We offer our views following the announcement of the mandated three-month vacation leave of Commodore Tellis Bethel, commander of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF).
We previously expressed support for efforts by the government to enforce public service policy meant to dissuade senior officers in the public sector from accumulating annual leave entitlements over the length of their career with the intention of collecting a bonus to ease their transition into retirement.
We also noted the disruption of extended leave to good order in the service and recorded our belief that the government should ensure that, where imposed, the policy is fairly and evenly applied.
We might add our view that such vacation leave policies might be justifiably waived for critical senior staff at times of national crisis. A case in point would be the mandated leave of Commodore Bethel given his special experience and leadership in hurricane response and recovery.
The prime minister said on Monday that the commodore’s mandated leave had a money-saving purpose. Where money is being saved is not evident. Three months’ leave costs the same now as it will next year or at any time prior to retirement. Commodore Bethel is not of retirement age nor has he completed the number of years of service to permit him retirement benefits at the end of his mandated leave or at any time before 2021.
We are surprised that decisions regarding mandated vacation leave by senior officers in the RBDF, presumably taken prior to the devastating impact of Hurricane Dorian, were not revisited particularly regarding mandated leave by the commodore of the RBDF.
Commander Bethel led the RBDF’s hurricane response and relief efforts following hurricanes Joaquin in 2015, Matthew in 2016 and Irma in 2017 in The Bahamas and further was responsible for the deployment of the HMBS Lawrence Major on an emergency relief mission to the Commonwealth of Dominica following the devastating blow to that island nation by Hurricane Maria in 2018.
Also surprising was the announcement that Deputy Commander RBDF Captain Raymond King will fill the acting position of commander of the RBDF for the duration of Commodore Bethel’s leave. This statement came one week after Captain King was promoted and tasked with coordinating RBDF operations on Grand Bahama and Abaco.
In accordance with the Defence Force Act, the acting commander of RBDF remains subject to the directions and instructions of the RBDF commander during his temporary absence.
These baffling and confused decisions appear to have been taken in anger or frustration and with the purpose of finding a scapegoat for the terrible shortcomings in the response to Dorian on Abaco.
We understand that the memorandum mandating the commodore’s leave was dated October 14, a public holiday, for leave to commence on the next working day, October 15.
Hence, the commodore had no opportunity to prepare and deliver handover notes to his temporary place holder; nor did it afford him the courtesy of time to inform his colleagues of his impending three-month absence. In a disciplined force, such action is not only highly unusual, it is detrimental to good order and to morale.
There has been no suggestion of a deficit in Commodore Bethel’s fitness, suitability, integrity or leadership.
He is a highly respected member of the RBDF and held in the highest regard by his peers around the region, including the U.S. Northern Command.
His record in the RBDF is one of exceptional performance and many successes.
We find that the government’s action on this matter reflects the disorganization for which it has become known. It shows disregard of all principles of good management or even the common decency expected in normal interpersonal relations and demanded for efficient and effective organization especially in military hierarchies.
We record our concern over the lack of professionalism displayed by the government. The treatment meted out to the commodore in this instance is deserved by no one, let alone the commodore of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.