Speech by the UPU Director General Bishar A. Hussein during the opening of the S9 CA Plenary, 30 April 2021
Chairman of the Council of Administration, Mr Hakan Gülten, representing Turkey,
Chairman of the Postal Operations Council, Mr Masahiko Metoki, representing Japan,
Deputy Director General, Mr Pascal Clivaz,
Distinguished CA Members and Observers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to the S9 CA plenary and thank you for joining us from various parts of the world as we get used to this new mode of meeting. I am glad the CA Chairman was able to travel to Berne for this meeting. It is always a pleasure to meet physically.
This being the last CA meeting before the 27th Congress in Abidjan, I wish to inform members that preparations for this event have been going smoothly despite the challenging situation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Later in the programme of today, the IB will give you a status update on the preparation for the Congress. The host country, Côte d’Ivoire, will also share with you details on the preparations being made for you for August.
As we conclude our work this extended cycle, Mr Chairman, allow me first to thank you and all members of the CA for the cooperation that we have continued to receive to facilitate our work at the secretariat. Allow me also to reflect with you on some of the milestones we have been able to achieve together in this fast-changing environment, despite the many disruptions that affected our work, above all the COVID-19 pandemic.
When we took office in 2013, the Deputy Director General and I set the priority to reduce operational inefficiency within the organization. We saw this as a key way retain more resources for the organization.
You may recall the number of printed documents that used to be distributed at all our meetings. I remember at one point we were told that the amount of paper we printed for each council put together would heap up to a structure taller than the IB building block.
To address this obvious waste of resources, we came up with the smart paper policy, where only a minimum number of documents were printed and mostly on request. The main access to documents was online. We even prepared some laptops that we lent out to delegations that did not have access tools, just to ensure they were able to access the documents.
Within a short time, members got used to this mode, and things ran smoothly. We saved a great deal on paper, ink and all other expenses associated with printing. We also removed the burden of tonnes of wastepaper that members had to discard at the end of the meetings.
Around the same time, the IB proposed having a virtual component to our council meetings to enable participation of delegates who could not travel to Berne for various reasons. This was to be similar to the hybrid format of meetings that we are getting used to.
Even though members objected to this proposal in favour of full physical meetings, fate has conspired to prove our vision was right. Last week we even achieved 100% virtual meetings of the POC, and all CA committee meetings have been 100% virtual.
At the plenary today, apart from the CA Chair and the secretariat, all the other participants are joining virtually.
Mr Chairman, you will recall that the institutional reform proposal that was taken to the 26th Congress and later to the second Extraordinary Congress in 2018 specifically addressed creation of operational efficiency within the work of the Union. It is because of those reforms that we have shortened our council meetings and, at the same time, made them more frequent in order to keep up with the fast-changing business environment.
The same reforms gave birth to the working methods tracking tool that has been very helpful in monitoring the implementation of decisions taken at Congress or council level. We have made all our meetings results-oriented. This is important for enhancing the efficiency of our decision-making processes.
My administration has gone down on record as the only one so far to hold two Extraordinary Congresses within one cycle. The need for these two Extraordinary Congresses underlines the fact that the postal industry is becoming too dynamic to conform to the four-year decision-making cycle of the Union.
This is so much so that, even before we hold the 27th Congress, I have started hearing talk of another Extraordinary Congress in 2023. During the reforms discussion, we had proposed the creation of a mid-term Congress as a permanent feature, but members were not in favour of it. In the coming days, members may wish to rethink this schedule so that important decisions do not have to wait too long before they are addressed. This will also minimize the demand for Extraordinary Congresses, which are now becoming common.
As you may all be aware, the decisions taken at Addis Ababa in 2018 and Geneva in 2019 were very crucial to the continued relevance of this Union. In Addis Ababa, members were finally able to unanimously agree on the reform of the Union that had been under consideration for many years. One notable attribute of that decision was the fact that there is now equity for all regions in the representation on the Postal Operations Council. The membership criteria for this council were also simplified.
In Addis Ababa, we also adopted the Integrated Remuneration Plan, another milestone that will guide the postal settlement arrangement that has always been contentious.
In 2019, at the Geneva Extraordinary Congress, and thanks to consensus among members, the Union adopted the modernization of the remuneration of small packets, leading to self-declaration of rates under specified conditions. This was a key decision for the Union as it kept the UPU membership intact, having earlier been threatened by the imminent departure of one of our members.
Mr Chairman, the fact that it took a threat by a member to withdraw from the Union for us to find a solution to this issue points to a slow decision-making pace that may not be tolerated for long by businesses.
As you may be aware, Mr Chairman, in the interest of saving costs for the Union, the International Bureau has in the past been able to negotiate with the host countries of Turkey, Ethiopia and now Côte d’Ivoire to fund the total cost of the Congresses. Switzerland also facilitated the Geneva Extraordinary Congress. I want to thank Turkey, Ethiopia, Switzerland and Cote d’Ivoire for their gesture of supporting the Union. Earlier the Union used to finance all Congresses.
A similar funding mechanism has been successfully negotiated with the hosts of the annual postal World CEO Forums that were started in 2015. So far, we have been able to hold forums in Paris, Moscow, Istanbul and Amsterdam, and I wish to thank the CEOs of the respective DOs in those countries for their financial support to this initiative.
In general terms, we have always looked for possible ways to reduce the costs of the Union. At the same time, our expenditures have been very well controlled. The average budget implementation rate for the IB stands at 98.1%, which has repeatedly been lauded by our auditors. It is also important to note that in the two cycles under my stewardship, there has been no audit qualification.
Distinguished members, you may recall that you recently asked the IB to find savings within its operations in order to contribute to funding the deficit in the Provident Scheme. I wish to inform you that we have since paid 25.2 million CHF to the scheme, which included 18.8 million CHF from treasury income and operational savings.
We have also reduced our operational costs in our dealings with external partners, to whom we have outsourced some of our activities. For example, we have seen a reduction of 125,000 CHF per year by outsourcing mailroom operations. Significant cost reduction has also been witnessed in other outsourced activities, including in WNS and international reply coupons, among others.
Mr Chairman, distinguished delegates and participants, I wish to inform you that in the interest of managing expenditure within the limited resources that we have, the IB has had to design ways of delivering more activities within an even lower budget than what had been allocated. To achieve this goal, we have kept a number of positions unfilled for a long time and asked some of our members of staff to take on responsibilities beyond those in their main job descriptions.
In spite of all these positive initiatives, there is no doubt that the sustainability of the Union will in future have to rely on new revenue streams that can be used to supplement the regular budget. This is the only way we will be able to provide better services to members as well as attract and sustain a quality workforce. There are a number of projects that have been put in place to help in resource mobilization for the benefit of members. These include the QSF Common Fund and FITAF, among others.
We have also been developing some consultancy capacity, which we hope to extend to member countries but at some cost. Through the annual 2IPD reviews, a number of countries have been approaching the IB to undertake dedicated in-depth studies of their postal operations. The demand for this service is growing, and we are looking at our capacity, including human resource, to determine the best ways to fulfil the need.
While addressing the issue of human resource capacity, I would like to thank member countries that have seconded professional staff to the IB at their cost. This feature has enabled the IB to cover some important assignments at minimal cost.
As the United Nations specialized agency that oversees the postal sector, the UPU must strive to be inclusive. Thanks to the support of members, at the 2018 Extraordinary Congress, this Union made one of the most celebrated decisions on inclusion.
For the first time in the history of the UPU, we recognized the unsustainable burden that the Union’s contribution system placed on the economies of Small Island Developing States, through the creation of a dedicated contribution class of 0.1 units.
Through this decision, member countries from SIDS can continue their membership in the Union without being overburdened by high annual contribution rates. I have received a very encouraging response from the beneficiary countries following this decision.
The work of development cooperation is mainly to enhance this kind of inclusivity among members. During the 2017–2020 cycle, we executed at the rate of 100% all our technical assistance activities.
In total, 719 cooperation activities, which were associated with 191 projects, were conducted. They included assistance to 152 developing countries, including 47 LDCs. The implementation involved some 695 activities carried out, including 258 for ORE projects and 384 consultancy missions. A total of 184 thematic and group training workshops, and 58 individual training sessions in the field were organized, as well as 93 procurements for equipment completed. Overall, 4,922 postal officials were trained at regional workshops, with 2,433 UPU fellowships.
Throughout the 2017–2020 cycle, our development cooperation work focused largely on enabling members to prepare for the uptake of e-commerce, which is the fastest growing area of postal business. Assistance to member countries was extended through the ORE project.
Within the programme, a total of 113 ORE regional workshops were organized, of these 26 remote events as well as 25 individualized training sessions. At country level, 123 activities were conducted, where 3,267 postal officials from 138 DOs trained. The UPU granted 1,411 fellowships. At the same time, 37 DOs from developing countries were equipped with modern IT tools and postal software, and 35 others from LDCs were equipped with modern IT tools, postal software and postal vehicles.
During the cycle, 19 projects worth 998,000 CHF under the Disaster Resilience Fund and 18 projects worth 510,000 CHF under the Emergency and Solidarity Fund were deployed.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world last year, it paralyzed not only businesses but all other activities that contribute to the socio-economic development of our countries. Postal businesses were hit very hard. International postal business almost died owing to grounded passenger flights and closed up customs facilities. Postal workers were among people at high risk given that they have to handle, sort and deliver items physically.
To alleviate the danger which postal workers were exposed to, the IB, with the support of some member countries, bought and distributed 1.2 million pieces of personal protective equipment for 36 least developed member countries. Thanks to contributions from the IB, China, France, Japan and Switzerland, a total of 683,000 CHF was mobilized for the purpose.
Even as we tackle the COVID-19 pandemic among us, we believe that no one is safe until everyone is safe! And with the rollout of vaccination around the world, we are faced with the biggest logistics challenge of modern times. We believe that the postal sector can and must contribute to win that race.
This is why we launched the Post4Health initiative last month. With Post4Health, we want to make sure that wherever possible the postal sector can help with vaccine distribution, and to build the capacity of Posts to deliver health products and health services beyond the COVID-19 vaccine distribution challenge.
Thanks to the generous contribution of Japan and France, we have a minimum level of seed funding to help Posts play this role. We are still seeking more support and resources to broaden and deepen the impact of this project.
Mr Chairman, with the Post having a major impact on the lives of citizens around the world, as well as in the social and economic development of our countries, it is important that the UPU remain at the cutting edge of technology in the provision of solutions to support this development.
Our Postal Technology Centre, as well as other programmes within the IB that address technological development in the postal business, has placed itself in a pivotal position to deploy to our members the best solutions that will support their businesses, enhance service delivery and help improve customer service.
After more than 10 years of work, we have finally come up with a product that supports the domestic part of the UPU’s postal supply chain. The Domestic Postal System is a tool that will support efficient door-to-door delivery services. The tool will be able to process international and domestic postal items. The UPU will now be able to transition to offering a one-stop and cost-effective digital platform for the postal supply chain to all its postal operators and partners.
Another product that has been rolled out is the Customs Declaration System. This important product ensures that postal operators, especially the DCs, LDCs and small island states, stay in compliance with the UPU Acts concerning electronic advance data. The service includes deployment of the EAD mobile app directly for the UPU member country’s citizens. This app has already been deployed by 88 postal operators.
Before I conclude my remarks, let me say this: the role and relevance of the UPU is threatened. We must collectively address the future role of this Union. We must address the value that it will continue to offer to its members and the postal business at large. More importantly, it is high time we find stable funding for our activities.
When we did the risk analysis in 2014, role and relevance and financial sustainability were of major concern. I believe they still are because we have not found a solution for them.
As I conclude, allow me to thank you, Mr Chairman, personally and as Turkey’s representative, for having steered this council very well even during the trying time of the COVID-19 pandemic. I shall continue to count on your support up to the Congress and during my remaining period in office. I am also grateful to your gallant team, which has been liaising very well with the secretariat on your behalf.
I am grateful too to the CA vice-chairmen, and all chairmen of the committees, groups and task forces for all their support to our work. Thank you very much.
Let me also recognize the POC Chairman, Mr Masahiko Metoki, whom I have had the pleasure to work with in the last two cycles. He has done a great job at the POC with very impressive results.
My thanks go to all CA members and observers, and all those who have participated in our deliberations in one way or another to enrich our decisions.
My very special thanks go to my deputy and friend, Mr Pascal Clivaz, who has supported me at all times and given me good advice. I thank you very much, Pascal.
Finally yet importantly, I wish to thank all members of staff of the IB, all the directors and all the individual staff members who have contributed to the incredible work that has continued to transform the Union positively. You have been a pillar to my administration.
I am grateful to you for all your support.