Interfering with the mails

A couple of days ago a big envelope came for me from Myanmar. It contained nothing more sinister than some photocopied pages from a philatelic book, but on arrival it proved to have been thoroughly perlustrated, as I believe the technical term to be. The sender’s sellotape along the flap had not been touched, but each edge of the envelope at the flap end had been slit open for about 8 cm, and a third, shorter, opening had been made near the corner above the flap. Sure, large envelopes often take knocks at the edges in transit, but this had been carefully opened for inspection. The contents had been sealed by the sender (in anticipation) in a cellophane wallet, so the culprit would have been none the wiser. It’s not the first time.

Official inspection of mail in and out of Myanmar was an open secret during the years of overt military dominance, in recent times as much for currency control as for censorship, but it generally left its mark – a “checked” hand stamp, inspectors’ initials on an envelope flap, or just a suspicious biro squiggle in a corner of a cover. But this may simply be an instance of unofficial interference somewhere in the mail system for purposes of thievery, pure and simple.

Myanmar’s postal service is far from alone in suffering from this sort of thing. But in a small way this does indicate something of the level of habitual corruption in public services that a new and reforming administration will have to deal with.

Meanwhile, the envelope goes into the subsection of my collection that deals with surveillance and fraud, alongside covers with stamps and registration labels removed in transit, postage paid by used stamps layered partly over each other to conceal previous postmarks, security marks on black and white registration labels to deter photocopying, and so on. It’s a growing theme.