As if competition by instant means of communication, like the internet or smart phones, were not enough, postal service in Pakistan seems to be suffering from other ailments that are perhaps best represented by the dilapidated condition of letterboxes that can be found scattered around the city.
The Pakistan Post has over 500 such boxes in Karachi, which can be found on streets and footpaths outside public places. They were once used by people to send greetings for festive occasions, like Eid, Christmas or birthdays, to their loved ones.
However, nearly half of these letterboxes are currently either broken or in serious need of repair, and a Pakistan Post official said that they are not even checked regularly by post office staff.
“I sit here every day, from morning till evening, but I have never seen anyone form the post office opening this box. People put in papers that contain names of Allah or verses of Quran. Anyone can open its door as the lock does not work,” said a police constable posted near one such mailbox.
Hameed Ahmed, who is a retired deputy chief postmaster and a trade unionist, told The Express Tribune that Pakistan Post is fighting a battle for its survival, just like Pakistan Railways, Pakistan International Airlines and the Pakistan Steel Mill.
“There were 600 street letterboxes in Karachi till 1992, which were checked at least once a day, and mails were delivered on time. Later on, however, corruption took roots in the department and its standards dropped,” said Ahmed. Only letterboxes located in front of post offices are now checked on a regular basis.
However, Abdul Ghafoor, deputy postmaster general for mail sorting and transportation, claimed that all street letterboxes in Karachi division were in order, and that postal staff check their boxes daily. “We put test letters of our own address in them to check whether the postman is performing his duty or not, and we receive them the next day.”
Besides checking mail, they are also responsible for reporting the condition of their boxes to the assistant superintendent post services, who will either repair or replace them if needed.
Ghafoor added that anyone who spoils any type of mail can be penalised for up to seven years, under the Pakistan Post Office Act of 1898.
The date of this law (1898) would perhaps give readers a better idea about the challenges faced by this entity in this country.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 8th, 2012.