Liberia, Journey Towards Reconstruction: Part 1 (Postal Services Revitalization)

By: George D. Yuoh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

January 23, 2004

There is an old saying that, “it is very easy to destroy, but very difficult to rebuild”. This statement holds true for every aspect of life; be it mental capacity, physical infrastructures, or even the way of life of a people. Now that there are signs, though not very credible, that we are passing the destructive stage of our 14 years saga, we must now start to think about reconstruction and revitalization of every aspect of Liberia. The very sickening and inexplicable level of destruction brought down on our country by people who call themselves Liberians, ranks among the worst kind of carnage experienced anywhere else in recent world history. This has been mentioned and discussed sufficiently by many commentators and followers of the Liberian fiasco. Therefore, the focus of this article, the first in a series of a few others to follow, will instead direct our attention to the rebuilding process: making Liberia better than it used to be. Our first stop is to take a look at the postal system of Liberia, and offer suggestions for its revitalization. The series is not “expert” opinions. It is intended to lay the basis for further discussions and considerations as we journey, hopefully, from destruction to reconstruction.

A functional and effective postal system is not a social luxury, rather, it is a very important component needed not only for social advancement, but for economic growth and political development as well. An efficient postal system is a catalyst that drives financial transactions, social interactions, and enhances communication development. Imagine how difficult everything in America would have been if the USA did not have an efficient postal service! Not that I expect the Liberian postal service to be comparable to that of the USA, but we could borrow from their system to develop ours. And why not dream? Why can't it be like that of the USA? The USPS was set up by men, and over time the system got improved and developed into a viable agency.

From a commercial perspective, the postal industry is profitable. It is a multi-billion dollar industry in the USA. For Liberia, it could well become a multi-million dollar industry. Consider the likes of DHL, FEDEX, UPS, Airborne Express and Mail Box Etc., these are multi-million dollars corporations that do nothing but deliver mails and packages. If they were not receiving considerable returns on investments, they would have folded long ago. Over the years, the United States Postal Service (USPS) had to face up to the competition by going commercial as well. Today when you walk into a USPS service center, besides stamps, you will find just about everything from envelopes to adhesive tapes, boxes, stuffing materials, writing papers, etc. The USPS is into advertising and all the other activities that make a private entity viable.

So, can a Liberian postal system be developed and become viable, and not a liability system as it is? I say an emphatic yes to that. With the proper level of planning, the setting of realistic targets, and the provision of adequate and appropriate resources, the Liberian postal system could be second to none in sub-Sahara Africa. To this end, let me attempt to offer a few suggestions.

· Enact Appropriate Laws

For any system to work and become viable, there must be protection against abuses, including theft. In the USA, (and again I have to use America as an example since that is the system we have always fruitlessly tried to copy) tampering with mails, not limited to theft, is a federal offense (a felony), a crime that will bring the FBI to the offender’s door steps. For the system to work in Liberia, appropriate laws must be enacted, assuming there are no such laws on the books accumulating dust. There must be education campaigns to explain the laws and the consequences of violations to the population. People should be made to understand that a piece of mail addressed to another person, be it your wife is for your wife to open only and not you. Assuming that the courts will be upright, violators must be dealt with accordingly. Once the legal safe guards are in place, there will be a guarantee that the system will work.

· As part of the safe guards to the postal system, striking by postal workers should be outlawed. The havoc strike actions could create to a postal system on which the wheels of the economy hinge, is loaded with far reaching distortions to social life and the economy. As more people and entities get dependent on the system to facilitate their daily transactions, a protracted delay in the delivery of mails could pose severe upsets in the timely delivery of other services. Meanwhile, postal workers should be adequately compensated, because that will guarantee attracting and keeping the right kind of people in such a delicate job.

· Redesign The Postal System.

The postal service should do away with the heavy reliance on the old “P.O Box” system as the primary means of mail delivery. Instead, a zonal system that will ensure the delivery of mail to every door be developed. Such a system will divide parts of cities, towns, and villages into zones (zip codes, if we can borrow from the Americans). This is not a NASA space project for the physicists. There is already a blue print of such system developed by Liberians available in the country. In 1990-91, SELF (the Special Emergency Life Food program), a Liberian run NGO, divided the entire Monrovia and parts adjacent into zones to facilitate the smooth distribution of relief food. Every structure was given and marked with a unique number (although there were a lot of ghost structures). For instance, central Monrovia was given 0500 as it code. Mamba Point, a part of central Monrovia was 0509. The block or area closer to Greystone from the old CID office down to a point closer to Newport Street where I used to live was designated as block ‘H”. My apartment was marked as structure #32. Therefore my SELF address was 0509-H-32. Up to now, that address is still there. The UNDP, in an attempt to compile some census data, produced a publication with all of those addresses and their principal occupants listed therein. Assuming this system was adopted, and that I was in Monrovia, my mailing address would be: George D. Yuoh, 0509-H-32, Mamba Point, Monrovia, Liberia. Tell me, what would prevent the delivery of my mail or package to my door?

Homes in low development areas, where units are rented out by single rooms, would have individual mailing addresses for each room. For example, John Johnson lives in West Point in a ten-room zinc house. Depending on his area, the house location, and assuming that he is in the tenth room, his address could be: John Johnson, 0515-D-88-10, West Point, Monrovia, Liberia. The address for the first room in the house will be, 0515-D-88-01.

Landlords and homeowners have their role to play in this process. Of course the Ministry of Post & Telecommunications, and the Office of the Post Master General will mandate that all homes, preferably, carry uniform mailbox structures and home identification labels approved by the ministry. This means that landlords who rent their houses by single rooms will have to ensure that every room has a separate box. Apartments and family homes will provide boxes for each unit and each home respectively. The numbers/addresses of homes would be uniformly done and placed at an appropriate point on the structures where it is very visible.

These should be the general and basic aspects of the postal service revitalization program. The benefits of the successful implementation of such a process is enormous for Liberia. Individuals and companies will be able to send out and receive communications regularly, a process that is very essential in making the economy vibrant. The postal service will create thousands of new jobs for Liberians, from mail sorters to sales associates, package trackers (customers service associates), mail delivery personnel, clerical workers, planners and analysts, etc. Assuming that Liberia’s obligations with the International Postal Union and international mail carriers are taken care of, the country will once again be connected to the international community, and truly become a member of the global village. Liberians at home will be able to easily communicate and send packages to families and friends abroad, and vice versa. The postal service will become economically viable and the government will have then taken one step forward in making social services available to its people.

Besides the accrual of social benefits, an efficient Liberian postal service will stimulate the expansion of the economy by producing an increase in our gross domestic product. The increase in the usage of the postal services will create an increase in the production and consumption of complimentary goods and services such as:

· Mailboxes production
· Production/sales of packing/cardboard boxes
· Production/sales of envelopes and papers
· Production/usage of home identification labels
· And most importantly, the creation of more new jobs, which is a prime determinant of economic growth.

Another key, and maybe a more important end result of this process is that statistical data can be generated to produce other important social and economic indicators. As we plan for elections in 2005, we need to establish population figures for our country, and show the distribution of the population so that lines of constituencies can be correctly demarcated. The Post & Telecommunication and Planning Ministries can collaborate, with the support of the UNDP, the elections commission and other related agencies, in carrying out this very important exercise. While the Postal Ministry is identifying structures and designing mailing addresses, the Planning Ministry will be collecting census data, including population distribution by age, population density for constituency division, population distribution by sex, etc. All of this information can be collected on one form.

This is a very important and tangible step in the process of reconstruction in Liberia, and should therefore be accorded all the necessary attention. The benefits accruing from setting up a viable postal service are endless. The impact on economic, social and political life of individuals and the country in general will be profound. The journey to Rome begins with a first step. Let’s take this step forward. Let the discussion begin.