DPP files appeal in Westford/Cummings case dismissal

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Director of Public Prosecutions, Shalimar Ali-Hack

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has appealed the dismissal of charges against former Public Service Minister Dr Jennifer Westford and her Personnel Manager Margaret Cummings who had charges for allegedly stealing state funds thrown out two Fridays ago.

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 August 24 , said the charges were “bad in law.”

Since the dismissal of the case , a number of critics have argued that the matter should be appealed. According to the DPP Chambers , the matter was appealed on August 30 , 2018.

In an interview with the Guyana Chronicle last 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.