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LibanPost goes beyond traditional postal duties

Daoud: We got rid of bribes.

BEIRUT: A few years ago, obtaining official documents meant you had to drive several kilometers to a public office – a trip repeated multiple times due to incomplete paperwork or absent public servants – and maybe shell out a bribe to speed up the process.

Nowadays, all you have to do is visit your local LibanPost branch to cary out this process in one shot, the company’s chairman says.

“It’s a bet that we took upon ourselves 10 years ago to move into massive diversification, from a traditional postal operator into a much-evolved provider that does a lot more than post for citizens,” Khalil Daoud said in an interview Monday from the company’s headquarters, near the Beirut airport.

In 1998, it grew apparent that Lebanon needed a reliable postal service, prompting the government to contract the task, which had been disrupted by years of war, to LibanPost, a privately held company.

It is one of the very few build-operate-transfer privatization initiatives that saw the light of day in Lebanon.

But by 2002 it became clear the Canadian firm, which initially won the contract, had employed the wrong strategy by trying to build a “pure postal operation,” Daoud says.

“It was a very small market for post and Lebanon was just out of a civil war, when you barely had any postal services for two decades.”

“The market for traditional post had also been on the decline internationally,” he adds.

When the current management took charge that year, the motto was to change the business’s liabilities into assets, Daoud says.

“We wanted to change what was considered a liability in any cost environment, namely the high number of employees and retail outlets, into an asset and a platform for growth while keeping costs at bay.”

Realizing the business opportunity in minimizing the hassle of getting official documents, the first step LibanPost took was to go into lengthy negotiations with public departments in order to implement the changes that were needed to allow for the services.

Doing so not only made things easier for citizens, Daoud says, but helped kickstart a subtle but serious administrative reform that managed to eliminate many of the bureaucratic delays in public offices.

“By separating the customer from the public servant, and introducing LibanPost in the middle, we eliminated any possibility for misconduct, bribery, delays, etc.,” Daoud says.

In many public offices, for example, multiple signatures of employees in different offices were needed, for no apparent reason.

“But no one had challenged these practices for decades, until we were there asking the right questions and noticing these barriers, from an outsider’s point of view,” he says.

Through the successful program, LibanPost offers a comprehensive services portfolio for 15 public institutions, having handled 9 million formal transactions to date.

LibanPost’s diversification was by no means restricted to public sector services.

Private sector services offered by the firm include delivering goods to clients, collection of payments, online commerce, money transfers – over 100 services in total.

By 2012, slightly over half of revenues were coming from non-postal services, Daoud adds.

LibanPost’s next step, Daoud says, is to tap Lebanon’s unbanked population through accessible financial services.

Facts about LibanPost

- Handles 2,000 tons of mail per year.

- Delivers to nearly 2 million addresses per year.

- Employs 450 couriers and more than 1,000 staff in total.

- 3.5 million kilometers are covered annually by couriers.

- 250,000 customers per month.

- Will reach 100 post offices by end of 2013.

- Achieved ISO 9001 certification for quality management systems in 2012.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 22, 2013, on page 5.

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