Junior Finance Minister, Jaipaul Sharma is among persons calling for fresh charges to be filed against Former Minister of Public Service, Dr. Jennifer Westford and her administrative assistant, Margaret Cummings.
The two were freed of allegations of larceny in public office last Friday after Principal Magistrate Judy Latchman ruled that the charges brought against Westford, and her assistant, were all bad in law.
Westford and Cummings had faced 24 larceny charges, which alleged that between August 2011 and April 2015, while being employed in the Public Service of Guyana, they stole $639,420,000. They were out on $4.8M bail each pending trial.
However in her ruling last Friday, Magistrate Latchman, “I find that at the material time, Dr. Westford and Ms. Cummings were not Public Officers, and since all the charges were for the offence of Larceny by Public Officers. I find that all the charges are bad in law.”
She noted that Westford was not a public officer in keeping with Guyana’s Constitution.
With the case against the former government officials dismissed, concerns are being raised about the future of other matters filed under similar circumstances.
Over the weekend, in the televised programme, Voice of the People, Sharma expressed his opinion on the matter.
During the programme the Junior Minister of Finance opined that new charges should be brought against the duo, but this time in keeping with the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act.
Sharma also expressed concern over the future of similar cases.
“We would not be able to do anything because we are putting charges that will be fading in court, but this is a disgrace to those investigators – CID, Guyana Police Force, the Commissioner of Police, the Police Legal Adviser and the DPP.”
He said that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP),Police Legal Adviser and Police Commissioner, could seek his advice before filing fresh charges against the duo for the alleged theft of state funds.
“The Commissioner of Police, the Police Legal Adviser, to the DPP, to the CID (Criminal Investigations Department) – please be careful, be sensitive and hear, just come to my office, ask me for my advice on where or how we should create that charge and I’m going to say ‘put it that way’, because this is a charge,” Sharma stated.
“I hope that this matter returns to court because it (the dismissal) is sending the wrong message,” he said.
Meanwhile Ronald J Daniels, a Guyanese Attorney, based in Trinidad expressed his views on the ruling. In a lengthy facebook post, Daniels noted while Westford and her assistant were both charged under the Criminal Law (Offences) Act of Guyana; the Act does not define who a public officer is.
As a result, the lawyer said that the Interpretation Act and Constitution of Guyana, particularly at Article 232, gives guidance on the legal definition of a public officer. “There we are told that a public officer is ‘the holder of any public office and includes a person appointed to act in any such office.
He noted however that paragraph (5) says that ‘in this Constitution references to the public service shall not be construed as including service in – Minister…or member of the National Assembly. This is what, on the face of it, excluded Dr. Westford and Ms. Cummings from being deemed public officers,” Daniels stressed. He added that he is not sure whether this was one of the issues which was well thought out before the charges were laid against Dr. Westford and Cummings.
I see the police investigators, their legal advisors, the prosecutors and the Director of Public Prosecutions are coming under severe criticisms for this. The police investigators, in my estimation, cannot be held responsible for this purely legal issue.
The advice, I understand, to lay the charges under the Criminal Law (Offences) Act emanated from the DPP’s office.
Perhaps the advisors took it for granted that either they were public officers within the context of the Constitution or that since they were charged under the abovementioned Act that it would not have given rise to the ‘constitutional issue’ of what their status is (and do note the uplifted commas encasing constitutional issue).
Taking the entire scenario into consideration, Daniels supports the call for fresh charges to be laid against Westford and Cummings.
“I agree with the Junior Finance Minister that the charges should have been laid under the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act of Guyana, which specifically contemplates charges against ministers as well as public officials for misuse and loss of public funds,” he added.
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