• Infrastructural efficiency

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    I had a smile to myself the other week when I saw some complaints posted somewhere on the Internet about the potential removal of the “door-to-door” postal service. To say I didn’t know that there was one would be an exaggeration, but really to imagine that people depend on a door-to-door postal service is ridiculous.

    A postal service is an important infrastructural item, in Europe and America simple proof of posting is enough to confirm delivery due to the inherent reliability of the postal service. Legal papers are served by post and there is an accepted assumption that if something has been consigned to the post, then it will arrive. Not so here, the Philippine Postal Corp. (Philpost) just doesn’t work properly albeit I expect that their methods, for sorting letters, etc., are similar to those used in other countries but understandably without too much high-tech support.

    It can take several months for a letter to travel from one part of the Philippines to another, and according to a survey done by the Canadian postal service some years ago, over 60 percent of items never even reach their destination. I have spoken to people who at one time were postmen with Philpost and been told about bags of letters just being either dumped or left at home, because the person just couldn’t be bothered to deliver them!!

    The increasing use of email reduces the amount of conventional “snail mail” in operation, Philpost’s deliveries have reduced by over 30 percent between 2011 and 2012 to 159 million pieces of mail delivered in a year (indicating according to the Canadian survey statistics, that about 390 million pieces must have been consigned!!). For comparison, the Royal Mail in the United Kingdom (population size is about 66 percent of the Philippines) delivers over 80 million pieces of mail every day—half as many in one day as Philpost delivers in a year. The US Postal Service delivers about 660 million pieces of mail a day.

    What is also interesting is that as may be expected, the number of employees in the Royal Mail at about 170,000 is considerably greater than the 11,000 in Philpost, and the Royal Mail achieves a 99.9-percent success rate in deliveries on time. The US Postal Service employs over 500,000 people. Philpost, the Royal Mail and the US Postal Service are all government-controlled corporations.

    So how is it that a postal service in the Philippines can be so inefficient, that the use of private courier services such as LBC and messengers become the norm with the result that job opportunities which could be created by the implementation of an efficient postal service, notwithstanding the ever ballooning use of email, are just not available? Many separate messenger services each operating independently cannot capture the efficiencies of scale that a single central service could theoretically provide.

    The Philippines needs to sort out its infrastructure, no question about that, and a reliable mail service is a fundamental piece of infrastructure. Philpost is now apparently partnering with DHL, possibly catalyzed as a result of the recent banishment of foreign courier services from operating public utilities in the Philippines. This is just a “band aid solution” for the woes of the Philippine postal service, introducing yet another private player into the fray and reducing overall efficiency further.

    This postal service commentary is but a single example of the need in the Philippines for professional and holistic management of services, not only the post but also water and electricity for example and of course traffic management, with the authority to overrule political “bright [or worse self-interested]ideas.” Bright ideas should be welcomed, but only as contributors to professional and knowledgeably developed plans. It is not the job of Malacañang to sort out traffic problems on EDSA; what is needed is an informed and intelligent executive branch of government with the ability to coordinate each department’s plans into a national management approach, which will not be subject to undue interference by politicians, or for that matter by the external providers of overseas development assistance.

    There are some infrastructural facilities and services that would benefit from privatization, and there are some that are best left under an efficient government control (the postal service, electricity generation and transmission, medical services for example) and there are some which would be better operated if privatized. But there seems to be a lack of proper homegrown professional analysis and coordination combined with a rather unthinking mantra of privatization being the answer to all ills and inefficiencies. Can’t help thinking that a lot of the push for privatization here is by the local big business interests via their political and other connections, who just want to grab every money-making opportunity that is available for their own profit. And if it is not so profitable, then just give it back to government!

    Mike can be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com

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