Going Postal
19 May, 2011
Going Postal

 

My friend Mancho sent a package to her aunt in Tbilisi, Georgia. She has been sending packages for years since she has been living in the States. She always made sure to send the packages so that no one would steal or open them. Back then the state of Georgian Postal service was less than adequate and packages were known to disappear. One time she had sent her aunt special shoes for her flat foot problem. The package didn’t arrive.

So Mancho learned to put one shoe in one package and another in the package sent out a week later. Crafty!

Since then a lot of things have been cleaned up in Georgia, which lead to an expectancy of honesty from government employees. There are also a lot of new laws passed, and one law was on duty for goods shipped to Georgia, valued over GEL 300. Mancho wasn’t too worried, duty tax is expected everywhere. She had sent two boxes both equal weight of three kilos each. How expensive could it possibly be, she wondered. She was astonished when she heard 210 Lari. After a few choice unprintable words, Mancho got down to business. She asked her aunt to tell me the whole story, and fax me documentations supporting the incident in question.

Mancho’s aunt received a notice in the mail telling her to come and pick up the package at the Post Office. She went to Rustaveli Avenue Central Office. There she was told she had to go to a post office branch in the Old Airport building to pick up an international package. Okay, she thought, that’s new. She flagged down a ‘marshrutka’ (micro-bus tax) and went for a ride.  At the old airport building she was presented with two pieces of paper for two packages. One package was put down as weighing 3 kilos, another 4kilos. Both packages are 3 kilos each. Mancho has the US postal service documentation to prove it. Did the second package gain weight while in flight? – Humored her aunt. The young man at the post office window did not find it funny. He presented her with a paper she had to sign for receiving the packages. And then he told her she owed 210 Lari in duty. Before she would start screaming bloody murder, the lady asked for a documentation of this duty. It is new law he said and anything over $175 value has to be taxed. Mancho had valued her items for $200.

Aunt said she was okay with paying tax, but why was it more expensive than what was inside the box? So they gave her a print out of approximation they had done on her package. They valued one pair of shoes at 254 Lari in the first box, and another pair of shoes at 248 Lari in the second box. The code for the shoes was exactly the same #64.

Did they have x-ray vision, she wondered. How is one pair of shoes less than the other when it’s the same pair in different colors? Is brown more heavy than black? (When the Central Office heard the price the Airport office had put on one pair of shoes, they assured her they had never appraised any shoe for more than 60 Lari.)

She kept reading the paper. Next came the transportation duty. That was interesting since they charged 80 Lari for transportation of the shoes and another 26 Lari for transportation of the rest of the package. But it is one package, how can you charge for things separately that are in one package? It’s the computer, the young man said, do you know what a computer is? She ignored the comment and asked what transportation was she paying for, since first of all Mancho had paid for it from the States, and second it wasn’t like they delivered the items to the Central post office. On top of all that there was another tax of 13 Lari that he couldn’t explain to her. She demanded to see the supervisor. At this moment the young man stopped talking to her.

She asked that he sign the paper he was handing her with the prices and charges, so she could be satisfied that they were honest. He refused. She asked for a phone she could use to call the police. He refused. (By the way, one good thing that came of this story is that aunt realized how much her perception of the police had changed. Five years ago she wouldn’t have even thought of calling them for help.)  So she whipped out her cell phone. At this juncture all the other workers left the room. She asked what would happen if she refused the package. Too late, said the young man, she had already signed for it. They could actually freeze her pensioners account for non-payment.

At the end of the day, she paid ten Lari and is paying the rest out of her pensioner’s pocket. By the way the government help for pensioners like her is 70 Lari a month. It’s going to be winter before she can get her shoes paid off. Or so she thought. At the central office she was told she had 30 days to pay it off or else.

When she neared the end of her ordeal Mancho’s aunt told me that it didn’t bother her to pay duty on goods received. She wished that the government would fix their computers, or at least explain better why the duty on the goods is higher that the actual value of the goods. And she suggested that if they insist on continuing in the same fashion, they should at least warn people with the notice they send. Instead of just saying come to the Post office you have package, put useful information, like how much the duty is going to be, just in case a person picking up the package doesn’t have 200 Lari in his pocket.

From what I gathered out of her story and out of the documentation she sent me and online investigation I had done, I cannot tell if there is any shady dealings going on at the post office or if the workers and the system they use are that obtuse. Let’s hope it’s the first, because corruption can be eradicated, but stupidity is not as easy to get rid of.

 

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