By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
HUNDREDS of retired police officers are taking legal action against the government and the head of the Royal Bahamas Police Force concerning more than $100m in gratuities owed to them.
Speaking to The Tribune at the Supreme Court yesterday evening, lawyer Dr Glendon Rolle said his clients, for up to 40 years, have been denied the benefits that were guaranteed to them by law after they served no less than 10 years as officers of the RBPF.
“We have calculated thus far in excess of over $100m the Commissioner of Police is owing to these retired officers in lieu of their gratuities, including those who are deceased. We’re calling forth all officers who were Sergeant and below who had not received their gratuity, they’re still entitled to their gratuity according to the law,” Dr Rolle said.
“We’re looking at least 40 plus years in outstanding gratuity and there are some persons who have been actually paid gratuity and so therefore on those premises, if some have been paid gratuity and some haven’t then we want to know where the scale lies.”
According to chapter 191, section 66 of the Police Act (1969), the law states that any police officer having completed not less than ten years of continuous service, retires from the force at an age other than that at which or in circumstances other than those in which he may be granted a pension in respect of such service, the Governor General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Police Service Commission, may grant to such officer in respect of each year of such service, a gratuity amounting to 2.5 per cent of his salary at the date of his retirement.
Section 15(1) of the current Public Service Act notes that every contract officer who is employed for a continuous period of not less than two years in any public office shall upon satisfactory completion of his contract service, be entitled to receive and he shall be paid out of the Consolidated Fund, a gratuity equal in amount to 15 per cent of the total salary which he shall receive in respect of such contract.
The Amended Police Act 2009 defines a contract officer as a police officer equivalent or below the rank of sergeant. That act further went on to say in section 90, which reiterates the previous act with the exception that officer would receive four per cent of his salary at the date of his retirement.
On December 23, 2013, Dr Rolle received a response to a letter sent by his firm, Lord Ellor & Co, concerning his letter to the Public Service Commission addressing the issue of “gratuity entitlements for subordinate officers”.
It directs the attorney to address his concerns to the Commissioner of Police and the Minister of National Security who has responsibility for the RBPF, and further noted that the matter would be reviewed by those agencies who would then make a recommendation to the Department of Public Service.
“We have given the Commissioner of Police an opportunity to respond to this amicably,” Dr Rolle said.
“That letter was dated the 23rd December, 2013. Today we’re standing in February 24, 2014, and we still have not received any response from them. The officers are entitled to their gratuity and basically on the Police Act, section 66 of 1965, to which there has been a blatant denial of their constitutional right.”
“That’s what we’re standing on. We’re not standing on some hearsay, law but we’re standing on the statute based on the constitution of these veteran officers who have laboured in sweat for the safety of the citizens here in the Bahamas.”
Shannon Bannister, a retired policeman and current police reservist, shared his experience of being denied his gratuity. He said: “In reference to the matter at hand, when I retired, I went to the treasury and asked them about my gratuity. The lady at the treasury told me I’m entitled to gratuity, but it has to be initiated from the police force. On returning to the police force and I engaged the then staff officer who was Supt Burrows and told him of what was said to me. He said to come back another day and when I went back, he said that he spoke to the Commissioner, who at the time was Mr Paul Farquharson, ‘no one before me got the gratuity so I wouldn’t be able to get it’.”
Bannister, an officer of 25 years who retired in 2001, said further investigation led him to discover that others had received their gratuity. He believes that he and others should get theirs too.
“The constitution says once you do no less than ten years, you are entitled to a gratuity. And once it becomes payable to you, it becomes entitled to you. So once something becomes entitled, there are only two ways it can be taken away; if you’re fired from the job and two, if you’re on a charge in front of the court and you decide to quit prior to the final decision. Other than that, there’s no way to lose the gratuity,” he said.
In 2005, an officer who did not want to be named, received a letter signed and stamped by the Department of Public Service. The letter indicated the then governor general’s approval of him being awarded a pension in accordance with the Police Pensions Act.
However, the letter does raise the issue of gratuity but instead notes that month pensions would be paid directly to the retired officer’s bank account.
Dr Rolle asserts that the Police Pensions Act that has been previously referred to does not exist.
“We need to know where it’s hidden because there is no such thing and so, therefore, all of the persons who have retired in the past have received a letter referring to a police pensions act which does not exist. Those fraudulent pretences that they’re relying on that doesn’t exist in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and we say pay the gratuities.”
“We’re standing here today in the halls of justice for retired officers for those who have been giving their lives for this country for many, many years who have been entitled to both pension and gratuity. The laws of the Bahamas that provided for gratuity, once you reach the age of pension and years of service within pension, you are entitled to pension and gratuity.”
“For many years, the Commissioner of Police and, of course, the Public Service Commission, have not afforded or allowed these persons, all retired persons, to receive their gratuity, anyone of the rank of Sergeant and below. What has always been the practice, of course, has been that only officers who are Inspector and above have been receiving gratuity.
“The laws of the Bahamas that provided for gratuity, once you reach the age of pension and years of service within pension, you are entitled to pension and gratuity.”
More than 300 police officers have submitted their applications. Dr Rolle and his team intend to visit the family islands this week for retired officers wanting to apply, but unable to afford the travel expenses.
The Tribune was unable to reach Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade or National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage for comment up to press time.