SINCE 1971, the Guyana Court of Appeal, led by Chancellor Edward Luckhoo, has been noting that judges here were imposing inadequate sentences against offenders of serious fraud cases and calling for stiffer penalties to be imposed on such offenders.
Current cases show that the situation has not changed much from what obtained back in 1971, when Chancellor Luckhoo and Justices Guya Persaud and Victor Crane had occasion to comment on the issue during the hearing of an application by a postmaster who was convicted and sentenced for fraud.
In his application, the postmaster at reference was seeking an extension of time within which to appeal against his conviction and sentence.
But the Appellate Court held fast that there was no merit in appealing the matter, as the evidence had clearly proven the applicant guilty of the offence and that the summing up by the judge was fair.
According the facts presented in court, the case for the State was that the applicant, a postmaster, had falsified certain accounts being a record of stamps which he, as postmaster, had received from time to time from the General Post Office (GPO).
The evidence was clear that the stamps had been received by the applicant, and taken into stock by him. He did not sign the two orders for the stamps, nor did he return them to GPO as he was requested to do. When his books were checked, it was found that he’d not made the entries relating to the two quantities of stamps as he was required to do.
On conviction for falsification of accounts, he made an application to the court for an extension of time within which to appeal.
For the hearing of the application for extension of time, Senior Counsel, Mr. Fred Wills appeared for the applicant, while Mr George Pompey, then Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, represented the State.
In refusing the application, Justice Luckhoo noted the prevalence of fraud cases, and said he would like to support what had earlier been said by his brothers Persaud and Crane in relation to the matter.
“It has become all too evident,” he said, “from the cases of reported fraud, especially within relatively recent times, that its prevalence calls for serious attention. Too many people seem to be on the look out to dip their hands in the public coffers and line their pockets with ill-gotten gains.”
“This disposition to get rich quickly is a plague on our young nation, which should be provided with a better example on the part of those who, like the appellant, occupy positions of trust.
“As my brother, Crane, has pointed out, the sum involved is not an insignificant one. In two transactions alone, it was sought to create a loss to this country of over $10,000. This is shocking and disgraceful. In my view, on the facts, the plan was not only daring, but revealed a certain measure of disquieting neglect in the operation of the system employed.
“What my brother, Crane, has said on the question of punishment should be noted by judges who have to deal with situations of this kind. Clemency could be sometimes misplaced by the imposition of inadequate sentences in cases of serious fraud. If the appellant had appealed against his sentence, and this appeal was properly before the Court, I might, on the facts before me (and subject to what was said), have found it difficult to restrain myself from increasing the sentence; for not only is the offence of a heinous nature, but the prevalence of such like offences involving public offices and servants in a position of trust is not a matter to be lightly glossed over. And, moreover, the device used indicated a great deal of premeditation.”
Clearly incensed by the temerity of the postmaster in wanting clemency after committing such a dastardly offence, Justice Luckhoo said: “I would like at this stage to repeat what I said in a similar case of falsification of accounts — the case of the Queen v. Peter Richard Osborne (Criminal Appeal No. 55 of 1968) — in the hope that those responsible for looking after the systems which operate in the various departments of revenue, might exercise a greater vigilance to ensure, as my brother, Persaud, pointed out, that they are faithfully operated, and not be allowed to break down through carelessness of improper motivations.”
More to the point, he said: “In the case of Osborne, I said these words:
‘It does not concern this Court that others, in one way or another, may not have been implicated in the daring fraud. But the observation cannot be resisted that something must have been rotten in the state of safeguarding public funds, in that particular sector, which permitted an ‘unknown’ person, who was not a workman and never earned any money, to receive payments week after week for over 40 weeks in one year, sometimes twice above that of the other legitimate workmen, by a process of concoction.’”
Noting that the net result of the scenario he described was that over $3,000 was paid out for a period of less than one year to a non-existent workman, Justice Luckhoo said: “One shudders to think, if there are other instances, to what extent the public coffers may not have been otherwise impoverished!
“Eleven months after this fraud had been in progress, a clerk in charge of the Yard Office of the Ministry, at the commencement of his duties as such, checked to see that the names of persons who actually worked were names of persons which were put on the pay list for payment. He checked the time slips of workers against what was recorded on the pay lists. He was not detailed to do this job, but he felt it should be done, and did so. This was what led to the discovery of the particular fraud, and demonstrates that vigilance and honesty of purpose will reveal what indolence and connivance will suppress.”
In his presentation, Justice Persaud, who made reference to the alarming trend among public officials of being engaged in fraudulent activities in the course of their employment, declared:
“This court, and we are sure others will agree with us, is of opinion that the State is entitled to expect honest and conscientious service from its employees, and we feel that any employee of the State who is guilty of fraud commits not only a breach of trust against his office or department, as the case may be, but against the entire country; for he is employed in a position of trust, and he is expected to so conduct himself that the State would have implicit faith in him.“
Noting that the way things were going, one was inclined to think that there are less and less people in the Public Service upon whom the State can rely, Justice Persaud said: “We hope this state of affairs can be remedied, and public officers, in whatever station they are employed — whether as postmasters, or civil servants, or policemen — will come to appreciate that it is of no avail to them to perpetrate fraud on the country, because they must know that in proper cases courts will see to it that they receive punishment appropriate to their crime.”