows, which starts with the public entity negotiating with the winning bidder, to arrive at the contract terms. However, the economist said, announcing an investing company without complying with these conditions and without having more than one company applying for the project is “illegal.”

Reporting by Layla al-Garib