By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has defended the government’s decision to send Royal Bahamas Defence Force Commodore Tellis Bethel on three months’ vacation leave, saying despite the move, all “throttles” have been pushed to ensure recovery continues on storm-torn islands.
“I don’t think that will compromise anything,” Dr Minnis said. He was asked to respond to criticism over newly appointed Deputy Commander Raymond King serving as acting RBDF commander while Commodore Bethel is on leave. Some observers say the move comes at too delicate a stage in the post Hurricane Dorian process.
On Sunday, Progressive Liberal Party Leader Philip “Brave” Davis questioned if work in Abaco and Grand Bahama would be compromised. He said the decision was proof the Minnis administration did not have a substantive plan for those islands.
“We have been very, very focused on security,” Dr Minnis said, when asked by The Tribune to respond to the critique. “We’ve been very focused on the rebuilding efforts of Abaco, the Abaco cays and Grand Bahama and we will remain focused on the rebuilding efforts.
“Like I said, it won’t happen overnight and the public and Bahamians at large must understand that, but we will continue to move with our reconstruction efforts. All throttles have been pushed ahead moving forward.”
Asked if this was the right time, Dr Minnis added: “I think the government has a policy that individuals who have long extended vacation, from we came in, we’ve enacted such a policy where we place individuals on leave.
“We are not in the business of paying individuals for three and four year vacation leave that they accumulated. We put you on leave so as to save the Bahamian taxpayers money.”
On Sunday, Mr Davis said he was trying to understand why the decision came at this time.
He said: “The issue of leadership has been bedevilling throughout this whole restoration and relief effort and they need to have some coherency as to what’s going to be happening. What is the plan and the relationship between the various agencies that will bring relief?
“So it does beg the question whether his departure would impact this very fundamental and important initiative that requires urgent leadership attention.”
He continued: “You would not expect at this time that you would be engaging in the stripping of leadership of persons who may have the competence and capability to bring the kind of assistance you need to bring normalcy back to communities and to lives of people affected by the hurricane.
“We would quite naturally ask how is this going to impact the exigencies of the Defence Force and will it suffer in any way by these actions of the commodore.”
Commodore Bethel will be on leave until January 15, 2020, according to RBDF memorandums seen by The Tribune.
It is not clear if he will return to lead the RBDF when his vacation leave ends.
After several senior police officers were directed to take leave earlier this year, sources told this newspaper that Commodore Bethel and Police Commissioner Anthony Ferguson would be slated for pre-retirement leave in the near future.
Eight senior police officers were directed to take pre-retirement leave several months ago. For some of them, their vacation time is insufficient to lead them into retirement. National Security Minister Marvin Dames has said those with remaining years to serve will be transferred out of the force when their leave ends.