Holding firm to his conviction that the misuse of public funds should be met with the appropriate penalties, Leader of the Justice For All Party, (JFAP) Jaipaul Sharma has noted the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act makes suitable provisions for the Government to recover State funds.
Sharma has been vocal on the issue of recovering mismanaged State funds after larceny charges filed against Former Minister of Public Service, Dr. Jennifer Westford and her administrative assistant, Margaret Cummings, were dismissed.
Principal Magistrate Judy Latchman dismissed the charges against the duo because of a technicality.
Magistrate Latchman ruled that the charges were all bad in law. However Sharma, who is also the Junior Minister of Finance in the Coalition Government, has been among those calling for fresh charges to be laid against the two. Sharma had posited that given the ruling of the Magistrate, the Minister and her Assistant can still be brought to justice, if the correct laws are applied. Westford and her Assistant were charged with Larceny in Public Office.
In an interview with Kaieteur News, Sharma explained that although the law can be technical, the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act provides a more suitable direction on how to prosecute officials of the State, including a Minister, who is found personally liable for misusing Government funds.
According to Sharma, in such cases, the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act provides clearer direction and spells out remedies to recover misused, misapplied or improperly disposed State funds.
Sharma noted that Act which was passed in 2003 by the then President Bharat Jagdeo makes provisions for the recovery of State funds in a number of scenarios, including cases where a person ceases to be a Minister or official.
He explained too that while the penalty under the Act allows for imprisonment along with a monetary fine for those found guilty of such actions, it is not limited to same.
Citing sections of the financial management law, Sharma noted that State officials found liable can be prosecuted in a Court of competent jurisdiction and shall be personally liable to the Government for the amount of the loss.
“It is not always about imprisonment of a Minister or official. At the end, the Government should be able to recover, that which was lost. So these persons can be pursued in criminal or civil courts”
Westford and her Assistant were slapped with 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 after some three years of trial, Magistrate Latchman ruled last Friday.
In her ruling Magistrate Latchman noted that “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.”
The Magistrate further 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, and the DPP.”
He suggested that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), and Police Commissioner, seek his advice before filing fresh charges against the duo for the alleged theft of state funds.
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