Postal bully

Published: July 26, 2010

Pakistan Post has managed to keep a monopoly over money orders despite poor service

KARACHI: Come August 10 and Ali Shah will be back to the Pakistan Post office branch on Sharae Faisal to send money back home. Shah, who is a private security guard by profession, says he prefers the ‘urgent mail service’ so his family in Bannu, Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa, can receive money on time. Although that rarely happens, Shah is content with their service.

“I don’t have a choice,” says a disappointed Shah, who has been working in the country’s financial capital for several years. “The only way to send money back home is through the Pakistan Post. Even if they fail to deliver my money on time, I have to come back to them each month because no other private courier service has the authority to deliver money.”

Through its network of around 13,000 post offices across the country’s rural and urban areas, Pakistan Post also provides a remittance service under two systems, Urgent Money Service (UMS) and Fax Money Order (FMO). Millions of rupees flow through this system every month, which is considered safe and affordable.

“The first 10 days of the month are the busiest and we end up working overtime,” says Mohammad Arif, a clerk at the Saddar post office.

While most of the money orders reach their destination on time, there are some remote areas where the delivery is delayed by a week because postmen use traditional routes and modes of transport to deliver money.

These days owing to the military operation in various northern and tribal regions, money orders are further being delayed as families relocate temporarily.

Arif adds that in the past year most orders were sent back from the mountainous regions of Swat because the families were not accessible.

In this case, the orders that returned had to be sent again after verifying the new address. Authorities, he says, pay little attention to orders from these areas because they are few in number. “Most of Karachi’s money goes to Punjab and that is the province where we have to be more efficient with our delivery service.”

No banks for us

Although most banks have opened their branches in remote parts of the country, many avoid using their services either due to their inability to read and write or because the services are unaffordable.

Azhar Hafeez is one such businessman in Karachi who claims to have made millions through his transport and excise business despite being illiterate. “All my transactions depend on the postal system,” says Hafeez, who has a personal secretary to help with the paper work while he builds contacts at the post office.

“Banks are not for people like us who can’t read or write and the postal system has never disappointed me so there is no reason for me to switch.”

Since the excise documents have to be mailed to his clients – mostly from remote parts of Punjab – within 24 hours, Hafeez says he has learnt to oil the wheels.

“All I need to do is pay an extra amount of Rs10 (for every money order) apart from the UMS charges and my client receives the money in 24 hours,” says Hafeez, who dispatches at least five money orders every day.

In addition to the service charge of Rs50 for domestic money orders, customers using the UMS are required to pay an extra Rs15 for orders within the city and Rs30 for those outside Karachi. However, for the FMO, which permits a maximum limit of Rs25,000, Pakistan Post receives a commission between Rs150 and Rs300.

Apart from this, during the first 10 days clerks receive some extra money for ‘chai pani’ by those who want to avoid long queues. The services they offer include filling the money order form for those who cannot write.

Private couriers unable to intervene

On the other hand, private courier services such as the DHL, TCS, OCS, SkyNet and Leopards, despite being more reliable in their services, are unable to intervene because it is not cost-effective for them.

“Pakistan Post has offices in the remotest towns of the country and only the government has the resources to keep them running – the private sector cannot afford to run its services here, they will have no business,” remarks Shahnaz, another clerk at the customer care centre of the post office in Saddar.

But Atif Khan, manager at OCS, offers a different explanation. He points out that since their deliveries are handled by eight to ten people, there is a risk of theft when it comes to transporting valuables and money, leaving customers with little choice.

There are others who feel that computerising the postal system may help overcome the problems customers face. “The reason people are willing to pay more to the private courier service is because we have established goodwill with our customers and have a tracking system.”

Godfrey Joseph, manager at a TCS branch, says: “When we say 24 hours, we mean 24.”

For its part, the government says it is planning to revamp the system with the help of the extra budget allocated this year.

Anwar Adil, deputy chief accountant officer revenue at the federal ministry of postal services, told The Express Tribune that the budget has been increased from Rs8 billion in the previous year to Rs8.6 billion in 2010-11, most of which will be utilised to computerise the postal system.

There are others who suggest spending a portion of this on the salaries of postmen whose door-to-door service is often ignored.

“Unless they get an incentive, the money will never be delivered on time,” believes another clerk, Zaheer.

But this is less likely to happen. “Why should the government make an effort when it knows no one else can break its monopoly?” argues Hafeez. No matter how much the likes of Shah complain, the system will continue to run the way it has been for decades, he predicts.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2010.

More in Business