By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
CAPTAIN Samuel Evans, the recently retired deputy commander of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, says he will never forgive the Minnis administration for the way it treated him before he was led to retire last month.
“After 40 years of unbroken service, never being seconded, never being transferred, I try to find a decent way of saying how disappointed I am in the way I was handled,” he told The Tribune on Friday. “I’ll never forget what my wife said to me in the yard when I came home, she said ‘boy they treat you like you tief something,’ so I can’t really forgive them for that. It caused me not to want to have anything to do with the Royal Bahamas Defence Force. It left a sour taste in my mouth that I will probably carry to the grave.”
Captain Evans accuses the administration of disingenuously applying its vacation leave policy to him earlier this year. He said the policy is less about fiscal prudence than about sidelining some officers so the government could form its preferred leadership teams.
He joined the force as a marine in 1979. According to three sources familiar with the matter, he was the top choice of the Christie administration to succeed Roderick Bowe, who retired in 2015, as commodore of the Defence Force; however, the administration reluctantly chose Commodore Tellis Bethel instead because he had enormous backing from the US government.
His retirement was announced in a memorandum last month. It was revealed at the time that Commodore Bethel would go on leave until January 15, 2020, and that the newly-appointed deputy commander of the RBDF, Raymond King, will act as commodore in the meantime. Critics questioned why the top defence force officer in the country was sent on leave as officers face special pressure to secure the storm-ravaged Abaco in addition to their usual duties. In response, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis noted the government’s vacation leave policy, saying people should not be paid substantial sums when they retire because they accumulated many weeks of vacation.
Captain Evans said National Security Minister Marvin Dames directed him to take leave on March 23. As the months passed, he said he realised only he and one other officer were sent on leave. Echoing senior police officers who were also sent on leave earlier this year, he said the government’s application of the policy displayed no discernible logic.
“If they use age, I wasn’t the oldest person, if they use tenure in the job, I wasn’t the longest serving person there, if they use vacation, I had 362 days of vacation and there were officers who had more than that and they didn’t send them home, so whatever yardstick they use, they couldn’t find themselves to me fairly,” he said. “I came to the conclusion that this was an act to get rid of me. I further confirmed that when Hurricane Dorian struck and, contrary to years of policy, no one summoned me to return to work. If this was a normal vacation I should’ve been summoned to work as all officers are after a natural disaster. In speaking to a senior police officer in a similar position a few weeks ago, he told me he doesn’t even pass East Street (where the police headquarters is located), that’s how disgusted he is, he goes south of East Street or north of East Street.”
Captain Evans said the government’s appointment of Raymond King as deputy commander happened although “there is no provision in law to have two substantive deputy commanders at the same time”. He said he eventually met Attorney General Carl Bethel who proposed that he resign as deputy commander, maintain the rank of captain and return to the force until he reaches retirement age. He declined that proposal and requested he be paid the balance of his vacation before retiring. As deputy commander, he was also on a contract that would expire next May; officials agreed to pay him out of that contract.
He said he never signed a vacation leave form and was told by a lawyer that the government can’t force him to take vacation that it allowed him to accumulate.
“If I had the desire, the stomach, or the appetite to fight the government I would’ve challenged them and demanded that it pay me for all of my vacation,” he said, “but personally, when I reflect on the action and the way I was treated, I came to the conclusion that the minister did not want me to be a part of the organisation so I wasn’t prepared or had the desire to return back to the organisation in any condition.”
Captain Evans said the government should have just told him from the beginning that the RBDF would be heading in a different direction, one that would not involve him.
“Just be straight up with me, that would’ve been more acceptable and I could’ve understood and respected that because all senior positions are political appointments and we understand that when a new administration comes in that they might want to go in a different direction, but what was said to me and the way I was treated were disingenuous, they were dishonest with me and I would challenge anyone to say differently,” he said. “It defied logic, it’s almost as ludicrous as the prime minister’s comment the other day about why Tellis was sent on vacation.”
For his part, Mr Dames emphasised the need for proper succession planning during the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services’ annual church service yesterday.
“I don’t want them to go into these positions to make their beds up,” he said. “I’m often weary of people who want to make their beds up because they don’t ever want to leave. Leadership is about preparing those under you to take over from you and we need to get to that place. We’re all just passing through and our job is to educate, to train and to develop those officers under us so that one day they themselves wold be able to assume leadership positions. The time is gone when the position becomes the officer, it should never be that case, it should be more about the officer assumes the position to develop those under him or her so that one day they will leave the agency better than they would’ve met it.”