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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 26

Report of the Commissioners

page 11

Report of the Commissioners.

To His Excellency the Right Honorable Sir James Fergusson, Bart., Governor of New Zealand, &c.

May it please your Excellency—We the undersigned, having been appointed by your Excellency to enquire into the truth of certain charges preferred against Mr. H. E. de B. Brandon, Chief Clerk and Accountant in the Stamp Department at Wellington, beg respectfully to submit the following report for your Excellency's consideration :—

As soon as the charges and Mr. Brandon's reply were laid before us, we gave notice of the time and place of the intended enquiry to Mr. Brandon, and thereupon received a letter from him ill which he asked that he might have the assistance of counsel to conduct his case.

It appeared to us that although in an ordinary enquiry respecting the conduct of a civil servant, it would be highly inexpedient to allow counsel to appear, yet as the charges against Mr. Brandon seemed to implicate him in accusation which might render him liable to a criminal prosecution, it was not unreasonable to grant his request.

During the first two days of the enquiry, Mr. Travers appeared as counsel for Mr. Brandon, and during the whole investigation, which occupied five days, Mr. Reid, the assistant law officer, attended on behalf of the Crown.

The first specific case mentioned in charge No. 1 was withdrawn. We find that the other allegations set forth in charge No. 1 have been proved, and the truth of them is in fact admitted by Mr. Brandon.

We find that in two other instances, in addition to those mentioned in charge No. 1 that Mr Brandon as chief clerk and accountant, has received money for stamps, has supplied the stamps and has not paid the money received for them to the Public Account. About the 20th May last, stamps to the value of £8 were thus supplied to the Postmaster at Bulls, Rangitikei. About the 8th of March last, stamps to the value of £2 17s were thus supplied to the Postmaster at Castle Point.

It does not appear that in any other cases Mr. Brandon has in his official capacity received money for stamps and has not accounted for it.

The question arises, whether, in the above cases, Mr. Brandon was guilty of fraud, or grave irregularity only. To establish a case of fraud against Mr. Brandon, it would be necessary to show that the stamps supplied by him were the property of the Government.

Of this there is no evidence nor any reasonable presumption. There are but two possible ways in which Mr. Brandon could have possessed himself of stamps wrongfully.

When stock of stamps on hand was taken by the Audit Department in 1870, it appeared that the stock was in excess of what should page 12 have been on hand according to the requisitions for stamping. This discrepancy has never been satisfactorily explained, and it might be suggested that the excess was greater even than appeared, and that stamps were then withdrawn from stock by Mr. Brandon, and concealed from the Audit Office.

Mr. Brandon kept the keys of the stamping-room—of the stamping-machines, of the boxes in which the dies are kept, and the safe. It would have been possible for Mr. Brandon to act in collusion with the stamper, or to impress stamps by himself at night.

We could not find any reasonable grounds to suspect that Mr. Brandon had obtained stamps by either of the modes above stated.

There do not appear to have been any other means by which Sir. Brandon would have become possessed of the stamps the property of the Government.

In the cases above stated to have been established against Mr. Brandon, the requisitions and the cash were forwarded to him in error, and should have been addressed to the Deputy-Commissioner at the local office. Mr. Brandon's duty was, not to supply the stamps required, but to have handed the requisitions and cash to the Deputy-Commissioners, who would then have forwarded the stamps to the parties.

As to charge No. 3. This charge appears to point to a breach of the Stamp Act by Mr. Brandon, in acting as a stamp distributor without a license. Mr. Brandon has by his own admission frequently sold and exchanged stamps, but it is doubtful whether he has "professed or held himself to be a distributor or vendor of stamps" so as to render himself liable to the penalties imposed by the 18th section of the Stamp Act of 1867.

On Mr. Brandon's suspension there were found in his private drawer seven 2s promisery note stamps, certain adhesive stamps attached to a private letter of Mr. Brandon's and 563 twopenny and 43 fourpenny adhesive stamps in an envelope.

No stock of either impressed or adhesive stamps, the property of the Government, is kept in Mr. Brandon's office : and therefore there is no prima facie reason why these stamps should be Government property. Mr. Brandon claims the impressed stamps, and the stamps attached to his letter as his own; but states that the adhesive stamps are the property of the Government, having been returned to the office some years ago by some person or persons unknown.

We find there is no evidence to rebut Mr. Brandon's claim of property in the impressed stamps and in the stamps attached to the letter, but his conduct in not bringing the other adhesive stamps to charge and keeping them in a drawer used by him for his private papers is highly reprehensible.

It appears that Mr. Brandon assisted divers persons in passing legacy and succession duty accounts; so long as this was done gratuitously it was very much for the benefit of the department page 13 and part of Mr. Brandon's duty that he should assist in unravelling these intricate matters.

We find by Mr. Brandon's own admission, on two occasions he received fees from persons for making out these accounts. Mr. Brandon conceives that he had Mr. Batkin's permission to adopt this course, if the work for which the fees were received were done out of office hour's. This Mr. Batkin denies, and it is impossible to believe that he would have given such permission.

We think that Mr. Brandon has committed a grave offence in thus allowing himself to become agent for the tax-payer, while he was himself the officer appointed to collect the tax.

Mr. Brandon is further charged with procuring deeds to be stamped and registered and other matters. There seems to be no regulation about work of this kind being done after office hours, and the charge resolves into one of occupying in private business, time which should have been devoted to his official duties.

It is admitted on all hands that Mr. Brandon has given to his duties time considerably beyond the usual office hours. The total amount of agency business done by Mr. Brandon does not appear large, and Mr. Brandon's explanation that the work was done so as not to interfere with the business of the office may be accepted.

There is no doubt that some time ago irregularities of various kinds took place in the Stamp Department; some of these were inexcusable, others may be accounted for by the pressure of business in the office.

These irregularities were known at the time to Mr. Brandon's superior, and if they seriously affected his character as an officer, it is as fair to assume that he would not have been left as the only permanent head of so important a department when Mr. Batkin gave up the office of Secretary for Stamps at the end of 1872.

During the year 1873 one serious instance of breach of duty occurred on Mr. Brandon's part, but in other respects few matters arising since the beginning of that year appeared to have called for the censure of the Commissioners of Audit.

Of late, according to the testimony of the Auditor-General the business of the office has been conducted in a more satisfactory manner.

At the time of Mr. Brandon's suspension there appears to have been arrears of work in the office, certain papers which ought to have been filed as records were not so filed, and these papers are stated to have been in confusion. The confusion may possibly be in part accounted for by Mr. Brandon's sudden suspension and the consequent absence of an opportunity to arrange his papers prior to handing over charge of the office to Mr. Warren.

On the whole, while it is certain that Mr. Brandon's conduct has been irregular, we do not think that the irregularities proved are sufficient, apart from the specific charges, to support a charge of habitual negligence and inefficiency. The specific charges hardly point to negligence and inefficiency, but to offences of a distinct character.

page 14

Mr. Brandon complains, and to a certain extent justly, that he has been placed in a false position, and that he in fact had to perform the duties of Secretary for Stamps as well as those of Chief Clerk and Accountant.

It appeal's from the evidence that a large amount of work and heavy responsibilities were imposed on Mr. Brandon—that he was not subject to any effective supervision, and that the staff of the office was inadequate. We respectfully submit that in dealing with his case his peculiar position should be taken into consideration.

We think that Mr. Brandon should receive some punishment for the grave irregularities he has been guilty of, but we respectfully submit to your Excellency that dismissal from the Civil Service of the colony would be an unnecessarily severe sentence.

We would respectfully call your Excellency's attention to the necessity of some changes in the organisation of the Stamp Department, as shown by the evidence that came before us, and especially of some more satisfactory check than exists at present in the use of the machine for impressing stamps.

Joshua Strange Williams,

T. S. Weston.