– Junior finance minister urges as he lambastes ‘legal experts’ over wrong charges
FRESH charges should be instituted against former Public Service Minister Dr Jennifer Westford and her Personnel Manager Margaret Cummings for allegedly stealing state funds, Junior Finance Minister Jaipaul Sharma said, as he lambasted police investigators and legal experts for instituting the wrong charges against the public officials.
Dr Westford and Cummings were charged for stealing $639,420,000 from the Government of Guyana between October 19, 2011 and April 28, 2015, while being employed at the then Public Service Ministry, but Principal Magistrate Judy Latchman, in dismissing the case on Friday, said the charges were “bad in law.”
In an interview with the Guyana Chronicle on Sunday, the Junior Finance Minister said Dr. Westford and Cummings, who worked under the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government, should not have been charged with larceny by public officer but rather under the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, Sections 48 and 49.
It is alleged that between 2011 and 2015, Westford signed 24 memoranda amounting to $639,420,000 and sent them to the permanent secretary at the Office of the President to be signed and approved. The money, which was reportedly given to Cummings and subsequently handed over to the then minister, was said to have been requested for activities to be conducted in the 10 administrative regions.
Section 48 and 49 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act state: “A Minister or official shall not in any manner misuse, misapply, or improperly dispose of public moneys.
“49. (1) If a loss of public moneys should occur and, at the time of that loss, a Minister or official has caused or LAWS OF GUYANA 50 Cap. 73:02 Fiscal Management and Accountability contributed to that loss through misconduct or through deliberate or serious disregard of reasonable standards of care, that Minister or official shall be personally liable to the Government for the amount of the loss.
(2) Where the misconduct or disregard of the person is not the sole cause of the loss referred to in subsection (1), the person shall be liable to pay only so much of the loss as is just and equitable having regard to the person’s share of the responsibility for the loss.”
Sharma said it is baffling as to how a very simple and straightforward case put together by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) following advice from the Police Legal Adviser and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) could still have resulted in the wrong charges being instituted.
“They wasted time, they wasted money, they wasted energy, and all of this could have been prevented if they had put the right charge,” Minister Sharma said.
He bemoaned the fact that although a total of 48 witnesses were called during the trial, the State Prosecutor Natasha Backer could not prove her case. “You bring a set of witness that couldn’t support your case,” he questioned.
The magistrate, in handing down her decision, said there was no evidence to prove that the funds were not used for their intended purpose, noting that although there was evidence in the form of 24 memoranda, which were signed by Dr. Westford, which proved that she requested the sum during the period of 2011-2015, there was no evidence that the money was unlawfully taken by the two women.
It was also noted that there was no evidence to prove that Cummings collected the money, since there was no affixed signature
It was on this basis that the Junior Finance Minister argued that separate charges be instituted against the accounting staff that worked at the Office of the President at the time the money was released. According to him, they are all accessories to the crime.
Minister Sharma said Dr. Westford and Cummings should not be allowed to walk free after allegedly stealing more than $600M, at a time when teachers are protesting for higher salaries. He posited that once the alleged stolen monies are retrieved in keeping with the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, that money can be used to increase the salaries of teachers or address social issues within the country.
Reiterating that new charges should be instituted against the former minister and her personnel manager, the junior finance minister posited that something is being done wrong at the investigative and prosecutorial end of things.
“We have carried a number of cases before the court already and failed, Jennifer Westford case is only one, that failed, we are not getting convictions,” he said.
The minister reminded that in October 2017, the conspiracy to procure money charge against former General Manager of the New Guyana Marketing Corporation (NGMC), Nizam Hassan and Felecia De Souza-Madramootoo was dismissed.
In November 2016, former Deputy Chief Executive Officer (DCEO) of the Guyana Power and Light (GPL) Carvil Duncan was found not guilty of theft, after it was ruled that a prima facie case had not been established against him.
Duncan and the company’s then CEO Aerswar Deonarine found themselves in trouble, over the unapproved transfer of approximately $29M to their personal bank accounts from the PetroCaribe fund.
It was alleged that Duncan stole $984,900 from GPL on March 31, 2015 at Georgetown after conspiring with the company’s then DCEO Aerswar Deonarine to commit the act of simple larceny. The former DCEO was also alleged to have conspired with Deonarine to commit a felony – that is to say between May 7 and 8 at Georgetown he conspired to steal GYD$27,757,500, property of GPL.