31.07.2018 - UPU News Interview with Siva Somasundram, UPU Director of Policy, Regulation and Markets Directorate
Q: What is the role of a UPU Congress?
A: A UPU Congress is the apex decision-making body of the Union and has supreme authority over the UPU Acts. It is a meeting where the plenipotentiaries of member countries make decisions about potential changes to the UPU’s governing rules and future work programs. They not only take stock of what has been achieved but also set new directions for the UPU’s strategy and priorities. Currently, a Congress is held once every four years.
Q: What changes have you noticed between the Doha Congress (2012) and the Istanbul Congress (2016) and where do you see a UPU Congress going in future years?
A: There is a range of standard topics addressed by every Congress. For example, there is typically a new set of rules relating to the UPU’s remuneration system and decisions about our future projects.
However, between Congresses new matters are often brought to the table as well. For example, in the case of the Istanbul Congress, compared to the Doha Congress, there were proposals in relation to the UPU’s institutional reform, the opening up of the Union’s products and services to wider postal sector players, and the review and modernization of its product remuneration system.
In my opinion, while each Congress has its usual business matters, there will also be other issues for plenipotentiaries to consider in light of current market demands. There are longstanding subjects to discuss, and there are always new matters driven by the needs of our stakeholders: governments, designated operators, regulators, and civil society.
Q: Why is there a need to organize the Extraordinary Congress in Addis Ababa in September?
A: When we met at the Istanbul Congress, there were a number of items on the agenda. Delegates talked about the UPU’s institutional reform, the Integrated Product Plan, the Integrated Remuneration Plan, the Pension Fund, and then, of course, the member countries’ contribution system.
While member countries were able to take important decisions on some of these matters, they also acknowledged that some further work was still required and would help ensure the ongoing relevance and sustainability of the Union. As a result, they decided to have an Extraordinary Congress to review the outcome of that work and to take the necessary decisions.
Therefore, the Ethiopian Extraordinary Congress is about completing the work that we started in the cycle leading to Istanbul, and, hopefully, about reaching a consensus among member countries on the outcomes of that work. Many of these issues cannot be postponed. They need to be dealt with because they are critical to UPU and its future.
It is a little-known fact that the First Extraordinary Congress was held in Berne in July 1900, well over a hundred years ago. That Congress was called to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Union’s foundation and a commemorative monument was erected. We have come a long way from those days. The content and form of the Second Extraordinary Congress will be very different.
Q: Do you think we will continue organizing Extraordinary Congresses in the future?
A: It is very important to understand the meaning of the word “Extraordinary”. The reason why we call it an “Extraordinary” Congress is that member countries felt there were extraordinary circumstances that required its organization in advance of the next regular Congress slated for 2020 in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. It will be up to member countries to decide if other Extraordinary Congresses are necessary in the future but the Acts do allow for that.
It is also important to draw a distinction between Extraordinary Congresses (which member countries can already agree on holding under Article 15 of the UPU Constitution) and the issue of whether regular Congresses should be held once every two years, as opposed to the current four-year cycle. Member countries will need to determine if there is a need for such a change and its impacts on the Union’s strategy, financing, and resources. This issue is still being discussed.
Q: What is the role of the UPU in bringing together postal stakeholders at a Congress?
A: At its core, a UPU Congress is a rule- and decision-making forum. Its primary task is about determining and agreeing on the Acts and any required changes to the UPU’s legislative framework, strategy, and future priorities. This core function is ensures the UPU’s framework of rules is fit for purpose and meets the needs of its stakeholders.
A secondary function of a Congress is to provide a platform for its member countries and other stakeholders to have an informed dialogue on a whole range of matters influencing the postal sector. Importantly, Congress provides a great opportunity for engagement with civil society. There is normally a wide range of other stakeholders present at a Congress: typically, there are other international organizations, for example, UN bodies, who are observers to the UPU’s procedures, and representatives from the private sector as members of the Consultative Committee. Such an engagement is part of the ongoing dialogue that UPU needs to foster in order to ensure that a broader range of stakeholders understand what we are doing and why. Therefore, a Congress is not just a technical body. It ensures high-level political and social engagement among the UPU’s varied stakeholders.
Q: What are your expectations of the Extraordinary Congress in Addis-Ababa?
A: The agenda of the Second Extraordinary Congress covers some complex and politically difficult issues. However, member countries recognize that they are critical to the UPU’s future, ongoing relevance, and sustainability. Accordingly, there is an imperative to agree on these matters. The Council of Administration and the Postal Operations Council have worked very hard since the last Congress to help prepare the proposals and documents related to the agenda for the upcoming Extraordinary Congress. I am confident that with good will, discipline and efficient and effective Union in mind, member countries will make further progress in Addis Ababa.
I think we are doing our very best within UPU to move the work forward so that we can arrive at positive outcomes and this remains my hope. Member countries will have to discuss difficult issues, but I am confident they will find a consensus on them and that the Second Extraordinary Congress will be a tremendous success.
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