The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 26
[Mr. Brandon to Commissioners]
The examination of witnesses on either side having terminated, Mr. Brandon, in addressing the Commissioners, said :—
I understand that the charges of improper conduct with reference to the stamps and money received by me (as far as any imputation of fraud or dishonesty is concerned) have been withdrawn. The enquiry, therefore, has been confined to an attempt to prove neglect and inefficiency on my part in the discharge of my duties in connection with the Stamp Department, and the page 6 transaction for certain professional gentlemen of some business unconnected with the Stamp Department. On the general charge of neglect and inefficiency, the chief evidence was tendered by the late Deputy-Commissioner and Secretary for Stamps, who repudiated all responsibility in connection with the accounts of the office.
Mr. Batkin was charged with the initiation of the Act in 1866, and the construction and procedure of the head and principal offices, and all regulations connected with the inauguration of the department. He was for five years connected with the department as its head, and acquainted, as he must have been, with the large and increasing work and pecuniary responsibility of the office, and of the nature of the work required at the hands of the officers employed in it, I submit that it is inconsistent and unjust that he should now appear as a witness on a charge of general misconduct and inefficiency of the chief officer of the department under him, particularly after he has ceased to be connected with the department since December, 1872.
While acting as Deputy-Commissioner for the Province of Wellington, and Secretary of Stamps for the whole Colony, it was clearly his duty to see that the officers employed by him were not only efficient, but were regular in their attendance; and, if inefficiency or neglect on the part of any officer were discovered, to point out the error, reprimand the officer, or take such other steps as he might deem necessary to ensure the proper working of the department.
It has been allowed in evidence that the officers of the Stamp Department have had to contend with great difficulties : Pressure of work, consequent upon the change in the stamp laws, has entailed upon them very considerable additions to their ordinary duties; and when it is remembered that in almost every transaction of the office either cash or revenue of the Government is involved, I need scarcely point out the absolute necessity for the exercise of the greatest care and correctness in every entry.
Throughout the whole evidence but one thing seems apparent, and that is, that I have been held individually responsible for every action (and of each officer) of the department. Remittances of cash or stamps not having been brought on charge; invoices not being prepared in proper form (these are all printed); requisitions not being made out; audit queries not being answered; audit memoranda not being attended to, and even to the record of all registered letters or parcels leaving the department, I have been held responsible for; Mr. Batkin, although my immediate superior officer repudiating all responsibility.
Not only having my own duties as Chief Clerk and Accountant to perform, I have had to instruct all other officer's of the department in their several duties, and, in every instance where error has occurred, to assume the responsibility.
If Mr. Batkin is correct in his theory, that he, as head, is not responsible, why am I held so?
I do not deny my responsibility for any errors in the accounts page 7 of the office since 1872 (the date of Mr. Batkin's retirement), although the compilation of those accounts form a portion of the work of Mr. Withers, the third clerk in the department.
Mr. Batkin acknowledges that I have endeavoured to do too much; that I have taken, in fact, on my shoulders more work than, in his opinion, I was able to perform; that I have not had the usual leave accorded to other officers of the service; and that I might have been irregular in my attendance in the morning, but I have more than compensated for that by my constant attendance after the usual hours.
These points tend to show, not an habitual neglect or indifference on my part, but, on the contrary, an over zealous desire to fulfil the requirements of the department; and whatever laches there may have been I was not, I submit, alone responsible.
Subsequently to the retirement of Mr. Batkin (and I submit that by far the largest portion, if not all the alleged irregularities are stated to have occurred while he was connected with the department), I have had the entire management and control of the department; and especially during the present year both the Auditor-General and his officers have acknowledged not only that the accounts of the Stamp Department have been more promptly rendered, but that the general working of the department has been more satisfactory.
Taking into consideration the rapid progress of the Stamp Office throughout the Colony, and the difficulty of officers in other Provinces becoming immediately acquainted with the requirements of the original and four (4) amending Acts, it cannot but be expected that in some of the details of the departmental work errors and discrepancies should arise.
Referring now to detail, and more especially to the "Deposit Cash Book," it appeared that the entries were not made, or the book balanced in accordance with the Treasury Regulations; but the book was one seldom used, as was proved by the fact that the last two entries were made in December, 1872, and in February, 1874. The feet of the "nil" returns not having been forwarded during that period is one which will, I think, be considered of little importance, inasmuch as had moneys been paid in, or the account operated upon in any way, the Treasury would have been apprised of the fact by the officer whose duty it was to make the copies of the cash books.
The practice with regard to the receipt, custody, and accounting of stamps received from the clerks of the various Courts throughout the Colony (as detailed by me in my examination in chief, and the written statement appended thereto) has been borne out to the fullest extent by the subsequent evidence of Mr. Batkin; and I need scarcely remind the Commission that the stamps in my possession, received on this account, amounting to nearly one hundred pounds in value, were proved by subsequent examination to be perfectly correct. These stamps were handed over by me immediately on my suspension.page 8
Referring now to the numerous Audit memoranda and queries, I need scarcely point out that not only in investigating the query, or searching for the information required, does it take time and require uninterrupted attention, but necessitates also a thorough knowledge of the accounts of the office. This duty I have in no instance been able to delegate to another officer of the department, consequently, when other work of a more pressing nature, or the daily routine work of the office required my immediate attention, these audit queries have of necessity had to remain over until time and opportunity offered. I would also remark that all information required by any queries on the accounts of the Stamp Department might have been obtained at once by the personal attendance of the Audit officer, whose duty it was to obtain the information had he chosen to do so—all accounts and books of the office being at his command. I cannot, therefore, see that when under pressure of other work I was unable immediately to give that information which was obtainable within two hundred (200) yards of the Audit Office, that circumstance should have prevented the auditing of any relative accounts. I mention this to show that when information was required it might have been obtained from the original account books of the office, and by personal examination.
The anomalous position in which I have for nearly two years been placed—I allude to having the entire responsibility of the head office, but the status of "Chief Clerk" only (representations of the latter not receiving that attention which would be accorded to the former) has rendered it exceedingly difficult for me at times to carry on the department. The occasional absence from Wellington of the Minister of the department has at times caused considerable delay and inconvenience. I allude more especially to the fact that all Audit memorandum and queries had to be signed by the Minister before return to Audit.
While practically responsible for the general conduct of the department throughout the Colony—for the instructions given to, and the correspondence with the Deputy-Commissioner of each Province, and for the proper collection of duties under the different Schedules of the Acts by each officer of the department, I have yet remained in the same position I was six (6) years since.
The revenue and general work of the office have considerably augmented. From time to time work has increased, necessitating on my part constant attendance at night-time at the office, yet there has never been hesitation on my part. I have never hesitated to sacrifice my own time or convenience whenever I thought it my duty to attend to the interest of the Government, trusting that at some time or other my endeavours would be appreciated.
In speaking of the work of the office, I may mention that during the past financial year over two million (2,000,000) cheque forms alone were counted, stamped, re-examined and issued, besides all the usual supplies to the various sub-officers and others throughout the Colony. And the value of the stamps received and page 9 issued (and for the value of which I was accountable) last year amounted to £93,320 13s. 10d.
With every agency of each Bank in the Colony I keep a current account, and the balance held by these Banks is over £35,000. Besides these, there are nearly one hundred depositaries whose returns are rendered quarterly, and have each to be examined, recorded, and filed. The bonds of these depositaries vary from £10 to £200, while the total stamps at present out represents in value something like £6,000.
Legacy, succession, and residuary accounts of every estate in the Colony are, since January 1st, 1873, registered in this office. The estates for the last year are about the total value of £38,000.
If, as I understand Mr. Batkin, it is my duty to make up or assist in the making up succession and other accounts for all persons, professional or otherwise, I should require a staff of competent clerks for the special purpose, as such accounts are complained of as being complicated in the extreme, and very difficult to understand.
The duties I have had to perform, and the responsibility in connection therewith, cannot, I think, be viewed as light or insignificant. I have had many difficulties to contend with, and situated as I have before stated, practically acting as, and with the responsibility of Secretary for Stamps, but with the status of Chief Clerk only, my actions and even expressions of opinion have been fettered, from not being able to take such action as my nominal position of "Chief Clerk" did not warrant.
I would submit the letter books of the office, and the many minutes, &c., on subjects connected with the department to show whether in my higher capacity as Acting-Secretary inefficiency can be substantiated; and I would remark that there is not a single charge or complaint as to the higher and more responsible duty of conducting the correspondence or general conduct of the department throughout the Colony.
Referring to the charge of having acted as agent occasionally for Mr. Borlase and others, any work I may have done has not in any way affected the Government, or interfered with the working of the department. Granted that some deeds may have been registered in office hours, yet every officer is allowed half-an-hour every day for his own purposes, and I submit there is nothing in the Civil Service Regulations against my having acted as I have done. Regulation No. 5 is explicit, and the rule is that where a regulation is express against officers holding certain specified situations, the inference is that there is no objection to their holding others not specified, so long as there is no interference with their duties to the Government.
In conclusion, I would say that I have devoted much time and hard study to the working, and in the interest of the office, and have become acquainted with the requirements of the Acts and the decisions of various authorities. I have taken up this office, con amore, as I would a profession, and have studied hard to master page 10 the intricacies of residuary, succession, and other accounts; as also the requirements of the Act generally.
I have endeavoured in all cases to do my duty to the best of my ability; and when it is considered the large pecuniary responsibility that for years past I have had, and, after a months' strict investigation into my books and accounts, not the value of one single farthing, either in cash or stamps, is found wanting. I would sincerely trust that the Board will not arrive at the conclusion that, even if they deemed any of the irregularities complained of proved, they are such as will in any way justify the deprivation of an office I have for so many years filled.
23rd September, 1874.