Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has pronounced on the charges brought against his Member of Parliament (MP) and former Public Service Minister, Dr Jennifer Westford, stressing that members must face the consequences of their actions.
Westford and her then Personnel Officer, Margaret Cummings were on Monday placed on $4.8 million bail each when they appeared at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts to face 24 charges of larceny by a public servant.
The charges stated that between August 23, 2011 and April 28, 2015, in Georgetown while being employed as public servants by the Government of Guyana, they stole $639,420,000, monies that they received in virtue of their employment.
Police Prosecutor Bharrat Mangru told the Court that Westford acted in her capacity of Minister and signed a number of memorandums for the total sum of $639,420,000 and sent them to the Permanent Secretary of the Public Service Ministry, who in turn approved them.
Questioned about this on Tuesday, the Opposition Leader maintained that Party members who break the law must face the consequences.
“As it unfolds, let me make it clear, people have to submit. Once it is not a witch hunt and there are real issues and the investigations are done professionally, then any member of the PPP who has to face the courts for any wrongdoing, they have to face the consequences,” he told Journalists at Freedom House.
Jagdeo said at some point in time, the former Minister would have to face officials from the Party to give an explanation, but for now, he did not wish to tamper with her defence or prejudice her case. “We have already asked that that be done.”
Further, Jagdeo said his Party was prepared to work with any organisation outside the State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU), which he said has not been professional and neutral in its work.
“You have the head of SARU every week saying who should be locked up. How could anyone have any confidence that SARU will be working impartially. This is why we cannot cooperate with a SARU, but we will – if there are other agencies under the State that are under our laws, designed and mandated to investigate any acts of illegality, then those agencies will see cooperation,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Court was told that the cheques issued by Westford were allegedly made out for the purpose of financing various activities of the Public Service Ministry across the 10 Administrative Regions; however, an investigation revealed that those events never took place, nor were there any documents to show how the money was spent.
The Prosecutor objected to bail on the grounds of the seriousness of the offence as well as the quantum. He further made reference to the former Minister’s status in society, stating that there was a high likelihood of witness tampering if she was released on bail and it was also unlikely that the duo would return to Court.
One of the defendants’ seven Attorneys objected to the Prosecutor’s statement, saying that his clients denied all of the allegations.
He said the Prosecutor was making his statements based on hearsay, and reprimanded him for instigating bias in the Court. He further stated that his clients were currently facing several charges in Court Five, and have been attending all of the sessions and have been fully cooperative with the investigators.
Based on the Attorney’s response, the Magistrate granted the defendants bail in the sum of $200,000 for each charge. (Reprinted from today’s Guyana Times)