Post Of­fice is rot­ten to the core

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell business@ city­press. co. za

The strike-bound SA Post Of­fice (Sapo) has been badly dam­aged. And not by greedy work­ers and bel­liger­ent unions – it has been dam­aged by mis­man­age­ment, cor­rup­tion and a to­tal lack of plan­ning and fore­sight.

The strike, in its 11th week, is not a cause, but a symp­tom of the malaise.

This is the widely held view in the labour move­ment. And on the ev­i­dence over the re­cent years, it is valid.

The unions have protested about loom­ing dis­as­ter for the bet­ter part of a decade, while ac­cept­ing ideas to mod­ernise and adapt the Post Of­fice to the dig­i­tal age.

It has also been pointed out that the struc­ture of the Post Of­fice with its bank­ing arm, Post­bank, pro­vid­ing a po­ten­tial honey­pot to be dipped into, is part of the prob­lem.

But de­spite union protests dat­ing back to 2008 noth­ing was done.

Cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions came to a head in 2010 when the unions dis­cov­ered man­age­ment was em­ploy­ing 8 600 ca­sual work­ers at an an­nual cost of about R350 mil­lion. The hourly rate paid to the labour bro­kers was more than dou­ble the pay re­ceived by the work­ers.

“We want to know what are, and were, the links be­tween the bro­kers and man­age­ment,” says Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Work­ers’ Union (CWU) gen­eral sec­re­tary, Aubrey Tsha­bal­ala.

He is sup­ported by the SA Postal Work­ers’ Union (Sapwu) gen­eral sec­re­tary, David Man­gena, who says there is con­sid­er­able ev­i­dence that “buddy bud­dies” ben­e­fited at var­i­ous lev­els from man­age­ment largesse.

In 2011, the CWU lodged a com­plaint with the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor about fraud, cor­rup­tion and gen­eral mis­man­age­ment in the Post Of­fice. When noth­ing hap­pened after nearly two years, the union com­plained and there were al­le­ga­tions of chi­canery.

How­ever, Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela said the de­lay was the re­sult of in­ad­e­quate re­sources and that her of­fice was in­un­dated with com­plaints. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Post Of­fice is now com­plete, is un­der­go­ing re­view, and should be tabled within weeks.

Also un­der way is an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Spe­cial In­ves­ti­gat­ing Unit into al­le­ga­tions of se­ri­ous mis­man­age­ment and cor­rup­tion that in­cludes the “un­law­ful ap­pro­pri­a­tion or ex­pen­di­ture of pub­lic money”. It was or­dered ear­lier this year un­der the watch of for­mer com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter Yunus Car­rim.

Car­rim’s suc­ces­sor, Min­is­ter of Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and Postal Ser­vices Siyabonga Cwele, this week moved into ac­tion, ap­par­ently bro­ker­ing a deal that saw man­age­ment of­fer­ing work­ers a 6.5% pay rise for this year.

Un­til now, Sapo man­age­ment has main­tained there was no money for any in­creases and the unions have been press­ing for ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“But the is­sues of pay and con­di­tions should come through ne­go­ti­a­tions at the bar­gain­ing coun­cil be­tween unions and man­age­ment,” says Man­gena.

There is some con­cern that gov­ern­ment may – as hap­pened in 1999 – dic­tate a pay rise level. Sapwu mem­bers are dis­cussing what their at­ti­tude and re­ac­tion should be to the lat­est de­vel­op­ments.

While Cwele’s in­ter­ven­tion was gen­er­ally cau­tiously wel­comed, there was some cyn­i­cism.

This is be­cause the in­ter­ven­tion came in the wake of a leaked au­dit re­port last week that re­vealed prob­a­ble fraud of R10 mil­lion over the past year, as well as the fact that Sapo board mem­bers had re­ceived R4.6 mil­lion for at­tend­ing 22 meet­ings.

“But we es­ti­mate that as much as R2.1 bil­lion has been mis­ap­pro­pri­ated over the years,” says Tsha­bal­ala.

He ar­gues that the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the Post Of­fice must be tight­ened, ex­ist­ing ser­vices ex­panded and the range in­creased.

“We need to pre­serve the Post Of­fice as an es­sen­tial pub­lic ser­vice, par­tic­u­larly for the poor and peo­ple in ru­ral ar­eas,” he says. He has the back­ing of Sapwu, Cosatu and most of the labour move­ment in this.

For­mer Post Of­fice ad­van­tages in bank­ing, money trans­fers, mail­box pro­vi­sion and par­cel de­liv­er­ies have al­ready been eroded, with the pri­vate sec­tor pro­vid­ing gen­er­ally more ex­pen­sive and less eas­ily avail­able al­ter­na­tives.

“Which is why we need to main­tain this pub­lic ser­vice, es­pe­cially for the ru­ral poor,” says the spokesper­son for Cosatu, Pa­trick Craven.

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