POST-OFFICE PLUNDER: PROJECTED REFORMS.
AT length there is a fair prospect of a reform in the Post-office. Lord DUNCANNON, Mr. LABOUCHERE, and Lord SEYMOUR, the
Commissioners appointed in May 1835, "to inquire into the
mode of conducting the business' of that department, have re- ported strongly in favour of depriving the FREELING Bumbu-
reaucracy" of the supreme power they now exercise without any real responsibility, and appointing a Board of three Commis- sioners, "with a responsible chief in Parliament," to execute the duties of the Postmaster-General, hitherto most negligently dis- charged by his Secretary. This is the recommendation of the Fourth Report.
Our readers may recollect, that we have repeatedly asserted and proved the inefficiency of the present system, and the mismanage-
ment of Sir FRANCIS FREELING and his subordinates. The fact,
that while the trade of the country, and consequently its corre- spondence internal and foreign, was prodigiously increased, the Post-office revenue remained stationary, was sufficient to convince
us that there was something rotten in the magnificent establish- ment at St. Martin's-le-Grand. The Commissioners' Reports
fully bear us out in all that we have from time to time said of the necessity of inquiry and a change of the mode of conducting the Post-office affairs.
"It appears to us," the Commissioners observe, "that it is the strong ten- dency of the present system to place all the duties and powers both of control
and execution in the hands of a single subordinate officer ; awl although we are not disposed to undervalue the services of Sir Francis Freeling, yet we cannot think that this is the proper and satisfactory constitution of any public depart-
ment. The Duke of Richmond, indeed, broke through the practice he found
established, of leaving the management almost entirely in the hands of the Se- cretary, and was in the habit of constantly attending and transacting business in person; and we have reason to believe that his successors have followed his
example. But the public has no security against a recurrence to the former system ; and when we consider how ineffectual any control orer such adepart- ment must be without an intimate knowledge of its details, we feel satisfied, that as long as it is vested solely in a high officer of state, liable to be removed with every change of Administration, it is not likely that it will be much inure halt nominal."
They then advise the appointment of a Board of Commissioners ; whose duties are thus indicated- " We propose that the Board shall be constituted on such a principle as to make it necessary for the department to he under the immediate control of the Commissioners: and, with this view, we recommend that all correspondence, except what relates merely to matters of detail and ordinary oecurrence, shall pass through them by letters sigued by themselves, and that no money shall be paid but by draughts with their signatones. We are of opinion that all the offi- cers of the .deekarttnent, whether Surveyors, Superintendeuts, or Controllers, I Should act only through the Board ; and that no clerk or officer should hold any other situation, or receive any pay, fee, or emolument, but the actual sum put down against hiu name, and considered commensurate to the duly he per. firms. We also recommend, that a record of all official acts done by the Board shall be regularly kept, and that an annual report be made to the Trea- sury of any alterations in the preceding year, of new expenses incurred, and of the general state of the revenue."
Should these recommendations be adopted by Government, (of which we suppose there is no doubt,) we shall expect to see the Post-office become, what it was intended to be, a cheap and safe medium of communication—an advantage to the public, instead of a tax upon it. We trust that the Commissioners will bear in mind the principle of the establishment ; wh:ch, as Lord Low- THER reminds them in his evidence quoted in their Fifth Report, is " to afford advantage to ttade and commerce :" revenue, he adds, " was not the primary consideration." It was on this prin- ciple that Lord LOWTHER strongly. urged the propriety of trans- mitting " Prices Current " through the Post-office at a low charge, instead of the usual rate of letter postage ; and the Com- missioners accordingly propose that Prices Current shall be circu- lated free, if bearing a penny stamp.
Although we have frerpiently imputed gross mismanagement and neglect of duty to the Post-office functimaries, and have always suseected that frauds must have been committed by some of them, yet being unable to adduce proof, we abstained from bringitig any direct charge of peculation against them. But the Commissioners have discovered an extensive system of plunder at the chief Packet station at Holyhead, which will in part account for the enormous expense of' the Packet department. We give a few passages from the Report on this subject-
" lloLvitEAn.—In the course of the inquiry at Holyhead, various instant% s were discovered, in %%Idyll at ticles liad been sold front the dockyard by the resi- dent Engineer and Storekeeper, and no account rendered to the Post-olfice of the produce of these sales.
" We have received a report of the survey of Mr. M'Knight, (who was es- pecially deputed to examine into the conduct of the Holyhead people,) and now lay it before your Lordships, together with his evidence.
" It has been impossible to trace the extent to which peculation has beer carried ; but from the statement he gives, there is every reason to suppose it must have been considerable. He says that ' the accounts of the receipts and issues are so complicated as to afford no cheek on the remains in store; not one half of the things that are in the establishment being made any return of what- ever,'
"Mr. Mlinight also states, that he has clearly proved an overcharge of 1,000 tons of coals a year to the packets ; but that, with respect to the other stores, he could find, in many casts, no books or accounts showing what re- mained, and 'that, although he found by his survey what actually remained, he could not tell what ought to have remained.'"
The consequence of this report was the dismissal of' the Store- keeper and Engineer ; whilst Captain GODDARD, the .Agent, was allowed to resign ; the Lords of the Treasury declaring the whole system "to be a disgrace to the public service." The Packet department is under the control of Mr. G. IL FREELING, the Assistant Secretary ; whose neglect is strongly
animadverted upon by the persons deputed by the Commissioners
to investigate the mode of conducting business at the several Packet stations. Mr. FREELING, in tm indignant letter to the Earl of LICHFIELD, vindicates himself, on the ground of the im- • possibility of a person at the chief office in London checking the accounts and superintending the conduct of officers at a distance. But it does not appear that, in his frequent and expensive jour- flies to the Packet stations in different parts of the country, Mr. FREELING ever troubled himself to ascertain whether the agents whom he appointed had any plan of checking accounts or pre- venting fraud. He enjoyed the patronage, but neglected the duties of his office.
The system on which the Post-office affairs have been con- ducted is but another "brick of the Bober—another specimen of the consequences of irresposible government; which invariably produces the same result—the injury and plunder of the public by its servants and masters.
We observe that on Tuesday next, Mr. WALLACE iS to move resolutions in the House of Commons as to the management of the Pest-office, including communication by post, domestic and foreign. The public are much indebted to this gentleman for the perseverance with which he has fought an up-hill battle against' successive Postmasters-General, their virtual masters the FREE- LINGS, and certain self-sufficient, unscrupulous, and sneering Under-Secretaries in the House of Commons. More than this— it usually happens that a reformer of abuses is backed by public opinion; but in the case of the Post-office the current ran against those who arraigned the existing system, which was ignorantly imagined to be without spot or blemish. Mr. WALLACE had no efficient ally in the House of Commons except Lord LOWTHER, and out of doors he had no aid but from a small portion of the press. By perseverance, however, a triumph has been obtained. Gavern- ment was compelled to order an inquiry ; which has proved every material complaint against the Post-office to have been well- founded. We take it for granted that no opposition will be offered to Mr. WALLACE'S motion on Tuesday. Ministers will scarcely refuse to pledge themselves to carry into effect the recommenda- tions of the Commissioners, all three their own colleagues, and one of them in the Cabinet.