By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
BAHAMIAN businessmen yesterday warned that the Post Office “disaster” continues to impact private sector cash flows and the smooth conduct of commerce.
Speaking as Post Office staff conducted a protest outside their East Hill Street headquarters over working conditions, senior private sector executives said delays in clients receiving invoices/bills were contributing to the build-up of accounts receivables.
Francisco de Cardenas, Bahamas Waste’s managing director, told Tribune Business that the $2.374 million accounts receivables at end-September 2017 were one of the few issues facing the BISX-listed company.
“We’re having a bit of a challenge with our receivables, and I can’t believe not one word is being said about the Post Office,” he told Tribune Business. “I think it’s a huge detriment to the economic mechanisms of this country.
“People send bills and make payments through the Post Office, and it’s a disaster. No one is saying anything. I don’t understand it. I can only assume it’s affecting everyone in business. Not everyone banks by Internet; not everyone has a messenger. It’s been going on probably a good year.”
Mr de Cardenas’s concerns were echoed by Robert Myers, Caribbean Landscaping’s principal, who said the cash flow issues caused by the Post Office’s woes were having a knock-on impact were Value-Added Tax (VAT) was concerned.
“It is creating a lot of difficulties for business as they cannot depend or rely on mailing out invoices and statements,” Mr Myers told Tribune Business. “The problem we have sometimes is that our clients are elderly - not many, but some - and they don’t have e-mail or the capacity to log-on to a website for an electronic statement.
“It’s causing problems with regards to our cash flow that the Inland Revenue Department and VAT Office don’t care about. What we’re having to do is call people and say: ‘What’s happening’, and they say they’ve not received their bill/invoice. We ask if we can fax or e-mail it.
“It’s causing a lot of extra work, and in many cases we’re not using the mail as it’s not good.” Apart from the private sector, Mr Myers said the Post Office’s problems were also impacting households and individual Bahamians. “It’s also hurting a lot of people with regard to Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) and having their power disconnected because they don’t see their bills,” he added.
“Most of us register online, but it’s the same tune with real property tax bills, Cable Bahamas and all utility services. We have to go to an electronic world, but it’s definitely a problem for some accounts.”
Many Bahamians have been receiving bank, utility and other bills up to three-four months past their due date, as reduced hours due to poor working conditions have impacted the Post Office’s ability to deliver efficient, timely service.
The former Christie administration entered into a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) to construct a new Post Office at the Independence Drive Shopping Centre opposite the Town Centre Mall, but that project was placed on hold following complaints from local residents and concerns over whether proper due diligence had been conducted.
Since the Minnis administration took office there has been talk of moving the Post Office to the Town Centre Mall, or the former Phil’s Food Services building on Gladstone Road, but no tangible actions have yet been taken.
Mr Myers yesterday called for the Post Office to be privatised, downsized or even shut down if it failed to perform an efficient service and continues to cost taxpayers money.
“I don’t know what it’s costing the Government and citizens to run the Post Office,” he told Tribune Business, “but if it’s a lot of money maybe we should consider doing away with it or shutting it, downsizing it considerably.
“Maybe it’s time to look at privatisation and outsourcing all over again. It’s a dying industry with DHL and FedEx, but I imagine in some cases it’s necessary as people don’t have an Internet connection or ability to log-on to a website.
“But does it need to be the same size it was in the 1970s and 1980s? Maybe it could be shrunk, outsourced if it’s taking a considerable amount of expenditure from the annual Budget.”