Post Office sitting on a mail 'mountain'

The South African Post Office says there is a mountain of undelivered mail at their offices. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The South African Post Office says there is a mountain of undelivered mail at their offices. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

There is a “mountain” of undelivered mail at the South African Post Office (Sapo), MPs heard on Friday.

“We have a mountain of mail that is undelivered that is now quite substantial,” Sapo public affairs general manager Andrew Nongogo told members of Parliament’s telecommunications and postal services portfolio committee.

Reducing this backlog would require Sapo staff to work overtime and at weekends, as well as bringing in staff from head office to help at various mail centres. However, this could not happen if workers were absent and the labour situation at Sapo – where operations over the past three months have been crippled by strikes – was not stable.

Earlier, committee chairperson Mmamoloko Kubayi said highly critical media reports and concerned enquiries from members of the public had prompted Friday’s meeting, to give MPs an update on the current state of affairs at the post office.

But after listening for over an hour to senior Sapo officials and Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister Siyabonga Cwele sketch details of another turnaround plan for the cash-strapped entity, Kubayi lost her patience.

“You are appearing before us and you do not even have the decency to tell us you have not paid workers today. “That’s a wrong, wrong start ... it removes the trust. You start wondering what else in this presentation is true or not… you are evasive in your presentation,” she said.

A senior Sapo executive scrambled to explain that workers had been paid, but late, after cash flow problems had led to the entity’s bank requiring a guarantee from the national Treasury before releasing the funds. Last month, Sapo also had a problem paying salaries.

Cash injection needed
Two weeks ago, Nongogo warned that if cash inflows remained precarious, there could well be further problems. Cwele told the committee ways had been identified “to make the post office more sustainable and efficient”. These included restructuring the entity and the way it did business. 

“The current model is not helping us to deal with the cost issues.” He suggested Sapo should receive more government business.

“If we as government can just increase our courier business just by 20% – giving that 20% to Sapo – we’ll resolve most of the problems that are facing the post office,” he said.

Government wanted Sapo to become the “centre of access” of government services in all areas, Cwele said. According to notes tabled at Friday’s briefing, there has been a steady decline in Sapo’s financial fortunes over the past seven years, from a net after-tax profit of R377-million in 2007/08, to a loss of R359-million in 2013/14. Nongogo listed other problems, including that Sapo required a R447-million injection to modernise its antiquated information technology infrastructure. 

On its finances, he said spending outstripped revenue. The briefing notes show that on September 30 this year, Sapo’s expenses for the current financial year were R3.280-billion, and revenue R2.764-billion.
– Sapa

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