Thursday, Oct 24, 2019
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Royal Bahamas Police Force and public service vacation leave policies

We offer our views following much discussion in the media over an ongoing exercise to reduce the accumulated vacation leave of certain officers in the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

We think the deliberate practice of far too many senior officers in the public sector of accumulating annual leave entitlement over the length of their careers, with the full intention and expectation of collecting a bonus to ease their transitions into retirement, continues to complicate and compromise initiatives to modernize the public service.

We are aware that public service vacation leave policy has always provided for officers to “save” and “carry forward” un-used annual leave entitlement when the leave was not enjoyed because of the “exigencies” of the service. While often justified, and no doubt rightly so in the police force, “exigencies” sometimes amount only to a convenience to an individual accommodated by a superior officer.

In practice, the ability to “save” vacation was within a framework which limited the total amount of leave that might be saved. Once the limit is exceeded, the excess is lost to the individual. Unfortunately that policy has not been evenly or fairly enforced over the years. We recall the case when Assistant Commissioner of Police Dudley Hanna, to whom the policy was strictly applied, lost compensation for years of accumulated leave prior to 1992.

We think the government’s commitment to bringing an end to the practice of excessive leave accumulation is commendable. We also think the government should ensure that its policy is fairly and evenly applied.

For example, there is a difference between someone who is near retirement who accumulated leave that could be taken at or near retirement, and another who if required to take long accumulated leave would have to return to the service to meet his years for full retirement benefit.

The public should take an interest in the application of these policies because they have a cost impact on the public purse.

When a senior police officer or senior public officer goes on extended vacation leave – for periods that may extend from three months to up to two calendar years or more – another officer must be engaged to perform the duties of the vacationing officer. The vacationing officer goes on leave with all benefits attached to his post – e.g., car, cellular telephone, life and health insurance, etc.

At the same time, the officer “acting” in his post is compensated by a temporary increase in salary reflecting the additional duties taken on during his “acting appointment”. Depending on the nature of the acting appointment, the officer may be required to receive some of the benefits attached to the post – cellular telephone, car, increased health or life insurance benefits, as the case may be.

It is clear that the practice of accumulating vacation leave as some kind of retirement fund exists in the public service and has infiltrated the Royal Bahamas Police Force where it remains active, confounding efforts to right size the force and put in place an efficient and properly structured force command.

The practice is disruptive to the good order of the police force. It is also expensive for the public purse. It must be addressed.

The current exercise, which appears to have selected officers to commence vacation even though they have not completed 40 years of service nor reached the retirement age, while others who are older or have completed more years of service are exempted, gives rise to allegations of favoritism.

Public sector retirement and leave policy entitlement ought to be free of partisan political considerations and should have no bearing on the composition of the high command of the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

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