Thursday 23 December 2021
A fond farewell
When UPU Director General Bishar A. Hussein and Deputy Director General Pascal Clivaz were elected to the UPU in 2012, they promised to take the organization to the next level. Nine years later, they reflect on their progress and the current state of the Union.
Mr Hussein, who hails from a remote pastoralist community in north-eastern Kenya, enjoyed an enriching career in the Post leading up to his initial election. The Director General first joined the then Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation in 1984, eventually becoming the first Postmaster General of the Postal Corporation of Kenya in 1999. He later went on to represent Kenya as head of the country’s delegation to the UPU, serving as Chair of the 2008 Congress and then representing Kenya as Council of Administration Chair from 2008 through his election in 2012.
His counterpart, Mr Clivaz, shares a similar legacy in the postal sector. The Deputy Director General joined the Swiss Post in 1995 as an International Affairs Adviser, at a time when the operator had begun its transformation into a liberalized company. He later served as its Director of International and Regulatory Affairs until joining the UPU in 2005 as its Director of Finance.
“It became clear that one way for me to be more proactive for the UPU was to be in an elected function,” Mr Clivaz continues.
With such an intimate knowledge of the sector and the workings of the UN’s specialized agency for the postal sector, the pair were ready to hit the ground running upon their election.
For his part, Mr Clivaz adds, “We decided to deliver as one – the two of us together. Nobody could interfere between the two of us. Of course, we were not always together on how to do things, but at the end of the day you need to decide what is best for the UPU and, for this vision, we were always together.”
On his priorities upon joining the Union, Mr Hussein notes, “I came in on a ticket of reforms.”
Throughout his election campaign, Mr Hussein vowed to manage the Union and its resources more efficiently, transform the organization and the sector to meet rapidly changing consumer expectations, and to uplift developing countries, who he felt had been excluded from the workings of the organization. Likewise, Mr Clivaz had committed himself to an inclusive, efficient and transparent UPU.
Mr Clivaz explains, “What we did from the beginning was we thought ahead to the format of the UPU of the future and we had this Vision 2030. This was the beginning of our mandate.”
“The idea we had was to modernize the UPU in a lot of different areas, starting from the institution up to the final production,” he adds.
With their intentions on reform clear, Mr Hussein and Mr Clivaz were careful to develop a concrete action plan, taking into account the organization’s global situation.
“I realized that all the resolutions and decisions and recommendations which came from Congress plus the budget were not matching,” says Mr Hussein. “It was four very difficult years with more demands from member countries, less budget and long Council sessions.”
To cope, their first reforms focused on a restructuring of the organization’s secretariat at the International Bureau (IB) to ensure staff could keep projects moving forward while managing shrinking financial resources. Part of this undertaking included ensuring more balanced and equitable gender and geographical representation among staff, explains the Director General.
The process inspired intense debates and took a total of six years of hard work between member countries and the International Bureau to complete.
The 2016 Congress in Istanbul decided a first round of reforms, such as adopting a new set of working principles as a basis for the structures and decision-making processes of its governmental and operational pillars, agreeing to shorten Council meetings and place more emphasis on decision-making.
Reflecting on the 2016 meeting, the Director General asserts with pride that the Istanbul Congress was able to make substantial progress on issues he describes as having lasted over decades and that had been had been “scuttled” during previous Congresses.
“We shortened the long sessions of the Councils, we reduced the decision-making cycle – we now have two decision-making sessions every year – and we cut down on all the documents, conferences and meetings. We gained a lot of efficiency in managing the resources of the IB,” says Mr Hussein.
The Director General and Deputy Director General had also aimed to stand behind developing countries to ensure they could move ahead as postal advancements accelerated.
Over the course of their two mandates, Mr Hussein and Mr Clivaz also faced two of the greatest challenges in the Union’s history: the potential fracturing of the Union as one member threatened to withdraw, and a global pandemic that shook not only the postal sector, but the world economy.
On October 17, 2018, the UPU Director General received a letter from the United States government notifying the UPU of its intent to withdraw from the Union’s treaties in one year’s time. The country cited the remuneration of small packets as its main concern. Other countries soon began to come forward with similar concerns, causing worry that the Union’s 192-member family would begin to split if a solution was not found quickly.
But the Union did not have much time to revel in the accomplishment before the next major challenge presented itself. The COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the world in early 2020, with international travel coming to a near halt in the Spring and countries scrambling to figure out how to obtain and deliver vital sanitary and medical equipment to stave off the virus.
In Berne, the International Bureau was working to help keep the supply chain moving to ensure essential items continued to be delivered the world around. At the same time, preparations for the 27th Universal Postal Congress came to a halt as the pandemic made it impossible to meet. It was decided to try again in 2021.
“Now, after the 27th UPU Congress, we have proven that we have done the necessary reforms and that we were able to digitalize.” says Mr Clivaz. “Looking back, to the nine years in office as a Deputy Director General, the main achievements were to rethink the UPU, to modernize the UPU, and, of course, towards the end, to digitalize the processes of the UPU.”
These rapid transformations hold promise for the opening up of the Union to wider postal sector players, a matter that the pair will hand over to Mr Metoki and Mr Osvald upon their departure. The Abidjan Congress decided to hold a fourth Extraordinary Congress in 2023 to decide on concrete plans for the opening.
Mr Hussein’s position on the way forward is clear. Speaking about the matter, he says, “We cannot call ourselves the Universal Postal Union when the whole industry is not with us anymore.”
“I think everyone has agreed that we need to open up our Union, but the question of what to open, how to open, when to open – these are things that still need to be sorted out. I do hope that member countries will be able to discuss this seriously in 2023 and resolve this issue,” he adds.
As the sector continues to transform and evolve, Mr Clivaz adds that the UPU will have to facilitate these changes through governance.
He adds, “After COVID we saw how citizens, the customers, have changed their approach to the way they need to order things on the Internet – the way they use the Internet has boomed – and now we need to think again about the business model for the UPU as well, not only in operations, but also in how to regulate this sector.”
As Mr Hussein and Mr Clivaz prepare to hand over the keys to the International Bureau, their work has come full circle.
“I’m very proud to say that I’m leaving this Union in a better place than I found it and that was my mission.”
To the new management, his principal advice would be: “Please stay the course. Defend the integrity of the International Bureau secretariat.”
From 1 January 2022, Japan’s Masahiko Metoki and Slovenia’s Marjan Osvald will be responsible for overseeing the Union’s affairs.
In a video released during his campaign, Mr Metoki said, “I am eager to create a bright new future for the UPU together with all the member countries.”
For his part, Mr Osvald focused his sights on reducing gaps in postal development while encouraging innovation; helping members adapt to new information and communication technologies; facilitating a sustainable universal service provision throughout the world; engaging in dialog with responsible postal owners, including private and governmental; strengthening dialogue with consumers and other stakeholders; and providing for a more future-oriented, innovative and cost-efficient operation of the UPU.
In a campaign video, Mr Osvald stated, “I am committed to doing the best job I possibly can to help the postal industry survive and thrive in the digital age.”
When asked what he will miss most about his time at the UPU, Mr Clivaz answers immediately, “There is zero ambiguity for me – it’s the family spirit. The spirit we have here in the postal sector and the UPU is unique.”
“I will take home a lot of good memories. I will miss my staff a lot, I will miss the member countries who have supported me all along and, of course, I’ll miss those who challenged me,” he says.
While his time in the highest office of the postal sector brought with it challenges, Mr Hussein proudly states, “I did it with a passion – I love the post office.”
Though their mandates officially end on 31 December 2021, Mr Hussein and Mr Clivaz will say their final goodbyes to the UPU during a handover ceremony organized at the International Bureau on 5 January 2022.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021 edition of Union Postale magazine.