Do you still write and post old-fashioned letters? If you use e-mail, WhatsApp and Zoom, you may not have sent a real, personal letter in a long time. However, those of you who had pen pals in childhood know what it is like to send a real letter. You write the letter using a pen or pencil, put it into an envelope, affix a stamp and send it to its destination, within Sri Lanka or even to the other side of the world.
In Sri Lanka, you can go to the remotest village and still find the familiar emblem of the Post Office. Long before today’s mobile phones, this was the only place that had a telephone; it was the only place where you could post a letter to someone living on the other side of the world. It is a place that brought – and still brings – the world closer.
Tomorrow, the world will celebrate the importance of the Postal system despite the many advances made in electronic communications. World Post Day (WPD) is celebrated each year on October 9, the anniversary of the establishment of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) in 1874 in the Swiss Capital, Bern. It was declared World Post Day by the UPU Congress held in Tokyo, Japan in 1969.
The purpose of World Post Day is to create awareness of the role of the postal sector in people’s and businesses’ everyday lives and its contribution to the social and economic development of all countries. The celebration encourages member countries to undertake programme activities aimed at generating a broader awareness of their Post’s role and activities among the public and media on a national scale.
This year’s WPD theme “Together for trust: Collaborating for a safe and connected future” urges Governments and their postal services to support the development of a digital single postal territory that complements the extensive physical network developed over the centuries. It also extends an invitation to collaborate with the UPU to ensure that people everywhere need look no further than their local Post Office to find access to the burgeoning digital economy.
Post offices worldwide play a crucial role in fostering cohesive, inclusive, connected communities. Presently, millions of postal employees worldwide are entrusted with a variety of essential and personal items, from messages, gifts and goods, to money and medicines. Today, you can also pay bills, deposit money, send and receive money and even send e-mails at the Post Office.
In some countries, including Sri Lanka, they issue ID cards to students. The Post through the Philatelic Bureau is also connected with the hobby of stamp collecting which cuts across all age barriers. The Post Office can bring analogue and digital worlds together, acting as a bridge that connects to the future.
Despite all technological advances, the Post Office still remains relevant. There are more than 640,000 post offices around the world that help deliver 450 billion letters, parcels and other documents every year. The Post is truly a public service for every citizen of the world. The Internet may have slowed down letter-writing, but it has boosted the postal system in another way – people order a lot of items on the Internet which have to be sent by post, at least until teleportation becomes a reality.
In fact, the Postal system’s share of the parcel business is growing despite the competition from courier companies with global online sales reaching US$ 3 trillion last year. There is even the possibility that old-fashioned letter writing is making a comeback. There is no sense of intimacy in an e-mail or a Facebook post, but a physical letter can be treasured for generations to come.
The Post is still suffering huge losses in many countries including Sri Lanka. Governments generously subsidise the Post, as it is often thought of as a public service, not a business per se. In Sri Lanka, this subsidy amounts to Rs.7,000 million per year. However, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Media Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena and Media State Minister Shantha Bandara have stressed the importance of turning the Post into a profit-making business through ventures such as Cash On Delivery, EMS, Digitisation and Courier services.
Accordingly, Sri Lanka Post has already reached 71 percent of the estimated target revenue of Rs.12,000 million this year. The avowed goal is to reach profit-making status by 2025. Moreover, Sri Lanka aims to achieve “Gold” status in UPU rankings by 2025, having already received “Silver” status.
Sri Lanka’s Postal Ordinance is 115 years old, while the last amendment was passed in 1952. In the context of the vast technological advances made in the postal realm, it is imperative that this legislation is updated to reflect modern needs. Private sector participation too must be obtained for revamping the postal service.
There’s something inherently wonderful about the Post. The Post has been bringing people together for nearly two centuries and it will continue to do so, hopefully for many more centuries to come. The Post should become a catalyst for lifting all barriers and bringing nations closer together.