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Sunday, 29 January 2012

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Changes to suit modern day needs:

Village post offices to be windows of the world - Minister Jeewan Kumaranatunga

Posts Minister Jeewan Kumaranatunga said the postal service creates a global link connecting the village-town-country network in the Government’s drive to make Sri Lanka the “Wonder of Asia”. This would also help to make village post offices windows to the world. The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said the intention of his Ministry is to create a resurgence in the country through the postal service.

The Minister said in a situation where the entire world has been subjected to change, our postal service has not been subjected to change in keeping with modern day needs. Instead of further continueing the conventional pattern of delivering letters, parcels and selling stamps, the Ministry has taken a series of initiatives to make necessary changes within the postal service to suit modern day needs.

The Ministry has identified 21 services and infused modern technology to the postal service under the new networking system introduced to develop countrywide post offices.

The Ministry through this process intends to increase the efficiency in the postal sector in a manner which can successfully compete with the private sector. The Minister is confident this would help to provide an effective service to consumers and minimise the huge losses incurred by the department.

Minister Kumaranatunga said that if the postal service is conducted as a department, trade unions have a responsibility to rectify the mistakes they have made without enjoying unnecessary perks and privileges. If the “ Organisation to protect the Post” has a genuine desire, they should solicit their contribution to bring the postal service at least to the level of not incurring losses.

Unless trade unions adopt a balanced approach, they won’t be able to safeguard the postal service. If employees of the Central Mail Exchange work properly during their eight hours, the postal service can work in a more efficient manner.

Q: The post of Post Master General (PMG) was a a top class post in the Government sector immune to public criticism. What is the position of the inquiry against the present incumbent?

A: A Three-member committee was appointed headed by a retired judge to probe into allegations levelled against the PMG by trade unions. The report formulated by that committee was submitted to Cabinet. The report was forwarded to the Public Administration Ministry by a Cabinet Sub Committee to take action. On its directives a charge sheet has been given to the PMG. However, the PMG maintains that he has no intention to remain this post by embarrassing the Minister and the Government. But there is an accepted procedure to be followed when a public servant is transferred to another place. However, the PMG has decided to tender his resignation.

Q: The postal service is running at a tremendous loss. What has gone wrong with the department?

A: Among the Government departments, the Postal Department is one of the oldest departments which possess a history of nearly 300 years. Since its inception, the Postal Department has worked as a service. Therefore, it had to incur some losses. However, the loss incurred by the Sri Lanka Posts has increased due to various decisions taken from time to time. In a situation where the entire world has been subjected to change, our postal service has not been changed in keeping with modern day needs.

Instead of continuing the conventional services of delivering letters, parcels and selling stamps, the Ministry has taken a series of initiatives to make necessary changes within the postal service to suit modern day needs. We have identified 21 services and infused modern technology under the new networking system introduced to develop post offices countrywide.

The Ministry through this process intends to increase efficiency to successfully compete with the private sector. I hope we would be able to provide an effective service to consumers and at least to minimise the present losses.

Q: The annual over time (OT) bill is the biggest problem for the Department. Can’t you commission a management study to ascertain the ills and remedy the situation?

A: At present this matter is being examined by a committee. If the postal service to be conducted as a department, trade unions have a responsibility to rectify the mistakes they have made without enjoying unnecessary privileges. If the “ Organisation to protect the Post” has a genuine desire, it is their responsibility to prevent losses.

Q: It appears that the Postal Department is still run in a conventional pattern. Why can’t you initiate overall reform to the basic structure and make it a profitable venture?

A:Through the networking of post offices, we would be able to rectify shortcomings.

The Ministry in collaboration with the University of Moratuwa has already prepared the software required for this networking. We have called tenders and I hope we would be able to complete this networking process in March or April this year.

We have also decided to fill 1080 vacancies of sub post Masters. All sub post Masters will have an IT knowledge.

At the initial stage, steps have been taken to network 665 main post offices. Under the second stage, sub post offices will also be connected. We have to pay overtime for this purpose.

I believe if employees of the Central Mail Exchange work properly at least during their eight hours properly, the postal service can be run in a more efficient manner. They work only during the additional hours claiming huge overtime. Billions of rupees can be saved if this situation is brought under control.

Q: What are the programs earmarked for 2012?

A: We have given priority to complete the networking of post offices within the next two or three months. The Ministry has made arrangements to offer a series of new services. I am confident that there will be a large number of new consumers.

The postal service creates a global link connecting the necessary village-town-country network in our drive to make Sri Lanka the “Wonder of Asia”. This would also enable us to make village post office the window to the world. We intend to create a resurgence in the country through the postal service. All services rendered by the postal service and its future program will be announced at the “Deyata Kirula” Exhibition which will be held at Oyamaduwa in Anuradhapura this month.

The Ministry has also taken initiatives to develop the Philatelic Bureau. We have decided to set up philatelic societies in each school. The hobby of collecting stamps is very popular in the world. It is a productive hobby. Through philatelic societies, we intend to get schoolchildren to collect stamps by connecting them with other stamp collectors in the world.

The Ministry stall to be set up at the “Deyata Kirula” exhibition will educate youth about this program. Steps will also be taken to educate teachers to set up philatelic societies in schools in the Anuradhapura district.

Q: The trade-union militancy appears to be the great stumbling-block to new reforms leading to efficiency. What have you got to say about this?

A: I always tell trade unions to think in a fresh manner and take a balanced approach. If there is a need, they have to take one step backward and sometimes they have to take a step forward. Unless these trade unions adopt a balanced approach, they won’t be able to safeguard the postal service.

If they resort to various trade union action or work to rule campaigns from time to time, that means their intention is to disrupt the postal service.

Even today, some private sector institutions have come forward to provide a more competitive manner. If the public confidence declines, it is natural that they move towards the private sector . It would lead to the collapse of the postal sector.

Q: Another problem for postal authorities is the maintenance of a massive vehicle fleet. Is there no way of finding an alternative to collect mail rather than using vehicles?

A: We don’t have a large vehicle fleet at the moment. At present there is a shortage of vehicles. Now we have to provide more vehicles to expedite the postal service in the Northern and Eastern provinces.

If we can regularise the present system of delivering mail with our vehicles without bringing all the mails into the Colombo Central Mail Exchange, a large amount of money spent to pay overtime and delivery of mails via trains and other Government transport sectors can be saved. This would also help to increase efficiency of the postal service with the help of a limited number of vehicles. At present we are taking steps in this regard.

Q: Agency Post Offices, communication centres and internet cafes have facilitated public transactions. Was it due to the lethargy of the postal authorities that these have made inroads into the postal?

A: This is what is happening today. Delivering letters and issue of stamps have decreased.

There are better alternatives such as SMS, internet and mobile phones. Although there is an increase of commercial post, the conventional pattern of delivering letters has systematically reduced. We have to think differently and identify the new services to be introduced.

Through the networking of post offices, people would be able to pay their bills and obtain other facilities. We hope to introduce equipment which would enable people to pay bills at the doorstep.

Banks have agreed to commence their banking services via post offices and connect with our networking.

We have identified 21 new services to be conducted via post offices which includes channelling doctors as well. I hope this would facilitate more money into the postal coffers.

Q: The media highlighted a stamp shortage. Is there any truth in this?

A: There is no stamp shortage. The media publishes inaccurate news because of the tug-of-war between the Post Master General and trade unions.

Q: LTTE stamps are supposed to be in circulation in France, England and Canada. What action has been taken by your Ministry to stop this illegal practise?

A: The Ministry has no ability to take action in this regard. In these countries, stamps are issued by the private sector through an authority.

They have the ability to print any stamp they wish by paying money. The LTTE stamp had also been printed in such a manner.

If Sri Lanka Posts receive letters with these stamps, such letters will be suspended. However, the Government through the External Affairs Ministry has already expressed its opposition to relevant authorities which published the stamps.

They have accepted that it’s a mistake and they have informed the Government that steps will be taken not to print that same stamp in the future.

Q: The 13 plus has become a controversial issue to political parties. Is there any compromise to reach a consensus with regard to land and police powers?

A: No final consensus has been reached to give Police or land powers. A certain section is requesting to give police and land powers. But the Government has not yet reached any final decision.

The intention of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) where all political parties can sit together and discuss this issue. It is the responsibility of the Sinhala and Tamil political parties to elect and send their representatives to the PSC to discuss this. What I believe is that we should go far beyond even the 13th Amendment to find a lasting solution.

The President and the Government have the genuine desire to provide a sustainable solution to this problem. Therefore all Tamil political parties should come for a dialogue with the Government to reach a final agreement.

Q: Various trade union actions launched and the cult of violence developing in some universities have become a common phenomenon. Do you think there is a political motive behind these incidents?

A: Certain elements attempt to highlight and give undue publicity to these incidents.

The country has now entered into a massive development drive. The Government has implemented several mega development projects such as ports, airports, highways, irrigation and power generation.

The Government has taken measures to develop infrastructure at grass roots level.

A large number of roads in rural areas are carpeted and concreted.

If you take my electorate Moratuwa, nearly Rs. 300 million has been spent to develop the road network in the Moratuwa electorate last year.

A large amount of money will be spent for road development in the Moratuwa electorate this year as well. The tourism industry is booming and investors have shown their keen interest to come to Sri Lanka.

In this situation, country’s economy is getting stronger.

Those who were waiting for the Government to topple cannot tolerate the development that is taking place.

They highlight through the media even a minor incident to get political mileage. Certain elements attempted to politicise the 2011 G.C.E. Advanced Level Examination results as well. Various demonstrations were held in this regard. But children have not participated in these.

Where solutions have been given, various attempts were made during the past few weeks to disrupt the essential services by warning of taking trade union action.

Certain elements have engaged in a continuous attempt to destabilise the country by resorting to such activities to gain narrow political objectives. It is very clear that there is political hand behind these incidents.

Q: although the Government has launched a large number of mega development projects, certain section claims the people don’t enjoy the dividends. Could you explain?

A: Once a project is commissioned, the benefits cannot be expected from the next day. This is a misconception created in the minds of some people. Once the Hambantota Port is opened, there is no possibility of providing employment with immediate effect.

When we showed the land, certain people asked where the harbour was going to be built? After the harbour was built, they are asking whether ships are coming. For ships to come we should build a harbour and show it to them. We have to develop this as a fully-fledged harbour.

All the ships sailing in the sea belong to various private sector companies. We have to take steps to market the harbour and educate shipping companies on the services provided. If the Southern Expressway is opened, it will take several years to recover the money spent for it. This is the accepted norm in any country.

Though the Opposition makes these absurd comments, people have accepted the massive development in the country. That is why the Opposition has not been able to get a single person on to the street.

Q: Political analysts have commented on the need for a vibrant opposition. What have you got to say about this?

A: I think there is nothing wrong with the Opposition, they act with responsibility by identifying the role of the Opposition.

Now the Opposition is confined to internal clashes rather than playing the role of an Opposition.

Today the people can clearly see there is no powerful Opposition and it has also is in disarray. If the Opposition is sincere, they can make an effective contribution for the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee to find a solution to the problems faced by the people in the North and the East. Then the people will realise that the Opposition is fulfilling its duty with responsibility, but the present Opposition is not doing so. The Opposition should be able to make constructive criticism on the programs launched by the Government. The intention of the Opposition now is to sabotage the Government’s program.

This has led to various factions within the Opposition as well. Because some Opposition politicians have realised if the Opposition continues to act in this manner, they will be further rejected by the people. In this situation, various factions have formed within the Opposition and some of them are joining the Government.

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