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Gashirabake cleared of sexual harassment

By Carol Natukunda

Added 21st August 2019 03:04 PM

Mwesigye had claimed that Gashirabake victimised her at the workplace by denying her travel opportunities abroad and removing her from key contract committees in various government agencies.

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Mwesigye had claimed that Gashirabake victimised her at the workplace by denying her travel opportunities abroad and removing her from key contract committees in various government agencies.

The Deputy Solicitor General Christopher Gashirabake has been cleared of sexual harassment allegations.

Gash, as he is popularly known, was accused by Senior State Attorney, Samantha Mwesigye, of sexually harassing her for a period of 10 years that they have both worked at the justice and constitutional affairs ministry.

Mwesigye, among other issues, alleged that Gash had consistently sent her unsolicited love notes while assigning her or on Whatsapp, which she ignored. As a result of rejecting his advances,  she claimed that Gash had victimised her at the workplace, by denying her travel opportunities abroad and removing her from key contract committees in various government agencies.

However, a committee that was instituted to investigate the claims is not convinced that Mwesigye had no avenues to report the alleged harassment for a decade.

"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 stated in a July 31, 2019 report.

The committee found out that in 2007, Gash was a principal state attorney, and therefore not wielding that much power which Mwesigye alluded to.

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

The report further said that an internal probe in the ministry was carried out to find out if Mwesigye had been deliberately withdrawn from various contract committees as she alleged. It was discovered that she was a member of the Privatisation Unit, Cotton Development Organization, Uganda National Cultural Center and the Office of the Prime Minister.

 "The committee accordingly finds no victimisation was occasioned and found it strange for the complainant to use this allegation to insinuate sexual harassment," said the report.

"When a contracts committee has no work, one ceases to be a member," it added.

On Love messages, the committee said it was not availed the original copy of the sticker note with words "with love from Gash." Mwesigye had alleged that Gash typically signed off as such while assigning her.

"The committee finds no evidence to prove that the complainant was the intended recipient of the sticker note since it was not directly addressed to her. The committee was, however, unable to determine whether the sticker-note was written by the respondent."

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 reiterates that " the allegation of sexual harassment has not been proved against the respondent accordingly."

RECOMMENDATIONS 
Besides the existence of the standing committee on sexual harassment where such complaints can be channelled to, the report stressed that the justice ministry now has a designated person in charge of sexual harassment, one Harriet Lwabi, who is also the director first parliamentary counsel. 

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.

It also calls for the amendment of the law to provide adequate and resonance time within which to carry out meaningful investigations.

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.

"This would break the monotony and routine nature of work and it will ane bale crossbreed and multi-skilling of staff as a key input for career progress.

The report was signed by the administrator general and chairperson of the committee Charles Kasibayo, secretary Law Council Margaret Apiny,  principal assistant secretary Paul Muzaale, and human resource assistant commissioner Joan Natwenda.

Mwesigye's position
The committee, which started its work in April accuses the complainant  (Mwesigye) of failing to physically appear before the probe even after being summoned, numerous times.

It relied on an earlier complaint that Mwesigye had filed with the Solicitor General and pieces of evidence she had forwarded to the committee to reach the conclusion.

However, when contacted, yesterday, Mwesigye told New Vision that she only received one invitation dated June 13, 2019.

"The report's allegation of numerous invitations is false. However, my lawyers Chapter Four Uganda, wrote to the committee on June 17, 2019, to ask if they were aware of the of a letter we wrote to the Solicitor General dated May 29, 2019, raising concerns over the process of setting up the committee, to guarantee fairness. I had also earlier written asking if the committee intended to meet me. They did not respond," Mwesigye told New Vision.

GASHIRABAKE's STAND 
Appearing before the committee on July 3, Gash denied ever having sexually harassing or victimising Mwesigye.

He stated that he enjoyed a cordial working relationship with Mwesigye. That he never sent her 'love you' messages as alleged and that this word appears once in her entire submission, and wondered how it appeared in the middle of official communication.

 When pressed further, he said it is possible that a message can wrongly be sent to an unintended recipient and that he does not remember ever sending such words to Mwesigye.

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