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Slow-working Russian Post remains sitting duck for clients’ anger

April 09, 2013, 16:23 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

The state unitary enterprise Russian Post continues to draw complaints from both Russian and foreign clients. Moreover, criticism of the postal workers’ ineffective performance soared of late. Delivery delays are outrageous, indeed. The authorities have promised the service will soon be re-subordinated. But it remains unclear to what extent this will help resolve the problem, if at all.

About 500 tonnes of international mail has massed up at Moscow’s customs checkpoints and airports. The recipients are mostly Russian buyers using the services of on-line retailers. The worst cause for the delays, according to Russian Post management, is the customs offices lack personnel. Russian Post processes and presents for examination up to 48,000 small parcels a day, while the Customs can inspect no more than 25-37 thousand.

The number of parcels from foreign on-line retailers has been steady on the rise for several years now and it is bound to grow further. According to Russian Post’s own estimates, orders from Internet shops are delivered to Russia mostly in ordinary or registered parcels; whereas in 2009 there were 2.3 million of them, in 2012 the amount soared to 17 million.

Germany’s largest postal operator, Deutsche Post, has urged a probe into the situation. Russian Post has received a message from Deutsche Post regarding the reasons why trucks carrying postal cargoes from Germany have to wait for customs clearance for so long.

Earlier, Russian Post on several occasions came under the fire of criticism for delayed deliveries of mail. In September 2011 St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport saw thousands of parcels pile up. Russian Post said the Customs was unprepared to handle the growing incoming traffic. In response, the Federal Customs Service accused Russian Post of ineffectiveness.

Russian Post reported the unfavorable state of affairs to the authorities of higher instance at the beginning of last month. In a special message Russian Post’s deputy general director, Nina Fetisova, told the federal communications agency Rossvyaz and the Federal Customs Service the processing of international mail was in a critical situation at the customs posts Vnukovo and Sheremetievo and also at the Central International Post Office in Moscow.

On March 6 five trucks from Germany were in queue for being unloaded at Vnukovo. At the International Post Office there had piled up 12,300 parcels, 5,300 EMS packages, and 36,000 minor incoming parcels. And two thousand parcels were waiting for customs clearance at Sheremetievo.

Russian Post operation still leaves much to be desired. It is still worse than in the 1980s, in the Soviet era, experts say. The daily Novyie Izvestia two years ago staged an experiment to check how effective Russian Post really was. It sent dozens of letters from Moscow to its correspondents in other regions of Russia and in some CIS and non-CIS countries. The newspaper’s correspondents sent letters to Moscow. Besides, each of the participants in the experiment sent a letter to one’s own home address.

The experiment showed that letters delivered on time were very rare. Of the 20 letters sent to other addresses inside Russia eight were delivered within the established deadlines (40%). Two were lost. The rest were delivered after a one- to four-day delay. Of the 14 international mails four reached the recipients on time. Two disappeared. Letters from Belgium and Germany set a record. It took them 40 days to reach Moscow (instead of the expected twelve days). The letter from Belgium, as follows from the stamps on the envelope, was travelling between two post offices in Moscow’s South Butovo neighborhood for three days. Their employees were uncertain whose job it was to deliver the message to the stated address.

The quality of services the postal monopoly offers these days is really appalling. Letters travel inside Russia and between the former Soviet republics far more slowly than they did in the USSR. There is no Soviet-type control of the postal agency, says the director of the Globalization Problems Institute, Mikhail Delyagin.

“Russian Post’s sole purpose is to take away money from clients,” he said.

“The reason for delays is not our own ineffectiveness, but the pressure of social factors,” says the director of the federal postal services of the Vologda Region, Vyacheslav Palenov. “We have too many official functions - the delivery of pensions, of written correspondence, and the subscription to newspapers and magazines.”

“It is these loss-making activities that are pulling Russian Post backwards,” he said.

However, clients do not care about the postal workers’ problems. Back last year a new resource called “anti-” emerged in the world web. The users highlight all instances of Russian Post’s bad work. In the middle of March the clients of on-line retailers launched a massive spam attack on the Moscow office of the Roskomnadzor watchdog. Every day the agency receives up to 1,000 messages from individuals with complaints about delayed deliveries of purchases made at Internet shops.

The state of affairs in Russian Post is the government’s major concern. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last Saturday signed a special instruction to take it out of the sphere of competence of the federal communications agency Rossvyaz and make it subordinate to the Ministry of Communications.

Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov has more than once pointed to the need for reforming Russian Post, says the daily Vedomosti. The purpose of the Ministry of Communications is to ensure all mail should be delivered within the boundaries of one large city of community within one day, Nikoforov said. He sees several instruments of financing the postal service’s upgrade program, such as the issue of infrastructure bonds, a rise in the prices of some services, the introduction of differentiated fees for the delivery of pensions (depending on the region) and the introduction of tax breaks.