Publishers call post office to account

The publishers want Icasa to consider and review 'the financial and other damage' the ongoing post office strike has caused the industry. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The publishers want Icasa to consider and review 'the financial and other damage' the ongoing post office strike has caused the industry. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The months of disarray at the South African Post Office (Sapo) has prompted a group of specialist magazine publishers to complain to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) over what they see as a breach of the post office’s licence conditions.

In addition, in a bid to protect their business plan, the publishers have put out a tender that could see them bypass the post office altogether.

The publishers will be asking Icasa to consider and review, among others, “the financial and other damage to the magazine publishing industry caused by Sapo’s ongoing failure to meet its licence conditions, and to sanction Sapo accordingly”, the group said in a press statement.

This could include punitive financial sanctions against the post office, entertaining alternative licence applications to that of the post office, ­considering additional licence applications to supplement the activities of the post office or even the removal of its currently exclusive licence.

The complaint may be the precursor of a possible class-action suit for damages to the industry as a result of the post office’s inability to fulfil its licence conditions.

Alternative distribution arrangements
In parallel to their complaint, the group will be issuing a tender to make alternative distribution arrangements for their magazines in an attempt to bypass the post office altogether.

The spokesperson for the group, Chris Yelland, managing director of EE Publishers, said it did not have a “knife out” for the post office but its members had to protect their business interests. The group had established that there was no legal restraint to their “making alternative arrangements”, he said.

According to the group’s attorneys, the delivery of “periodicals” is exempt from the post office’s reserved licenced activities, under the Postal Services Act.

In theory, Yelland argued, there was nothing to stop Icasa from considering another licence application to set up a postal service by a commercial operator if the post office’s services deteriorated enough.

“We have to have a functional post office.” Business had for far too long been complacent about addressing such problems, he said.

Technical task team
Last week, following months of continued strikes and major financial problems, the minister of telecommunications and postal services, Siyabonga Cwele, appointed a technical task team under administrator Simo Lushaba to stabilise the post office. It followed the resignation of all its nonexecutive directors.

The range of issues facing the post office had “regrettably had an impact on our stakeholders, including customers”, said Lungile Lose, the group executive for corporate affairs.

But the post office, the ministry and their labour partners were working tirelessly to resolve them, he added.

With the minister’s recent intervention, Sapo was “optimistic that the strike will come to an end shortly to enable a process of full-service restoration and overall re-engineering and remodelling of our customer value proposition”, Lose said.

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