We all have started to appreciate more than ever the value and the necessity of a dynamic postal service during these particularly rough times brought on by the common threat, the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this global crisis, the Turkish Post and Telegraph Organization (PTT) continues to remain committed to serving the community. In this time of need, it is an essential pillar of Turkish daily life as it always has been. Acknowledging its role as an essential service, the PTT must refocus its attention on the home market and core service channels by rethinking the entire Istanbul Cycle.
Looking back over the past four years, it would be an understatement to say that the Istanbul Cycle – Turkey's chairmanship of the Universal Postal Union's (UPU) Council of Administration (CA) – has been one of the most important periods not only in the history of the PTT but also for the UPU's history of congresses and the global postal industry.
Before analyzing the value of the cycle, it is helpful first to remember the extraordinary session of the CA which was convened in the UPU headquarters in Switzerland’s Bern in 2016 following the failed coup attempt that occurred in Turkey, based on the three main questions coming from member states and restricted unions of the postal sector. The first is: There is a state of emergency right now in Turkey. How could congress take place in Turkey while there is a state of emergency? The second: There are daily terror attacks in Turkey. We don't feel Turkey is a safe country for congress to take place. And third: What are the current safety measures in Turkey?
In reply to the three main questions stated above, the Turkish Post had played a crucial role in reassuring the relevant authorities in close cooperation and coordination with Turkey's United Nations permanent representation in Switzerland as well as the ministries of foreign affairs and transportation and infrastructure. It should also be highlighted that the Istanbul Police Directorate had been part of this critical endeavor. Within this context, the following facts and considerations had been overemphasized by the Turkish Post.
First of all, the state of emergency was declared in Turkey after the failed coup attempt to help the authorities address the issues more effectively and swiftly. It had no bearings on the normal day-to-day life. A state of emergency was also in effect in France at that time but this was to maximize safety rather than to minimize it. There was a similar rationale behind Turkey's decision to implement a state of emergency.
Secondly, unfortunately, no country in the world could be deemed 100% safe due to the terror attacks occurring at that time. Several countries were suffering from terror attacks, including France, the U.S. and Belgium.
One key purpose of terror groups is to impact daily life functioning in a county. France remained unimpacted as the international community went ahead with having European Championships in the country. This purpose wasn't achieved in other countries and it shouldn't be in Turkey either.
Therefore, it was important that the congress took place in Turkey for the purposes of international solidarity. If the event was canceled or the venue changed, the terrorists would have achieved their purpose, and this should not be permitted. Turkey guaranteed all concerned parties that maximum safety measures would be taken for the event and that it would be safe and successful.
Turkey took all the necessary measures and daily life went on as usual. Despite the setbacks, tourist inflow to the country remained strong. This was extremely important as it showed that ordinary people were not giving in to terror attacks but, on the contrary, were standing against them by continuing with their vacations.
All of these efforts and the final decision of the extraordinary meeting in Bern had eliminated all concerns about Turkey as the host country of the 26th UPU Istanbul Congress. Accordingly, the congress was given a go-ahead and planned for Istanbul as scheduled.
The Turkish Postal Services was established on Oct. 23, 1840. Since its foundation, the institution has devoted itself to the well-being of the Turkish community and to the service and development of the country under all circumstances. As is known, many turning points shaped the PTT's history in terms of services and ground-breaking developments.
Internationalism is the nature of the postal service, and the Turkish Post has been an important part of the global postal community from the very beginning. As a founding member of the UPU, it is worth remembering that Turkey hosted a UPU Congress for the first time in 2016 and therefore assumed the chair of the CA of the UPU during the Istanbul Cycle running from 2017 to 2020.
In addition to the membership process to the UPU and the abolition of foreign post offices in Turkey, the Istanbul Cycle is among the most significant parts of the PTT's history. In dealing with such critical processes, the PTT's executives and staff gained priceless experience in terms of international diplomacy and negotiation principles.
Turkey had conducted such critical intergovernmental postal relations with concerned states throughout history, but these two developments elevated the status of the PTT. It was a key part of the diplomatic process which was simultaneously carried out with several European states and their postal administrations.
At this point, both the membership process to the UPU and disclosure of European postal administrations across Turkey were not only a tedious journey but the first for the PTT. By the end of this, the PTT found its characteristics, gained independence and became the only designated postal administration in Turkey.
The Istanbul Cycle is a bit different in terms of its nature and age. On the one hand, the work and progress have been extraordinary in terms of reforming international postal services and standards. The cycle went down in history as one of the busiest phases of the UPU congresses based on the number of high-level international meetings.
In addition to per annum CA sessions chaired by Turkey, gathering all member states and other stakeholders of the postal industry, the second and the third UPU extraordinary congresses took place during this cycle, in Addis Ababa in 2018 and Geneva in 2019. This is the first time that UPU has held three successive congresses in one cycle. On the other hand, as the CA chair, Turkey played a crucial role in Addis Ababa and chaired the Geneva Extraordinary Congress. Therefore, PTT executives and staff gained valuable international experience.
During the whole cycle, the PTT chaired a dozen international meetings and PTT executives and officials took part in almost all international postal gatherings and UPU activities. Through this huge task and responsibility, Turkey developed a solid culture of cooperation and solidarity based on mutual respect, dialogue and tolerance. This will be remembered as one of the most important legacies of the Istanbul Cycle led by Turkey.
It goes without saying that it was a real privilege to lead such critical debates and conferences that shaped the postal and logistics industry for the past four years. No doubt that the Turkish Post will continue to be a key part of the UPU activities and global postal sector during the coming cycles.
However, there is something that needs to be emphasized for the sake of credibility and effectiveness of Turkish postal services. This period also allowed us to decide the direction of the PTT in the future, to take better care of the internal and external functioning. But now, it is time to refocus on the home market by appreciating the crucial role of all postal employees. The PTT's employees are essential for the community and they deserve to be treated as such.
Need for public service
The Istanbul Cycle has been full of innovations in terms of postal literature. The member states of the UPU have had the opportunity to see their service quality ranked internationally for the first time in history.
The UPU has created and developed a comprehensive report, the Integrated Index for Postal Development, which rates designated postal operators based on their reliability, relevance, reach and resilience capacities within their respective boundaries.
What is clear from the reports is that the service quality in a country determines the international ranking of its designated postal operator. But it reminds us that sincerity, humility and dedication are the basic dynamics that shape the postal service standard in a country. This principle becomes even more determinant when each employee is working toward the same goal.
If we take a glance at the ranking of the Turkish Post during the Istanbul Cycle in the Integrated Index for Postal Development, we see that it achieved 48th place in 2017, 42nd in 2018, and 44th in 2019. Turkey's ranking in this survey reveals a distinct lack of or dereliction of responsibility.
As a major component of the national infrastructure, Turkey’s designated postal operator deserves more commitment, modesty and diligence when it comes to the functioning of its operations and services.
At a news conference in Ankara in 2019, during the signing ceremony of the cooperation agreement between the PTT and the ETİ Mine Works General Directorate, former Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Mehmet Cahit Turhan gave some clear and important messages which should not be forgotten. Just like the values President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan likes to emphasize in his talks with bureaucrats, the former minister stressed values that are being neglected and have almost disappeared due to a politics-oriented sense of corporate governance.
Some bureaucrats are abusing the function they have been assigned for personal gains and career objectives. Public institutions and the public service spirit are deeply affected by such inadequacies.
Turhan said that “the best institution is the one doing its job in the best manner, serving the country and providing maximum value to the country and nation. The size of the challenges, the date of establishment or modern service buildings do not mean that it will serve more. To work, to produce and to address the needs of the people preeminently should be the focus of the PTT as well as all other public institutions."
"What is more important is that institutional structures are built on solid foundations. Such structures shall not be in pursuit of saving the day or doing business according to the conjuncture. Similarly, these institutions have to adjust to global changes in a timely manner, to ensure customer satısfaction while maximizing profits," he said.
"The only thing that matters is the public service and the interest of the country and nation. Each public employee, especially the executives in management have to be on the field, because the field means life and dynamism, it means nation and service," Turhan said.
What is vital?
Turkey is the home market; it is the heart, so to speak. It has been that way since the very beginning. The PTT has been serving the public for many generations in these lands, and the people under its umbrella have to be well aware of this historic reality.
It is part of its DNA to offer the best service under all circumstances, and it is the only postal logistics operator that can say it concentrates entirely on Turkey. With its all-encompassing network and full range of services, it has to combine its focus on Turkey by motivating its workforce.
Humility, courtesy, grace and fairness are not just the time-honored principles of public service but must be considered essential in today's world of turbulence and uncertainty. If those at the helm of affairs at the PTT want to establish a trusted brand, they have to focus on some basic issues like core services, corporate culture, effective human resources management and new service channels that may not bring revenue but will help strengthen its value and position in Turkey and beyond.
Being a leading postal operator is not just about looking for extraordinary services but providing core ones in the best possible way. This will not only help improve the PTT's ranking among international peers but also contribute to the domestic economy.
*Ph.D. Candidate at Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University
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