By Thilak S. Fernando

For over two centuries traditional post offices in Sri Lanka have become an integral part of the life of her people. Unlike in the UK there are no facilities in post offices in Sri Lanka for old age pensioners to draw out their pensions. To purchase an international money order over a post office counter is out of the question and to settle bills thorough post office counters in Sri Lanka is unheard of!

Pensions on the other hand are still being processed through governmental kachcheri offices and cheques are despatched to pensioners’ home addresses for them to pay into any account of their choice. When it comes to sending a fax or photocopying a document the conventional post offices have fell apart in the postal system Sri Lanka had for generations.

The function of the Sri Lankan post office therefore has been, up to now, limited mainly to selling postage stamps, post cards, sending registered letters, telegrams, facilitate the odd telephone trunk call and on the whole engaged in sorting & delivering of mail. The new breed of private post offices, which came into the scene of late, have managed to give an additional service to the public with fax and telephone services with a difference; sale of postage stamps too through these new outlets and international telephone facilities have been able to make an impact on the public as a service orientated phenomenon.

The new legislation which is going to be presented to Parliament in early 1999, to give the ‘ old post office’ a complete face lift and to replace it with a Postal Corporation and setting up of a chain of one-stop post-shops can, therefore, be seen as a vision of the PA government becoming a reality and stretching out into the next millennium.

The new proposals will change the present image of the traditional post office service in Sri Lanka dramatically in the future. Apart from phasing out of the centuries old outlook, the new ‘Post Shop’ is going be a modern mini supermarket offering a variety of services such as selling stamps, stamp albums, greeting cards, picture post cards, souvenir items, writing paper, envelopes of all specifications along with facsimile and photocopying services. The government expects to execute this transformation by enabling the inflow of much needed funding to the Sri Lanka Postal Corporation from development agencies and other financing sources. Such re-shaping of the Post Shop will no doubt upgrade its facilities to offer a much more diversified service to the public.

Although much has been said about the metamorphosis of Sri Lankan post offices in the coming year not much has been mentioned about the postal service itself. It was not very long ago that millions of rupees were spent on electronic high-tech machinery for mail sorting. After assigning postal zip codes and zone codes etc., and importing automated sorting robots to give the delivery service a twist, it was unfortunate that the idea along with the zone code operation has been consigned to storage up to now and allowed to be stored away with machinery to rust!

Post offices in the UK offer diversified services ranging from renewing motor car road tax, settlement of telephone bills, gas bills and/or water bills. These are basic amenities specially structured for the convenience of the public. The new Sri Lanka Postal Corporation, therefore, needs to address these issues sooner or later if their aim is to serve the public with a difference.

The open market concept developed extensively in Sri Lanka depends heavily on the international mail. Due to either the lack of an efficient overseas mail service or the post office being unable to cope up with the increasing demand and/or the quality service expected by the international business community, many courier companies have seemingly crept into the business arena and assumed the role of the post office to be an integral part of the business customer in Sri Lanka. This could be regarded as a warning light flashing in front of the new Postal Corporation and it would be wiser for them to look at the many options left for them in improving their delivery/collection service as much their readiness to develop the internal services in a shop environment.

Taking the Royal Mail in the UK as an example, one can see that it operates a Parcel Force courier service, run independently but under the same Royal Mail banner. Calling it the EMS (Express Mail Services) its international despatches are done quite effectively and in competition with their rival international courier companies such as UPS, Sky and Federal Express serving both domestic and business customers. A notable point in this operation is that the EMS courier services use the local post office services in destination countries. Similarly it will be expedient for the postal authorities in Sri Lanka to give a thought to operational aspect as much as the one-shop post-shop concept and to incorporate a new modes operandi when legislation is presented to Parliament in early 1999 for creating the new Postal Corporation.