Andre Dazzell, the Chief Accountant at the Ministry of the Presidency, yesterday testified that 24 memos, dated from August, 2011 to April, 2015 and related to requests for funds amounting to nearly $600M for unknown evaluation exercises, were purportedly signed by former minister Jennifer Westford.
Dazzell was at the time testifying at the trial of Westford and her former aide Margaret Cummings, who are charged with stealing over $600 million from the state under the former PPP/C government.
The trial restarted yesterday after months of delay, with state counsel Natasha Backer prosecuting along with police prosecutor Vishnu Hunt.
Dazzell, who was attached to the former Ministry of Public Service, which had been headed by Westford, recalled that on July 31, 2015, he had an interview with the police who showed him a number of memos in his office at the Public Service Ministry. He said that out of the 24 memos that were shown to him by the police, he informed them that he has seen three before, as they were shown to him before by then Permanent Secretary, Hydar Ally.
The memos, which were read out in court by Dazzell, were dated August, 2011 up to April 2015, with some captioned as ‘Financial Assistance for Public Service Evaluation’ and ‘Financial Assistance for Public Service Performance Evaluation.’ One, which was dated March 13, 2015, was captioned as ‘Award Ceremony.’
Apart from the captions, the various sums requested for the activities were also listed. Between ‘Financial Assistance for Public Service Evaluation’ and ‘Financial Assistance for Public Service Performance Evaluation,’ the sums requested ranged from $10,000,000 to $75,000,000, while for the ‘Award Ceremony,’ the requested amount was $55,000,000.
According to Dazzell, he was not aware of the ministry planning the exercises mentioned in the memos. He said that he was not aware of any evaluation exercises or an award ceremony. Dazzell said the only award ceremony he knew of was the ceremony for the Guyanese doctors who would return from studying Cuba. He said those awards usually take place every year between July and August.
The witness maintained that while he was the accountant for the ministry, he had never seen any memos for performance evaluations, as the only memos he had seen were to effect payment. He said the while the memos would usually be signed by the Permanent Secretary, the 24 memos in question were signed by Westford.
Dazzell told the court that he was familiar with the signature of the former minister. He said he had become familiar with it since he had seen lots of correspondence with her signature. The witness said that during his time working at the then Office of the President, from 1990 to 2007, he has seen documents with Westford’s “purported” signature.
The witness also told the court that the ministry usually holds the records of the memos along with the vouchers. Dazzell said that as chief accountant he had access to the filing cabinet in which the memos were kept.
At this point, defence attorney Dexter Todd objected on the grounds that the prosecutor was leading the witness into evidence that was not in his statement. However, his objection was later overruled by the magistrate, who told him that at no stage was the prosecutor bound only by what was served to the defence as the trial was not a paper committal.
Dazzell continued his testimony by telling the court that he would not be aware if there were records of the activities on the memos. “In terms of the accounts department, we execute the payment, we just make payments,” he said.
Dazzell said that he was later asked by the Auditor General’s department to check and verify if any records pertaining to the performance evaluations were kept by the accounts department. He said that he and his staff checked but there were no documents in relation to the memos.
During his testimony, Dazzell explained the process the subject ministry goes through to receive funds.
According to him, once a budgetary allocation from the Ministry of Finance was approved, he would prepare a cash flow statement requesting the release of funds under a line item system. He noted that a line item system signifies the payment of salaries and other expenses by the ministry.
When asked by the prosecutor if the ministry wanted to receive funds for a venture how it would be requested, Dazzell said that from the line items one can request money through the Ministry of Finance from the cash flow.
He added that ventures covered by the subject ministry are usually grouped under line items which deal with salaries and allowances, and other expenses or charges. The witness also disclosed that there are no line items which deal with performance evaluation.
Backer questioned Dazzell on the information that is required to prepare a cash flow statement. The witness mentioned to the court that it is dated January to December and it carries the line item and the amount requested by the ministry. He conveyed that one week after submission of the information, the funds are usually released.
Dazzell further explained to the court how the funds released to the ministry are spent. “90 percent could be spent by the ministry, while the other 10 percent is spent by the Inter-Departmental Warrant,” the witness noted. He said that the Inter-Departmental Warrants are prepared by the accounts department. Dazzell said it details the head or line item from which the money will be taken from, as well as the purpose and the amount. He said that the document is prepared with five copies and it must be signed by the Permanent Secretary of the subject ministry.
Dazzell said that since he was working at the Ministry in October, 2014, Inter Departmental Warrants had been prepared from 2014-2015. He said that the warrants go to the Office of the President.
The witness also indicated that during that period, instructions came from Cummings to prepare warrants, who would be responsible for the day to day operations. More recently, he noted, instructions would come from Permanent Secretary Reginald Brotherson to prepare the warrants.
Dazzell admitted to the court while the Permanent Secretary is the correct person to issue instructions to prepare warrants, Cummings at the time did not hold the position of a Permanent Secretary. He said that from the period of October 1, 2014 to July, 2015, Ally was the functioning Permanent Secretary at the ministry of public service.
Dazzell’s testimony was suspended to allow for the 24 memos to be admitted into evidence. The matter has been adjourned until November 7.