Is Nepal entering the post-Post Office era?

While other countries’ postal systems have reinvented themselves for the digital age, Nepal’s General Post Office has not yet got the message

S ix weeks ago, this newspaper mailed to itself a registered letter from Nepal’s General Post Office (GPO) in Sundhara to an address a 15-minute walk away. That letter has not yet arrived. Walking the corridors of the GPO it is not hard to imagine why the system is failing.

Hallways that were once busy with people mailing or collecting letters are quiet. The counters are mostly deserted. The iconic red, temple-shaped post boxes outside are hardly used.

People still enter the post office, but mostly to ask for directions or to buy masks and socks from a street vendor at the gate. Unlike other countries, where post offices have reinvented themselves as stationery shops, cafes or even banks, Nepal’s GPO is a shadow of its former self.

So archaic has snail mail become that young urban Nepalis do not even know what the temple-shaped letter boxes are meant for. Bisharad Shakya, 22, of Patan was surprised the red box in Basantapur was meant for letters. “I thought it was a trash can, I have been throwing tissue papers and wrappers into it. In fact I thought the Municipality had put a pagoda on the rubbish bin to make them look pretty."

In 2017, the GPO had total mail turnover of more than 39 million which was almost a 5% drop from 2016 and a 16% fall from 2015. That figure is expected to decline further in 2018, even as Nepal’s population and literacy expands.

“People are just not writing letters any more,” laments Chief Postmaster Bed Prasad Bhattarai, who has all the time in the world to chat with a visiting reporter. “People choose the ease and instantaneity of digital messaging over old-fashioned letters. It has made post offices redundant.”


Mailing letters is not the only service the post office offers. It has parcel delivery, postal circulation of newspapers, domestic and foreign money orders, and even the EMS courier service, which ought not to have been so affected by digitalisation.

Yet, even there the numbers are rapidly declining. According to Binod Prasad Upadhyaya, Director of the Postal Services Department, business is falling because Nepal Post is not promoting itself. He says: “We face a serious lack of public trust. People believe that Nepal Post does not deliver their mail on time and that we lose or damage it.”

Indeed, this belief is not unfounded. Sunil Phuyal, a member of the Rotary Club of Kathmandu, sent a package from the capital to Mexico City a little over a year ago thinking delivery would take a couple of weeks. It took four months. Phuyal says he is switching to private courier services from now on even though they are more expensive.


Still, there are people like Naren Banstola who use the post out of official compulsion. “The government still uses the post to mail official letters,” he explains while waiting at the counter one recent morning, “So, as a government employee I have to send and receive official documents through the post.”

Another customer, Yusef Basnet, says he uses the postal system because it is more affordable, but makes a copy of every letter he mails in case the delivery is delayed or the document is lost.

Postmaster Bhattarai admits: “Much of the problem is because customers do not know that we have EMS for urgent mail or that we provide a money order service.” The irony of this admission is lost on the Chief Postmaster — he is the one person who has the power to ensure that customers do know.

Nepal Post has never broken even, and its annual loss in 2017 was Rs2.4 billion. Staff retention and low morale are problems – most employees feel the postal service will not survive. There is also the problem of insufficient budget. Bhattarai shrugs: “Every time we try to do something innovative, we face a problem of funds. If something is not done, there won’t be post offices anymore.”

At the Postal Services Department, director Upadhyaya is equally despondent: “The government itself does not see a future in the postal service, and is reluctant to invest in it.”

One way to sustain the postal service would be to commercialise it so it can compete with private providers. A Ministry of Information task force recommended a slimmer bureaucracy, more autonomy from the government, and transformation of Nepal Post into a corporation.

Explains Bhattarai: “The era of writing letters is now gone forever. But the postal service still has potential to use e-commerce for a courier service.”

The proposed Postal Act, which is currently in the federal Parliament, includes suggestions of the task force for incorporation and market expansion, while also restructuring Nepal Post to fit the current federal model of the country.

Director Upadhyaya is optimistic: “If passed, the Act would save Nepal Post.”

Meanwhile, the post office has tried to address public concerns about unreliability by starting a tracking system for domestic and international mail that would inform customers about the exact whereabouts of their mail. It is also seeking to reach all 753 local levels with its mobile postal service.

With decreasing volume of mail, Nepal Post's losses are mounting Source: POSTAL SERVICES DEPARTMENT

How others countries saved their postal systems

Faced with a decline in the use of the postal service, countries have adapted their network of post offices to modern needs. Japan Post also provides banking and insurance services, and is the world’s largest financial institution with assets of $3.3 trillion, which is used to subsidise mail delivery services.

Australia’s postal system was also in similar decline but now allows private post offices in small towns to operate like franchises, with owners purchasing licenses to provide official postal services. It also sells souvenirs, books, office supplies, coffee and tea. The Australian Post has also partnered with banks to provide financial services at rural locations.

Closer to home, China’s Post Office has also branched out from mail and is today a bank, a life insurance corporation and a security and holdings company.