Postal piracy

The Israel Postal Company is exploiting fact that most ordinary folks remain its captive consumers.

letters 88 (photo credit: )
letters 88
(photo credit: )
Privatization - whether full or partial - has on the whole proved a boon for Israeli consumers. The availability of telephones and the speedy installation of landlines on demand are perhaps the most outstanding attestations, in terms of local experience, to the advantage of introducing competition as an engine for delivering goods and services more efficiently and affordably to consumers. However, now and then a newly formed company appears bent on illustrating the precise reverse. The latest in this category - and perhaps the most confounding and exasperating to date - is the Israel Postal Company (IPC), which replaces the State Postal Authority. The IPC remains state-owned but operates as an independent for-profit business entity. Among the "improvements" it announced to the public is the introduction of a "service fee" to be paid upon the receipt of any package from abroad. The minimal charge per parcel is NIS 35. The levy is mandatory regardless of the value of the package's contents and even if said package is exempt from customs duty. The fee could rise significantly depending on "the amount of work" involved in processing any particular packet. Since such determination is likely to be inexact and not based on measurable objective criteria, the charge may ultimately hinge on the arbitrary whims of individual employees. Moreover, there's no guarantee that fees won't rise in the future, especially since price-fixing criteria won't be readily evident to consumers, given the patent lack of impartial benchmarks. Theoretically, the IPC could choose to cover deficits or boost profits via capricious fee hikes. Since basic postal services cannot be easily opened to outright competition, consumers can effectively be held hostage. Even a free-enterprise proponent like the US didn't expose basic postal services to competition, lest, for example, remote locales be neglected. The only exceptions were parcel and express services but only on condition that they charge significantly higher fees than the post office and meet set speed requirements. In the few cases internationally of postal services privatization (never full) no meaningful competition ensued, while overall cost of services to consumers increased. Since abolishing all governmental involvement in postal services isn't a realistic option, the consumer remains dependent on the post office no matter what its formal status and organizational structure. The government, therefore, retains at least a regulatory obligation. Its duty is to prevent its affiliate, even if classified as an independent establishment, from holding the public to ransom. The public has no viable alternatives to basic mail services, making it vulnerable to what amounts to extortion. While publicly owned postal services worldwide continue to lose significant chunks of their market share to private carriers, these generally are too expensive for individuals and households in everyday circumstances. The IPC knows that most ordinary folks remain its captive consumers, a fact which renders its new demands particularly unacceptable. The primary pretext is that while customs authorities previously processed packages free-of-charge - when the post office was non-profit - they had begun billing IPC, which promptly shifted the onus onto the public. To dub this an "improvement" is Orwellian in its cynicism. If anything, this is an unjust regression to what existed before the mid-19th century, when addressees were required to pay for mail sent them. This essentially was what the postage stamp was invented to redress. In the 21st century Israeli recipients will be required to pay indeterminate sums for packages mailed them from abroad - whether they were solicited or not, whether they are valuable or worthless - and this despite the fact that postage for the parcels was prepaid in the country of origin. Requiring remuneration from a passive addressee is disgraceful, especially in a country full of immigrants with ongoing ties abroad, and in the age of on-line shopping with goods often delivered through the mails. The IPC needs to ponder the potential consequences were its innovative "improvement" to be adopted in other countries. Costs globally could become prohibitive enough to render postal services unaffordable and indeed uncompetitive. It's as if the new profit-oriented firm were doing everything to make itself less attractive to its clientele. If the IPC fails to recognize the underlying irrationality of its contrary-to-businesslike decisions, then the government must step in - both as the IPC's owner and as protector of the common consumer. If all else fails, perhaps it's time for members of the public to unite and boycott the IPC, which clearly doesn't have their interests at heart.