by Zena Henry
The criminal trial against former Minister of Public Service, Jennifer Westford and Chief Personnel Officer of the said ministry, Margret Cummings, will be heard at the Georgetown Magistrate Court as the women have opted to be tried summarily.
They pleaded not guilty to four counts of attempted larceny and intent to defraud by forgery respectively. They faced Magistrate Ann McLennan on Wednesday July 29 to answer their charges separately, and were placed on a total of $2M bail, before being told that their matters would not go to the High Court.
While the main opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) had issued statements suggesting that the charges against Westford were politically motivated, none of her former government colleagues made a personal appearance in court.
In a fairly packed courtroom with mostly reporters and onlookers, Westford was first to be entered into the criminal dock to answer the indictable charges of larceny. The Magistrate said that it is alleged that Westford between the July 17, 2014 and June 23, 2015, at the Public Service Ministry, Lot 164 Waterloo Street, Georgetown, while being employed as a public servant with the government of Guyana, committed larceny by attempting to transfer to Wayne Walker two motor vehicles; license plate numbers PJJ 8118 and PKK 1175, property of the Government of Guyana.
In three other related charges, it is alleged that between the same time periods at the same location, Westford attempted larceny when she also tried to transfer vehicles PFF1780 to Delroy Lewis, PKK 6400, PGG 6783, PJJ6675 to Gary Beaton and PJJ 3344 to herself.
The police prosecution team then requested the court apply the Administration of Justice Act (AJA). This allows the defendant to enter a plea which enables cases to be heard summarily at the Magistrates’ Court.
After it was explained that the matter could go to the High Court where the penalty could be harsher, the former minister agreed for the case to be heard in the Lower Court.
Cummings made the same request after she was accused that between July 18, 2014 and April 15, 2015, while being employed as a public servant with the Public Service Ministry (PSM), she intended to defraud by forging a receipt purporting to be for the sale of the said motor vehicles to the previously named persons. She pleaded not guilty to the four counts.
Attorney-at-law Bibi Shadick, in association with Dexter Todd, Keisha Chase and Eusi Anderson represented the defendants. Chase said that Westford is 54 years old, married with one adult child and a doctor by profession. The lawyer said she spent 14 years at the PSM. She was said to have no prior run-ins with the law and was asked to be sent on self bail or minimum bail sum. She was granted GUY$200,000 bail on each charge.
Todd said that Cummings is 36-years-old and a married mother of three. He said he had no doubt that his client would return for the trial and had been extremely cooperative with the police. He asked for minimum bail before his client was asked to post GUY$300,000 on each count.
Westford, who initially seemed nervous, calmed down by the time she was escorted to the holding area by a female rank. Dressed in a brown pants suit, the minister took to her cell phone as soon as she exited the court, with all smiles.
Cummings seemed more upset than nervous during the episode. She continuously frowned and seemed to be sucking her teeth occasionally. Demerara Waves understood that in posting bail, attempts were being made to have a cheque written since the court was not accepting cash.
The former minister and her subordinate will return to court on August 10 in Court 5. They will be tried together.