Clarence Russell – Director of Immigration

By Dr Kevin Alcena October 22 2020

The dictionaries have many definitions of the term “to bastardize.” I will quote one such definition which is particularly relevant to the present narrative. To bastardize an entity is “to change something in such a way as to lower its quality or value, typically by adding new elements.” The synonyms to bastardize include words like corrupt, contaminate, weaken, pollute, degrade, and depreciate.

The purpose of this exposition is to display the systematic intention of the Free National Movement (FNM) to bastardize the Department of Immigration by continuously inserting foreign elements into the department with the conscious knowledge that by so doing the undoubted outcome would be the lowering of the quality or value of the organization.

The FNM assumed the government of The Bahamas on August 19, 1992 and shortly thereafter embarked on the quest to weaken and contaminate the Immigration Department. When the FNM came to power the Director of Immigration (D.O.I) was Mrs. Barbara Pierre who, despite the fact that she is a female, is fondly remembered as “having more balls than all of the men who succeeded her.” Her no nonsense style of management and her genuine regard for the staff endeared her to her subordinates just as much as it caused them to respect her. However, this story is not about her and her legendary exploits should be documented elsewhere.

Shortly after the FNM won the government, Mrs. Pierre was replaced by the first foreign element, hand-picked by the government to initiate its dastardly plan. Mrs. Pierre was sent into retirement and one Charles Turnquest, previously serving at the Department of Labour, was inserted as Acting Director of Immigration. The appointment of Turnquest was an exercise in folly because he was due to retire within the next few months himself. What contribution could he make within the time period that was available to him?

Turnquest was followed by the appointment of Dr. Doswell Coakley as Director. To Dr. Coakley’s credit, he had spent many years as an Assistant Director or Deputy Director under Barbara Pierre, so he was not technically a foreign element in the FNM sense. Coakley had worked at the Passport Office and other government agencies before his Immigration appointment and he had served in Immigration for a significant period.

After Dr. Coakley moved on to presumably greener pastures, Allan Strachan was appointed to act as Director. Strachan was a career Immigration Officer having moved up through the ranks from Trainee. His tenure was short-lived however, because of the before mentioned plan to bastardize the department by constantly injecting foreign elements into the department.

The next candidate up on the bastardization “hit parade” was one Melvin Seymour who was appointed under the Ingraham administration. Mr. Seymour’s tenure was cut relatively short when it became apparent to the Prime Minister that the majority of the staff, both senior and junior, were strongly opposed to Seymour continuing in that position. Seymour made an unceremonious exit having cleared out his office over the weekend. He was out before a lot of the staff even knew that he was leaving.

Vernon Burrows who was serving as either Deputy or Assistant Director to Seymour, assumed the position of Director of Immigration. Like Allan Strachan, Burrows was a career Immigration Office who had worked his way up the ranks. It was rumored that Burrows was politically connected on both sides of the divide through familial relations and as such, his tenure was widely expected to survive the regular administration changes that had become commonplace in The Bahamas. As expected, Burrows survived the FNM’s loss to the PLP in 2002 and perhaps due to his connections, Christie allowed him to continue as Director during the PLP term of 2002 – 2007. Whether he was asked to or he decided to retire, Burrows demitted office shortly after the FNM regained the government in 2007 and true to form, Ingraham made his most aggressive move yet in his plan to destabilize and bastardize the Immigration Department.

After the departure of Vernon Burrows, Prime Minister Ingraham decided to do a purge of most of the senior staff in the department. These included Superintendents, Assistant Directors and Deputy Director. When the dust had settled, what was left was a few Superintendents and three newly promoted Assistant Directors. Into this leadership vacuum, the PM decided to insert an external Director and two external Deputy Directors.

The three new appointees were immediately nicknamed “The Three Blind Mice” because of their combined lack of knowledge of the immigration laws, regulations and procedures. These unworthy appointments were Jack Thompson as Director, Roderick Bowe as Senior Deputy, and Donald Clarke as Deputy. Thompson was a “Journeyman” having traversed the Civil Service holding myriad positions. Bowe and Clarke were Defence Force Officers who reportedly had either been placed on administrative leave or had already applied for retirement.

The Three Blind Mice did whatever they could to make themselves relevant in the department until Bowe was recalled to assume command of the RBDF and Clarke finally faded into his delayed retirement. Just as PM Ingraham had put the Mice together in the first place, he saw fit to break up the “band” and the trio became a solo act with Thompson continuing on as Director until the FNM was defeated by the PLP in the 2012 elections.

Thompson had “survived” several administration changes and he always seemed to land on his feet like a cat. This time was no different and shortly after Perry Christie became PM again, Thompson was reassigned to continue his epic journey through the Public Service.

In order to fill the vacancy created by Jack Thompson’s departure, Christie recalled William Pratt who was sent into exile by Hubert Ingraham during the great Immigration Purge of 2008. Having been a victim of the political whim of a Prime Minister, Pratt was aware and constantly conscious of the proverbial “Sword of Damocles” hanging over the Director’s chair and that might explain why his tenure was safe and uneventful. To his credit though, Pratt was also honest about his various shortcomings in certain areas and he graciously availed himself of the vast storehouse of knowledge that was available among his subordinates.

The Bahamian political landscape shifted again in 2017 and the FNM regained power in a landslide victory. Even though Pratt had escaped the dreaded sword being wielded against him during the tenure of the PLP, it was a foregone conclusion that his days as Director were numbered and being the astute individual that he is, he had resigned himself to his fate.

Besides the removal of William Pratt as Director of Immigration, there were two other occurrences that were prior to, but still a critical parts of the same movement, and when played together, the three incidents created a “perfect storm” that resulted in the final nail being driven into the Immigration coffin. The first occurrence was the reappointment of Brent Symonette to be the minister with responsibility for Immigration.

This was Symonette’s second stint as Immigration Minister and his previous exploits were well known in the department and beyond. Anybody familiar with Symonette would agree that he conducts himself as if he is the “sharpest knife in the drawer” and this mistaken belief results in him being boorish, condescending and thoroughly obnoxious at times.
Symonette wasted no time and he attacked the day to day functions of the department like a wrecking ball or perhaps more aptly put, like a bull in a china shop.

Staff members nicknamed him “The Pale Horse” which is a reference to the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse in the Book of Revelations. Whatever he touched was seemingly destroyed and he had an insatiable appetite for interfering in the functions of the department.

The second occurrence was the appointment of Clarence Russell as Director to replace Pratt. In true FNM tradition, PM Minnis decided to bypass all the senior staff with excess of thirty-five years’ experience and who had all climbed up the ranks from Trainee to their senior positions. He thought it prudent to place a neophyte without a clue or appreciation of the department in the most senior position without any thought as to how this move would affect the morale of the staff. News Flash Mr. PM: when it comes to leadership, one size does not fit all (no pun intended.) During his much-touted tour of government agencies after he became PM, Mr. Minnis declined to visit the Immigration Department.

That decision might be simply because he was too ashamed to look the staff members in the eye because he knew full well what he intended to do to their department.

So, there we had it in 2018. A busybody, overbearing minister whose actions made him a de facto Director, and a clueless appointed Director without the necessary knowledge to challenge the minister regarding his excesses. That toxic relationship continued until Symonette resigned from the Cabinet in 2019 but the consequences of his actions are still being felt in the department.

If one is above a certain age, it should be easy to recall the days when The Department of Immigration was the envy of the entire Public Service. Their civic and social exploits were legendary, and the family spirit was evident for all to see. Now, the once proud organization is a shadow of its former self, without any joie de vivre or esprit de corps. The last general promotional exercise happened seven years ago. The officers are demoralized, unmotivated and simply tired of getting the crappy end of the stick from the successive FNM governments.

Some might argue that the organization is doing just fine as it is, because someone is always making statements to the press and extolling the virtues of something or another that had been accomplished. The truth is that many of the initiatives and programs announced have never materialized. Yes, that is right. It was all A Big Show! It might be further argued that the department is still moving. Remember, that even when the head of a chicken is chopped off, the body continues to jump around and flutter until the lifeblood is drained out.

The sad truth is the department has joined the ranks of the Walking Dead. The lifeblood has been sucked out leaving a hollow shell. The department has become a zombie without a heart and without a soul. The foreign hearts that were transplanted into the body were all rejected, and no amount of anti-rejection drugs were able to salvage the botched operations. The lights may be on but there is nobody home. Leadership does not operate in a vacuum and in order to become a leader there must be others who are committed to follow you. By the same token, rational persons only willingly follow a leader who demonstrates that he or she knows where they are going.

To borrow a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Life…. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury; signifying nothing.” Perhaps this sums up the present circumstances of the late, great Department of Immigration, now reduced to a “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal”, still full of sound and fury, pomp and pageantry, but no redeeming qualities like inspiration, unity, enthusiasm, devotion and strong regard for the honor of the organization and the common good.

Remember, the band on the ill-fated Titanic continued playing even as the doomed ship was sinking. The officers and directors who have gone on to their rewards must be spinning in their graves to see the sad situation of their beloved department.

So, at the end of this narrative it begs the question of the two Huberts, aka The Beginner and The Finisher. Are you proud of your accomplishment of taking a Department that was rich in traditions, with a spirit of family and social involvement and turning it into a caricature of itself, thereby destroying the morale of the staff and making that department suffer under a tangible spirit of oppression and depression, all in the name of political expediency and vindictiveness?

That question is rhetorical and does not require you to respond. God and History will surely judge you for what you have done, and maybe, God will have mercy on both of you.