By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
A SCREAMING match erupted in the House of Assembly yesterday between Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis and PLP leader Philip Davis as the nation’s leader defended his administration’s decision to send some senior officers on vacation leave.
Mr Davis had accused the administration of selectively applying the policy of vacation leave and implored political groups to end their overt interference into the day-to-day management of the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF).
The government recently directed eight senior police officers to take accrued vacation leave in the lead up to retirement.
The move has been met with some criticism, with at least one senior police officer saying the process was not handled well.
Mr Davis’ comments drew the ire of several parliamentarians from the governing side, all of whom interpreted his remarks as a jab at the government’s recent handling of the agency. Among those responding to Mr Davis was Dr Minnis, who from his seat hounded his counterpart to be honest and fair with his assessments and commentary.
Dr Minnis noted the government’s recent action only evolved into a political issue after Mr Davis suggested that most of the officers to receive directives were associated with the Progressive Liberal Party. These statements were published in newspaper articles.
Defending his claims yesterday, Mr Davis said he made those comments in the context of defending his party against assertions that it had, in the past, politicised the force with several promotional exercises, aspects of which were highlighted in a 2018 manpower audit carried out by the Minnis administration.
The assertion prompted Dr Minnis to take his feet, where he announced his decision to have the Ministry of Finance quantify the government’s expenditure on accrued vacation leave across the public service.
Dr Minnis said: “We did a manpower audit, the government. The government looked at different agencies where individuals had an accumulation of vacation leave, and decided individuals having these long one year, two year vacation leave (could not work).”
Dr Minnis continued: “I am trying now to find out from the Ministry of Finance how much millions of dollars we spend annually on vacation leave for individuals who refuse to take vacation leave.”
However, responding to the government’s intention, Mr Davis said he could present the prime minister with a list of other senior officers still on active duty holding more accrued vacation time than those sent on leave.
He suggested the government was selective in its decision making, naming and shaming senior officers who they suspected of having ties to the PLP.
“Do you want me to give you the list of others you could have let go and send home too?” Mr Davis shouted across the floor to Dr Minnis.
“You were selective,” he repeated emphatically.
This led Dr Minnis to say: “They gave me a list. If you ever (get the chance) - and you will never sit in this chair - then you can look up the list yourself.”
Mr Davis responded: “They said that about you too. Even those who were in your own party said that about you, alright…but you were selective. There are members on the force today, with equally as much vacation as (those) you kept on. You go to the other services and will find that too.”
Mr Davis continued: “Mr Speaker, I just want him to know, because very often he makes these comments without appreciating or understanding. You (referring to Dr Minnis) don’t even understand the history of what your own party did.”
To which Dr Minnis responded: “The member said I did not know or was unaware of what my own party did. In 2009 (the FNM) brought forth a communication to the police where we allowed them to take a one year package in addition to their vacation leave pay and then go into retirement.”
Dr Minnis added: “I refuse to pay individuals for vacation, allow them to take their vacation and then go into retirement. I am not spending the government’s money (like that).”
The back and forth went on for nearly five minutes before House Speaker Halson Moultrie was forced to stand to his feet to regain order of the debate.
Once things settled down, Dr Minnis read aloud several lines from a second newspaper article which reported on the finding of the 2018 police force manpower audit, referring to the audit’s observations as key motivating factor in the government’s recent decision.
He insisted the audit be viewed as “fact,” insisting that it substantiates the government’s determination that more needed to be done to restructure the police force.
“(The audit) outlines critical challenges in the organisation from the resource management practices, flawed and bias promotion excises, and the senior command of the senior command being too top heavy. The latter of which the audit recommends becoming more lean because there appears to be a lack of conceptual, transformative leadership,” Dr Minnis said, reading from the article.
“Facts, not fiction,” he shouted at Mr Davis.
In response, Mr Davis said: “Since he drew me into this as a lawyer, and he talks about facts and opinions. Let me tell him the distinction just from what he read. What he read was the opinion of someone who was (asked to compile a report). The facts were, you have for example 500 constables, and the opinion was, that is too much.”
He added: “You raised the issue of what is fact and opinion. I am trying to let you understand what is fact. The facts there were, you had 200 constables maybe, and the opinion of the report was that, that is too much.”
In a final response, Dr Minnis asserted: “Since he argued law, I’ll argue medicine. If the facts show that the department can run with five obstetrician-gynaecologist (OBGYN) and I hire 20, the facts are that I have more than I need. That’s facts, that is not an opinion.”
Recently, two deputy commissioners at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services accused the government of exploiting vacation leave policies to unfairly sideline senior law enforcement officers.
Those two officers, Doan Cleare and Bernardette Thompson-Murray, have alleged in affidavits that National Security Minister Marvin Dames forced them to take vacation leave to facilitate last month’s appointment of Charles Murphy, their junior, as commissioner of corrections.
They want the Supreme Court to quash Mr Murphy’s appointment and declare it invalid.
Their attorney Wayne Munroe, QC, has gone on record to state that he believes similar dynamics are at play in the RBPF.
The Tribune understands that five of eight senior police officers instructed to take their leave do not have enough vacation time to last into retirement.
The Tribune also understands that some of them have fewer accumulated vacation leave and are further from their scheduled retirement than the three senior police officers allowed to remain on duty.
Yesterday’s row broke out during debate on a proposed amendment to the Royal Bahamas Police Staff Association Act. The amendment will allow officers elected to serve in the staff association to hold a post for a period up to two years, rather than one as is presently permitted.