Former government minister Dr Jennifer Westford and her former aide Margaret Cummings were yesterday freed of the 24 larceny charges of larceny by a public officer that were laid against them for the alleged theft of over $600 million while in government.
Among the reasons given by Principal Magistrate Judy Latchman for the dismissal of the charges against Westford was that they were “bad in law,” since she was not a public officer. Her finding, if unchallenged by an appeal, could see other pending charges against Westford for allegedly attempting to steal state vehicles being dismissed.
The joint charges against Westford and Cummings, who was the Personnel Officer at the former ministry under the former PPP/C government, stated that between the period October 19th, 2011 and April 28th, 2015, while being employed with the former Public Service Ministry, they stole a total of $639,420,000, belonging to the Government of Guyana, which they received by virtue of employment.
The money was said to have been requested for activities to be conducted in the 10 administrative regions.
Magistrate Latchman noted that during the course of the trial, the prosecution presented a total of 48 witnesses, including 10 representatives of the 10 administrative regions.
Referring to the evidence given by the 10 witnesses, Magistrate Latchman noted that all of them, except the representative of Region Five, gave similar evidence in which they stated that could not remember during the 2011 to 2015 period if Westford and a team of public servants went into their regions, conducted performance reviews, staff conferences, performance evaluation exercises for scholarship awardees, year-end reviews, skills-based assessments or change acceptance workshops, in keeping with aims and objectives of public service.
The witnesses stated that they never attended any such workshops or any exercise led by Westford and a team.
However, the witness attached to the Region Five Regional Democratic Council during the period in question said from time to time Westford and her staff would go to the region and conduct different kinds of training. The witness added that he was physically present at some of the training programmes held during the period.
Magistrate Latchman then stated that there was evidence in the form of 24 memorandums, which were signed by Westford, proving that she requested funds during the 2011 to 2015 period. She further stated that there was evidence to prove that Cummings collected the money. However, the magistrate said the witnesses from the various regions saying they could not recall the activities being carried out brought some uncertainties to the prosecution’s case.
In the case of Westford, Magistrate Latchman said the court did not find prima facie evidence that she was a public officer at the time, as defined in the Interpretation and General Clauses Act. The magistrate went on to say that Westford was not appointed by the Public Service Commission but by the president, which does not make her a public officer. “In these circumstances I find that at the material time, Dr Jennifer Westford was not a public officer. Since all the charges against Jennifer Westford are for larceny by public officer, I find them all bad in law,” she stated.
As it relates to Cummings, the court did find prima facie evidence that she was a public officer, that she worked for Westford, that she collected the funds and that returned same to the minister’s office. Cummings’ name also appeared on the memorandums as the coordinator of the activities planned for the regions, however her signature did not. The magistrate said there was no evidence that Cummings agreed to coordinate the events mentioned on the memorandums and there was also no evidence that she was authorized to spend the cash and that she did so.
As a result, the magistrate subsequently dismissed the charges and told both Westford and Cummings they were free to go. Both women are still facing charges of allegedly attempting to steal state vehicles and forgery. The charges against Westford allege that between July 17th, 2014 and June 23rd, 2015, while being employed as a public servant by the Government of Guyana, she attempted to transfer several government-owned vehicles to herself and others. These persons include her husband, Gary Beaton, as well as Wayne Walker and Delroy Lewis. Cummings, meanwhile, is charged with forging several receipts to show that the vehicles were purchased by Beaton, Walker, Lewis and Westford. The women have denied the charges.