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  • 2007-08-08

Illustration: Jevgenijs Cheksters

Over the past several years the quality of Latvia's postal system has worsened considerably, an observation shared by both consumers and employees of Latvijas Pasts alike. Letters are frequently delivered late, often ending up in the mailbox two weeks after they are postmarked, and international shipments have become increasingly prone to miss their final destination. Postal workers have reached the end of their patience and are threatening to go on strike, while executives raise their arms in frustration and run to the state for help. It is debatable whether the ultimate culprit for this situation is lower worker morale or poor management, but arguing and finger-pointing won't improve the system.

The government has finally stepped in, and on Aug. 6 Transport Minister Ainars Slesers, the man credited for the revolution in Baltic air travel, held a press conference to inform the public about his take on the fate of Latvia's postal system. As he sees it, there are three options: 1) subsidize Latvijas Pasts to the tune of 4.7 million lats (6.7 million euros); 2) privatize the company; or 3) establish a network of postal banks throughout the country in conjunction with a commercial financial institution.

Slesers, who will propose the three alternatives to the government at its weekly meeting on Aug. 14, said the first and second options are unrealistic, which means that it's either the third way or no way (this, of course, is typical Slesers leadership style, but that is a topic for a separate discussion). The minister is enthusiastic about the postal bank concept, which would essentially wed commercial banks with local post offices in approximately 700 locations throughout Latvia. A similar system, he says, has worked in Scandinavia and Japan. This is true, but drawing simple comparisons is always deceptive. Japan's postal network doubles as a credit agency and insurance fund; it employs one-third of all public sector workers and controls some $3.5 trillion in assets. So powerful is Japan's postal system that it has single-handedly determined the fate of politicians and prime ministers.

But that is no matter. The important thing is that Slesers has rolled up his sleeves and begun to tackle the problem of Latvia's tardy mail. He has offered a reform program, however tenable, and should be listened to. To be sure, it will be difficult to convince banks to go along with the plan considering the scope 's 700 regional postal banks. No bank needs that many branches. In all likelihood, hundreds of post offices in remote villages will have to be closed if the government doesn't want to front the subsidies. Obviously it will be the elderly and those not plugged-in to the modern information age who will suffer. But this is the 21st century, and efficiency demands sacrifice. If remote villages can get by without a hospital, they will also learn to survive without a post office.