GUYANA OFFICIAL CHARGED

Guyana’s President David Granger.
Associated Press / Joedson Alves

In mid August, the first hundred days of the new administration of President David Granger in Guyana would have expired and officials are rushing to ensure that a raft of promises made for this period are honored in compliance rather than in the breach.

One such has to do with official acts of corruption, nepotism, graft and general malfeasance committed during the 23-year reign of the Indo-dominated People’s Progressive Party (PPP) which Granger’s multiracial coalition narrowly defeated in general elections on May 11.

In one of the first major signs that a concerted effort is being made to meet such promises and assuage the population monitoring governmental actions through traditional as well as the all powerful social media outlets like Facebook, authorities on Wednesday hauled former public service minister Jenny Westford before the courts on larceny charges.

Medical doctor Westford was once an influential member of the cabinet, especially in that of ex-president Bharrat Jagdeo who ran the country from mid 1999 to late 2011 amid a torrent of relentless criticism about how he tolerated corruption, private death squads, a flourishing drug trade and many other bad acts.

Many have said they would not be surprised if he is taken out of the country one day soon by the U.S. feds and asked to answer a slew of charges related to his time in office. No other such beliefs or aspirations are bandied around the country against any other former heads of state or government.

Cuban-trained Westford is being indicted for allegedly attempting to steal eight state vehicles and transferring them to her and other family members names mere days after the government would have changed hands and after Granger would have been sworn in.

She has since cooperated with authorities in returning all to government but the state prosecutor’s office this week ordered local police to slap an attempted larceny charge against her and one of forgery against her assistant for her alleged role in the scam.

The charges are being instituted against her just as contributors to social media and political critics were beginning to question the resolve of authorities to go after those who allegedly had robbed the treasury of assets during the two plus decades of PPP rule.

But officials say their critics had needed only to pay attention to the establishment of a state assets recovery unit headed by world renowned economist Professor Clive Thomas to be reinforced of official determination to go after corrupt acts to agree that authorities are making an effort to catch alleged wrongdoers.

Dressed in a crisp business suit and appearing before the court, Westford pleaded not guilty and was ordered to return next week when the state will decide whether it is ready for her trial to start. Like common criminals or suspects, she was placed in the dock.

Her chief personnel officer, Ms. Margaret Cummings, faces four counts of intent to defraud the state and will return on the same day. Bail is set for the former minister at $4,000 and $6,000 for her assistant.

Westford is being charged just a day before she and 31 other reps from the PPP take up their seats in the new parliament but if convicted and ordered to serve any portion of the three-year sentence on local law books, she would have to vacate her seat in disgrace and be replaced by another party candidate.

The announcement also comes as Housing Minister Keith Scott said an official investigation would be launched to determine whether Jagdeo and other officials had breached tax and other rules when they arrogated onto themselves expensive seaside land to establish an exclusive community just outside the city.

The ministry has published figures showing that big wigs such as Jagdeo had paid far less than the $15,000 the housing ministry charges an ordinary civil servant for a 5,000 square-foot piece of housing land in abandoned sugar cane fields. Jagdeo et all paid about half of that. The unit also wants to know if Jagdeo who had sold a home for $600,000 had paid any capital gains and other taxes on it.

The recovery unit is currently going after dozens of state vehicles whose registrations have been changed, trying to trace cash in accounts held locally and overseas and to determine how some PPP officials had become so wealthy and at whose expense.

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