By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
A former commander of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force last night dismissed Commodore Tellis Bethel’s enforced leave from the organisation as “utter nonsense”.
Former Commodore Clifford “Butch” Scavella’s criticism came as Bethel’s replacement for his enforced leave - Commander Dr Raymond King - insisted Bethel’s departure would not affect hurricane relief efforts nor other RBDF duties. Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has said Dr King’s appointment as acting commander came due to Commodore Tellis Bethel’s accumulation of a large sum for his vacation. The Minnis administration’s policy is not to pay individuals for extended periods of vacation time in such instances.
In this case, while Commodore Bethel is on three months vacation leave, Dr King has been appointed acting commander. The announcement came earlier this month.
However, the situation has been faced with criticism, with some contending it has come at too delicate a time when Abaco and Grand Bahama remain devastated following Hurricane Dorian’s passage.
Nonetheless, Dr King said he has been able to continue from where Commodore Bethel left off, managing the country’s borders “delicately” and ensuring storm relief efforts have gone on unaffected.
This is happening as one-fifth of RBDF officers have been deployed to Grand Bahama and Abaco.
“The institutional knowledge remains in the organisation and is not centred in a particular individual. That’s the beauty of military and law enforcement agencies,” Dr King told The Tribune. “We are structured such that there is always succession planning and always cross training whereby persons are called upon to step forward in leadership positions and it happens seamlessly.
“However, I wish not to take away from the comments made by the most honourable prime minister as well as the minister of national security who have already spoken on that matter, but to say that the Ministry of National Security – they are responsible for the administration of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.
“I, as the acting commander of the defence force, am concerned and given charge with the operational use of the men and women of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and that has been my focus – the security of our borders against transnational threats and the humanitarian disaster relief and response efforts in the northern Bahamas.”
Regarding border security, the force has been able to ensure there is a continuous presence.
“We’ve been quite cognizant of the need to spread our manpower to ensure that the humanitarian response, the disaster recovery efforts, security and safety requirements in the northern Bahamas – that we balance the needs to protect our southern borders against those transnational threats, weapons, drug smuggling, migrants as well as poaching and the the other threats.
“There hasn’t (been compromise of borders) and it has to do with careful planning and strategic planning in terms of the vessels’ movement, which platforms we use to ensure that there are over lapping patrols and we have a constant presence, both north and south.”
Overall, it all came down to the dedication and hard work of members of the force who go beyond the call of duty.
For his part, Mr Scavella said the government owes Bahamians an explanation.
He said: “What is happening is not within the RBDF’s remit. This is the government doing whatever it is doing. I thought it was ridiculous for the government to talk about the reason why they are sending the man on leave at this time is because they are trying to save money. That is utter nonsense and really and truly they could have come up with a better excuse than that.
“I used to tell people that when you are in the chair of authority you could do whatever you want to do, but when that person reports you to their superior, then you have to answer and you have to come up with solutions and explanations to satisfy the persons concerned.
“So in the government’s case their bosses are the Bahamian people and they must now satisfy people that they are making the most prudent decision for the interest of the nation and that the Bahamian people are satisfied at the end of the day.”
He continued: “When I was the commander of the defence force, I would have been reported to the security council on occasion and I said to my subordinates, ‘while I am the end all here and I am responsible for the day-to-day operation of the defence force the law gives me that authority, not the minister, not the prime minister.’ It is my responsibility to carry out the day-to-day duties.
“While government can set its policy of which I am mandated to carry out at the end of the day, if I make a decision and if my subordinates are not happy and they complain, then they have a right to complain to the minister and prime minister and then ask for an explanation.
“I must be able to give them sensible explanations of which the persons are satisfied and so too the government must answer the question and the Bahamian people must be satisfied,” Mr Scavella told The Tribune.