Revamping postal services

19 Jul 2010

Revamping postal services

While the internet has laid siege to postal services in many countries, the sector remains vital in Sudan, where less than 10 per cent of the population are online.
With infrastructure and a functional system in place, the capital Khartoum receives and dispatches national and international mail to different parts of the country on a regular basis.
Postal services are wanting in Southern Sudan, however, which has witnessed notable growth and development in other areas since the end of the civil war five years ago.
Most post offices in the south were closed during the war and many of the buildings taken over by the military, according to Ministry of Telecommunication and Postal Services Undersecretary Juma Stephen Lugga.
With the offices still in a state of disrepair due to slowness in rehabilitating the sector, the only operational, southern postal offices were in Juba, Wau and Malakal, the undersecretary said.
"The government is currently working on plans to renovate other post offices across the region," he said, but added that past efforts to fast track infrastructural development in the sector had been slow, mainly due to policy and budgetary constraints.

The Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) is currently working to open up more post offices, recently completing the first state facility in Torit. Rehabilitation of post offices in Yambio, Aweil Rumbek, Maridi, Nassir and Bor, where infrastructure is already present, should be completed over the next few months.

The sorry state of the region's postal services persists despite a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the GoSS and Government of National Unity, stipulating that some postal services powers be transferred from the northern telecommunications ministry to the southern one.
In 2007, then GoSS Minister for Telecommunication and Postal Services Maj. Gen. Gier Chuang announced that Juba had officially become an exchange office for Southern Sudan international mail.
With that in place, international mail would be delivered directly to Juba, rather than first going to Khartoum, Port Sudan and Halfa, before being rerouted to Juba for distribution to in the south. But this has yet to be realized.
Mr. Lugga emphasized the need to urgently finalise the MOU to ensure that delivery of mail was streamlined and fast tracked in the south.

The largest in the south, Juba post office has 600 postal boxes, although only 300 have been rented out. Other services include letter and parcel delivery, a savings bank and the selling of stamps.

A new postal building currently under construction in Juba will provide another 2,000 mailboxes and the potential to handle the increased flow of international mail, should it come directly to Juba.
Private couriers

In addition to infrastructure problems, the undersecretary noted that the south's postal sector was facing stiff competition from a growing number of private courier companies.

Another key obstacle is the negative public attitude towards southern postal services, according to the Telecommunications Ministry Director General Francis Apayo.
"During the war, most people claimed that their letters were opened and read and some intercepted by security agents. This has resulted in a lack of confidence by the general public about the privacy of their correspondence," the director general said.
Privacy of correspondence was now guaranteed, but it would take some time to build up public confidence in the postal sector, Mr. Apayo added.
He was optimistic, however, that lack of access to most modern technology across Southern Sudan gave room for growth in the sector, even though technical advances were threatening postal services globally.
Mr. Lugga also cited lack of laws as an impediment to development of the sector. Currently, the telecommunications and postal sector is governed by 2001 and 2004 laws.
The telecommunications ministry had prepared a new bill to govern the sector, but this had yet to become law, the undersecretary said. However, he felt that legislation would be passed by the regions' new legislative assembly to enhance regulation of the sector.

According to Director General Apayo, the ministry had mounted an aggressive campaign to market its services on various radio stations. Hopefully, the initiative would go a long way in restoring public confidence.