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WESTFORD FRAUD TRIAL: Ministry of the Presidency’s Chief Accountant unaware of GYD$600 million worth of evaluations

by Abigail Semple

A trial into the alleged theft of more than GYD$600 million from the Guyana government on Thursday heard the Chief Accountant testofy that he recognised the signature of then Public Service Minister, Dr. Jennifer Westford on documents requesting monies for various evaluations between August, 2011 and April, 2015 that might not have been held.

Chief Accountant within the Ministry of the Presidency, Andre Dazzell said he did not see Westford sign, but that he was very familiar with her signature because he had seen them on several other documents.

Jointly charged with Westford, who is a parliamentarian for the opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic, is her former Chief Personnel Officer at the then Public Service Ministry, Margaret Cummings.

Dazzell stated that he was first shown three memoranda by the current Permanent Secretary , Reginald Brotherson on July 24, 2015, and later, on July 31, 2015 he was interviewed by police and shown about 24 memoranda. He continued that prior to the first date he was not aware of the Permanent Secretary planning any of the exercises and activities listed on the memos, and, to date, he is still not aware of any evaluation exercises or award ceremonies having been carried out.

He explained that annually there is an award ceremony, paid for by the Government, which hosts Guyanese graduating medical students from Cuba. That, Dazzell said, is the only award ceremony he knows about.

Under the guidance of Prosecutor Natasha Backer, Dazzell explained to the court that the Permanent Secretary normally receives budgetary allocations from the Ministry of Finance. He said that once the allocation is approved the ministry would prepare a cash flow statement, requesting the release of funds under the various line items.

The line items, he explained, signify the payment of salaries and other overhead expenses, and that is done on a quarterly basis and starts from 6111 to 6323. In breaking this down further, Dazzell stated that 6111 to 6134 deals specifically with salaries and allowances, and 6221 to 6323 deals with other expenses or charges. When prompted by Backer, the witness stated that no line item deals with performance, but if the need arises for such to be exercised it can be accumulated under 6302, which deals with training, inclusive of scholarships.

After submission, he said, release of the funds sometimes takes one week, and those funds could be spent by another ministry. However, Dazzell stated that 90% of the time it is spent by the Public Service Ministry (PSM). This can be done by way of issuing of warrants – an interdepartmental warrant system – which is prepared by the accounts department. The warrant details the head and subhead for a line item through which money will be taken. He continued that it also deals with the purpose and the amount. It is prepared in three copies and must be signed by the Permanent Secretary of the subject ministry from which the request is made.

Dazzell then testified that he has been holding the position of Chief Accountant since October 1, 2014. He said that from the time he took up the position until the end of the year 2015 he was aware of warrants being prepared by the PSM and sent to the then Office of the President (OP). When questioned by Backer, the witness declared that prior to his position as Chief Account he was not privy to such warrants, and during his tenure all instructions for the warrants came from the number two accused (Cummings). Based on his knowledge of the system, Dazzell said, the PS is the correct person to issue warrants, and Cummings was not in the position of PS at the time. Instead, Hydar Alli was the one acting as Permanent Secretary from October 1, 2014 to sometime in July 2015, and he was present at work and functioning in his capacity.

He revealed that the signature on the 24 memos was not that of the Permanent Secretary, as is usually the case, but that of Westford.

Since the witness could not recall details like dates, captions and sums of money requested, the prosecutor requested of Magistrate Judy Latchman for him to be refreshed of same.

Defense Attorney Dexter Todd however objected to this request, stating that the memoranda have so far not been admitted into evidence. The prosecution’s application was still granted nonetheless and Dazzell was allowed to read out the details of the memos.

They are as follows:- Memo # 1: 24th August, 2011 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Evaluation – $4,561,680 Memo # 2: 20th October, 2011 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Evaluation – $3, 438,320 Memo # 3: 22nd November, 2011 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Evaluation – $15M Memo # 4: 24th December, 2011 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Evaluation – $10M Memo # 5: 1st June, 2012 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Evaluation – $10M Memo # 6: 5th July, 2012 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Evaluation – $12M Memo # 7: 27th August, 2012 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Evaluation – $15M Memo # 8: 9th October, 2012 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Evaluation – $20M Memo # 9: 10th December, 2012 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Evaluation – $46M Memo # 10: 22th May, 2013 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Evaluation – $15M Memo # 11: 7th June, 2013 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Performance Evaluation – $25,500,000 Memo # 12: 26th June, 2013 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Performance Evaluation – $23M Memo # 13: 28th October, 2013 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Performance Evaluation – $25M Memo # 14: 4th December, 2013 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Performance Evaluation – $4M Memo # 15: 4th December, 2013 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Performance Evaluation – $46M Memo # 16: 11th March, 2014 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Performance Evaluation – $30M Memo # 17: 20th May, 2014 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Performance Evaluation – $40M Memo # 18: 28th July, 2014 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Performance Evaluation – $30M Memo # 19: 9th September, 2014 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Performance Evaluation – $45M Memo # 20: 13th November, 2014 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Performance Evaluation – $75M Memo # 21: 16th December, 2014 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Performance Evaluation – $24,200,000 Memo # 22: 10th February, 2015 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Performance Evaluation – $23,500,000 Memo # 23: 13th March, 2015 – Award Ceremony – $55M Memo # 24: 23th April, 2015 – Financial Assistance for Public Service Evaluation – $43,220,000

When questioned on how he knew that it was the number one defendant’s signature on the memos, Dazzell responded that he was familiar with it “because I would have seen numerous correspondences” with it. He admitted though, that he was not present when any of these correspondences were signed. He attempted to explain that he worked at Office of the President from 1990 to March 2007 and was in contact with Westford’s signature; i.e., seen documents containing said signature. When prompted again, the star witness explained that in the general course of things, when memos are prepared, records (containing vouchers with the memos) are kept in the filing cabinet in the accounts department, and he has access to this filing cabinet.

At this point Todd objected to the testimony, stating that none of these things are mentioned in the statements tendered in court. In response to this, the magistrate stated that “at no stage is the prosecution bounded by what it serves.”

Backer was then allowed to continue her examination of the witness, and she questioned him on whether or not records are supposed to be made of the payments and spending. In response, Dazzell stated that the Accounts Department is solely responsible for the execution of payments, and as such he does not know if records should be made.

He concluded by stating that he was asked by the Accountant General’s Department to check and verify if any records pertaining to the performance evaluations were kept by the accounts department.

Dazzell revealed that he checked but found no such documents. At this point, Backer asked for the continuation of Dazzell’s testimony to be suspended until the memos were tended as evidence.

This request was granted and the matter has been adjourned until November 7, 2016 at 1:30pm.

  • rs dasai

    Lance
    Justice must be seen to be served. Fairly? Not necessary.

  • Jiggy

    Everyone deserves their day in Court, I beleve if she is innocent that too will be proven, I do not believe she is being made a scapegoat.

  • RLSG

    Surely a precedent will be set by the determining result of this case. I am still asking why black folk are the first to be brought before the courts while the others who thief much more, build much more and live a more sudden extravagant lifestyle are still walking free .. e.g Jagdeo and those of his ilk. I guess justice IS color blind.