Random Mail Rates Driving Customers Postal

Dieter Seifert isn’t the first person to run into what he describes as “brazen” overcharging at Phnom Penh’s post offices.

Last month, the Australian na­tional who has been in Cambo­dia for six years tried to send several letters to Australia and Mal­aysia at the central post office near Wat Phnom.

He walked into the spacious building and approached the counter where several workers were waiting for customers be­hind a glass window. Seifert hand­ed four letters to a member of staff who weighed them and typed the number 24 on a calculator—meaning $24.

“I just blew my head,” Seifert said Monday. “I started screaming. These prices are so outrageous, and things are getting worse and worse.”

A second member of staff rushed over, re-weighed the four letters and typed on the calculator that it would cost him 36,300 riel [approximately $9].

After paying, however, the staff member refused to give him the stamps, insisting she attach them to the letters herself, Seifert said.                         After arguing for several minutes, she banged the stamps on the counter, he added.

Over the next two weeks, Sei­fert returned to the central post office and also went to another post office branch, and met the same problems.

“Every letter [the cost] seems to be different,” he said. “I understand they want to make some extra money because they are paid very low wages. But they are getting really brazen,” he said.

Seifert has not been alone in claiming that exorbitant fees are being charged to send packages and letters overseas.

But how much does it actually cost to send mail?

Last week, visits by reporters to three post office branches in Phnom Penh to check on the cost of mailing a parcel weighing 1 kg to Australia, the US and Ja­pan turned up some startling re­sults.

Every inquiry resulted in different prices quoted, in some cases the cost was actually cheaper than the official listed rates.

At the central post office, staff tried to claim the parcel weighed more than it actually did.

Walking into the central post of­fice on Thursday morning, the floor was all but empty of custom­ers while about a dozen wo­men sat behind a long count­er.

A woman at the parcel’s window took the package and walk­ed to the back of the room where a scale was located. An expatriate re­porter could not see the stated weight as the scale was too far away, but when the woman re­turned, she said the package weighed 1.6 kg.

She then punched a price into a calculator: $38.25 for air delivery to Australia. When asked how much for surface delivery, the woman punched in $32.25.

According to the post office’s rate list, even if the package weigh­ed 2 kg, the quoted price was nearly $10 more than it should have been for surface mail and $6 more than the quoted airmail price.

Surface delivery to the US, the woman punched on her calculator, was $41.03 while air delivery was $46.03. This was nearly $18 more for surface and $10 more for airmail than what was quoted on the listed rates.

Mailing to Japan would cost $27.80 by surface mail and $32.80 for airmail. Even at the inflated weight of 2 kg for what was in fact a 1-kg parcel, the price was still $2 more for surface mail and $5 for airmail.

When a complaint was made that the price was too high, the staff member offered a deal: $30 for air delivery to Australia, $40 to the US but no deal for Japan.

Later in the day, a Cambodian re­­porter went to the central post office with the same parcel, but had very different results.

Telling the reporter that the package weighed 1 kg, a member of staff said that surface mail would cost $20 to Australia, $28.92 to the US and $16.25 to Japan.

Airmail would cost $2.50 more in each case, the staff member said.

While the Cambodian reporter was given the correct weight and significantly lower prices, they were still too high. The only ex­ception was sending the package to Japan, which was quoted as less than the listed rate.

At the Boeung Prolit post office branch, on the corner of Moni­vong and Sihanouk boulevards, the woman behind the counter weighed the package on a scale as being 1 kg and showed it to the reporter.

Without checking a price list, she said it would cost $18.50 to send the package by surface mail to Australia, $23.50 to the US and $14.50 to Japan.

This made the Australian quote about $1 lower, the US quote $4 lower and the Japanese quote $8 lower than the rates listed for surface mail.

When asked why prices were not the same as the rate lists, the staff member said she did not know.

While the stated surface rates appeared to be a bargain, the airmail rates were not.

This time checking a list, the woman at the counter said it would cost $35, $45 and $28 to send the parcel to Australia, the US and Japan, respectively. This was $13.52, $18.32 and $8.70 more than the listed rates.

Next stop was the post office on Street 199 near Olympic Mar­ket.

To send the 1-kg package to Australia with surface mail would cost $18.75, the postal worker said, while airmail would be $2 more.

Surface mail was $25 for the US and $18 for Japan, and airmail $27 for the US and $20 for Japan.

Again, except for sending the package to the US, going to this small branch a customer would ac­­tually save money. The staff member also said she did not know why some prices were lower than others.

Attempts to send four letters of varying weights and destinations elicited the same response: Dif­ferent prices at different places, with the central post office again the most expensive.

When confronted last week with the different figures from the different post office branches, a man who said he was a manager of the central post office told re­porters he needed permission from the Ministry of Post and Te­le­­communications to be interviewed.

When contacted Sunday, Min­ister So Khun demanded to know the names of those involved.

“If you do not tell us who they are, how can we find the corruption?” he asked. “We need to find the people first.”

So Khun would not say wheth­er he had heard of overcharging at the post office before or wheth­er investigations into overcharging had ever taken place.

The ministry’s headquarters are next to the central post office.

Preap Sorithy, director of the ministry’s post department, also demanded the names of those in­volved.

“They will get warnings and suspensions and a change of location,” he said, adding he requires name badges for all employees to be worn so clients can report prob­lems.

“If you have the names, we can punish them,” he said.

In addition, Preap Sorithy said he has listed prices on post office walls so people can see the official rates.

He would not say whether any past investigations have ever been launched.

“Nobody has been fired be­cause of corruption complaints,” he said.

Though customers like Seifert feel that something must be done at the city’s post offices, he and others are worried that their complaints will only bring repercussions from vengeful postal staff.

“I’m worried now I won’t get my mail,” he said, adding if he could afford it, he’d buy a fax ma­chine and avoid the post office entirely.



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