KAMPALA – A committee instituted by Solicitor General Francis Atoke has cleared Deputy Solicitor General Christopher Gashirabake of allegations that he was sexually harassing Senior State Attorney Samantha Mwesigye.
On 6th February 2019, Mr Atoke constituted a Sexual Harassment Committee to investigate Mr Gashirabake after Ms Mwesigye wrote to Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda to act against the Deputy Solicitor General, claiming that her bosses had not helped her act on her boss, whom she claimed had sexually harassed her for nearly 10 years.
But in a report dated July 31, the committee said there was no way Ms Mwesigye could suffer sexual abuse for 10 years and lack the right channels in the ministry to report it. The committee indicated that besides, in the last 10 years, the office of the Solicitor General has been held by five different solicitor generals, two of whom were female, and wondered how Ms Mwesigye could be harassed by Mr Gashirabake, who was by then not wielding a lot of powers.
“It is the observation of the committee that the complainant had all avenues to report sexual harassment but chose not to do so. For example from the year 2007, the office of the Solicitor General has been held by five different solicitor generals, two of whom were female. They were senior to and supervised the respondent. This was in addition to other ladies who held positions as directors and were senior or at the same level of seniority with the respondent, ” the committee report signed by the chairperson, Mr Charles Kasibayo, reads in part.
Other members are secretary Law Council Margaret Apiny, principal assistant secretary Paul Muzaale, and human resource assistant commissioner Joan Natwenda.
The report, which accuses Ms Mwesigye of failing to physically appear before the probe even after being summoned numerous times, added that after an internal investigation in the ministry, they discovered that if Ms Mwesigye had not been deliberately withdrawn from various contract committees by Mr Gashirabake as she alleged. The committee discovered that she was serving on the committees of the Privatisation Unit, Cotton Development Organization, Uganda National Cultural Center and the Office of the Prime Minister.
The committee also found no evidence that the complainant was denied travel opportunities abroad as a form of victimisation to seek sexual favours.
“Upon careful perusal (of Mwesigye’s complaint), the committee noted that the statement was more of a demand for additional travels than a complaint of sexual harassment,” the report stated.
“There was no evidence of implied or express promise of preferential treatment or a threat of detrimental treatment. There was no evidence that the bulk of nominations signed by the respondent were done in order to procure or after receiving sexual favours,” it added.
On the alleged love WhatsApp messages, the report said it was “common knowledge that since Whatsapp messages are encrypted, they could not be verified by mobile networks.”
“The committee had resolved that during the hearing of both parties, the complainant would be requested to prove whether the WhatsApp messages were printed from her cellphone or otherwise. The respondent would also be required to provide his cell phone for purposes of comparison. ..However, the complainant declined to appear before the committee and when the respondent appeared, he denied sending “love you ” message.”
It calls for provision of several avenues for reporting sexual harassment to the committee which includes whistleblowing.
“This will give employees several options to report their complaints…The ministry should develop anti-harassment policies and procedures and communicate them to members of staff; as well as develop effective mechanisms for reporting, investigating sexual harassment; and resolving related complaints.”
The report also recommended that the ministry should spread all travel opportunities abroad and assignments contracts committees of various directorates and regional offices of the ministry.
“This will de-concentrate the activity from the directorate of legal advisory services which seem to breed monopoly and infighting. It will also equally benefit all State Attorney’s in the ministry and guarantee efficiency,” it reads.
The report adds that a rotational programme should be developed for deployment of legal staff periodically to different directorates and departments, including transfers to the six regional offices.