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Boost for postal services through advanced technology - Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga

The state postal sector which is the only postal service provider from luxury bungalows to slums will soon adopt advanced technology to provide a satisfactory and enhanced service to its customers, Postal Services Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga told the Sunday Observer during an exclusive interview.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Do you have an idea to infuse modern technology to the postal sector?

A:Infusing modern technologies to the postal sector is crucial to overcome challenges. For the past five years our postal sector is facing huge challenges due to the introduction of modern technologies in the communication sector. If modern technology was not used the entire postal network would go to a museum, In every country the communication sector has become more competitive with the emergence of modern technologies.

We have inaugurated the networking of post offices. Now 634 main post offices are being networked with the support of the University of Moratuwa. The networking project can be completed within two or three months. The 3,410 sub post offices are to be networked in two years. After the completion of networking the administration activities of all post offices throughout the country could be brought under one umbrella.

The Government has allocated sufficient funds for this project. We will be introducing 'track and trace' system for the first time in Sri Lanka. E-mail and billing facilities will also be offered by post offices countrywide on the completion of networking. We are planning to provide 21 kinds of services to customers in the future.

Q: What are the projects being implemented in the North and the East to uplift the postal sector devastated by three decades old LTTE terrorism?

A: As the Minister responsible for the postal sector I have taken essential steps to uplift and to increase the efficiency of the postal sector in the North and the East.

New post offices are being constructed in the North and the East under the Uthuru Wasanthaya and Neganahira Navodhaya Northern and Eastern Development drives.

The newly constructed Kalkudah, Mandur, Periyaporativu, Addalachchena, Oluvil, Pulmudai and Kurunchakerny post offices were commissioned last year. The construction work of Meeravoddai and Pottuvil post offices has now been completed and the construction work of Palamunai and Marudamune post offices is progressing.

We have sent push bicycles and vans to the North to augment the postal services. We have renovated quite a large number of post offices which were damaged during the conflict period.

After the restoration of peace in the North and the East after nearly 30 years the people of those regions are returning to their normal lives. But even during the conflict period the postal services operated in conflict areas. Even when the Forces reached the final location of battle postal services was functioning there.

Only the postal sector was linked the North and the East with other parts of the country during this period. The postal sector rendered its service to the public without race, caste and religious discrimination.

Q: Is the delivery service of the Postal Department in the liberated areas in the North and the East functioning smoothly?

A: Moves are underway to dispatch four vans to the North to expedite the delivery service to the North from Colombo. With the resumption of train services to Batticaloa the delivery services of the Postal Department to Batticaloa have become much easier.

Q: Could you please explain of Government's bicycle distributing program to postal sector employees?

A: No bicycles were distributed to the postal employees for the past 10 years. The treasury has allocated Rs. 15 million to distribute new bicycles among postal employees. Last year we distributed 4,000 bicycles among the postal employees in Moneragala (parallel to the Deyata Kirula program), Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Hambantota Districts.

When I assumed duties as the Postal and Telecommunication Minister it was reported that in certain areas the delivery services were taking place in a poor manner. The identified reason was the lack of bicycles.

Q: Now there are agency post offices everywhere. Does it affect the smooth functioning of state postal services ?

A: The emergence of agency post offices will never affect the State postal services as both are moving in parallel. We are planning to draft a framework to promote the efficiency of agency post offices. Discussions were being conducted with relevant authorities in this regard.

The Postal Department is the only authority to grant permission to agency post offices. These agency post offices are being administrated by the Postal Department.

The emergence of agency post offices depends on the availability of main or sub post offices in proximity. There should be a 500 metre distance between sub post offices and 100 metres between agency post offices.

Now we are in the process of granting permission to agency post offices in places where neither main post offices nor sub post offices are existing.

Permission is granted only to the those who satisfy the requirements of the Postal Department.

Q: What are the steps taken by you as the subject Minister to increase the efficiency of the postal service?

A: Earlier it took six to seven days to deliver letters in distant areas. Moves are under way to deliver letters and parcels in two days in Colombo area and in three days out of Colombo. Steps have been taken to deliver letters and parcels within four days to distant regions.

There is an international regulation that the letter or parcel should be delivered to the addresses within five days of (domestic) posting. Only then we can conform to international standards. Already Sri Lanka has achieved this standard.

Due to our efficient services Sri Lanka won a bronze medal at the World Postal Union.

The Postal Department is planning to deliver letters and parcels the same evening if posted before 9.00 a.m.

Q: Is the Postal Department recording losses? If it is, what are the reasons ?

A: We are not experiencing huge losses. We intend to run this service without becoming a burden to the Government. We are moving towards that goal step by step.

We are not experiencing losses but we have an expenditure surplus. There should be 23,000 employees to run the postal service but there are less than 17,000 employees.

These employees have to do the service of 23,000 persons. There is a shortage of 7,000 employees. When we use those people to cover the additional work they have to be paid overtime. Due to this situation the expenditure of the Department has gone up. Our aim is to bring down the expenditure within a year period and to convert the Postal Department into a body operating without any fund allocation by the Government.

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