The corruption trial of Herbert Kabafunzaki, the interdicted state minister for Labour, rolled off on Monday at the Anti-Corruption court before Justice Margret Tibulya.
He is charged along with his aide Brian Mugabo and Bruce Lubowa for purportedly soliciting and obtaining money from Mohammed Hamid, the AYA Group chief executive officer, in exchange to clear his name of sexual assault allegations.
Prosecution's first witness Patrick Okello, a commissioner at the labour ministry, told court how Kabafunzaki hijacked the investigations into the sexual harassment allegations. DERRICK KIYONGA followed the proceedings.
Senior State Attorney Barbara Kawuma led the prosecution side and assisted by State Attorney Maxima Elizooba. The defence had MacDosman Kabega, Kenneth Muhangi and Jude Byabakama.
Judge: Do you have any witnesses today?
Kawuma: We have two witnesses and we are ready to proceed. [A man in a suit enters into the witness box]
Judge: Tell court your full names.
Okello: I'm Patrick Okello.
Judge: How old are you?
Okello: I'm 46 years.
Judge: Your religion.
Okello: I'm Christian [He swears in using the Bible]
Kawuma: What do you do for a living?
Okello: I'm a commissioner at the ministry of Labour, Employment and Industrial Relations.
Kawuma: For how long have you been in that position?
Okello: Since January 5, 2015.
Kawuma: What are your qualifications?
Okello: I have Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Public Administration from Makerere University and also a Master's in Human Resource Management from Uganda Management Institute (UMI).
Kawuma: What does your job entail?
Okello: I handle grievances, I receive and investigate labour conflicts, I supervise labour officers at the ministry and also offer technical advice to the permanent secretary.
Kawuma: How are complaints filed at the ministry?
Okello: A complaint can be filed with the permanent secretary [PS] or directly with my office as the commissioner for labour. Some disputes are filed with the minister and also to the director, labour.
Kawuma: So, how are the cases referred to you?
Okello: The minister refers to the PS and then the PS gives us a go-ahead to proceed with the case. When cases have reached my office, we enter them into the case register. The moment they are entered into the register, I handle some while others I assign them to labor officers that I supervise.
Kawuma: What do you do with the cases?
Okello: We have a number of cases; if it's a labour dispute, we explore a number of options. We invite parties for mediation; the other option is that we might opt to adjudicate. The third option is we can send the matter to the Industrial court.
Kawuma: How do you handle sexual harassment cases?
Okello: When we get sexual harassment cases, we enter them in the register, then institute an investigation into the matter while at the same time we tell the employer not to victimize the complainant.
Our investigation includes physically visiting the workplace, directing the employer to furnish us with vital information such as the code of conduct and the human resource manual. We require the complainant to assemble adequate evidence. If we get information, then we proceed to hear the case and then make a ruling. If we fail, then we refer the case to the Industrial court.
Kawuma: Do you remember what happened on April, 6, 2017?
Okello: I was in office while holding a mediation session between Cavendish University and its workers who were being unfairly terminated. I was then summoned by the minister of state for Labour, Herbert Kabafunzaki. I was summoned through his office attendant.
Kawuma: What was the purpose?
Okello: I went to his office on the sixth floor. My lord, his office was unusually full with many people. Many people were inside filling the whole space, including that occupied by his secretary.
Even that of his personal assistant was filled by people who included journalists who had mounted cameras. When I entered, the minister [Kabafunzaki] ordered one of the ladies to give me a seat. One of the ladies who was seated was called Jamilah Opondo. Thereafter, the minister proceeded to address the press.
Kawuma: What was he saying?
Okello: He was talking about sexual harassment, saying that government doesn't condone the vice in any way. The minister then invited me to explain to the public what sexual harassment is all about and highlight our position as the ministry on sexual harassment.
Kawuma: What happened after?
Okello: Thereafter, he [Kabafunzaki] told me he had received complaint of sexual harassment from one Jamilah Opondo against Hamid, whom he kept on referring to as Aya.
He told me that I should immediately prepare and join him to investigate the case of sexual harassment filed by Opondo. My advice to him was it was improper as the minister to do so. I guided him that it was wrong for him to investigate the case. I advised him that it was prudent to appoint a technical officer from the department of labour to carry out the investigations. The officer would produce a report which he would share with him.
Kawuma: So, what happened? How did the minister react?
Okello: This did not go down well with the minister. To him this amounted to insubordination. Therefore, in fear of repercussions, I proceeded as he had told me. So, my lord, we went to Aya hotel, now it's called Peal of Africa [hotel] because that is what I was told when arrived there. The hotel was next to the All Saints cathedral in Nakasero. My car was the first to arrive at the hotel.
Kawuma: What happened?
Okello: I was received by the security manager of the hotel whom I told to let me in but I also informed him that the minister was coming shortly. Soon, the minister arrived in his official car and a pick-up with some other vehicles from the ministry of Gender, plus many journalists. We then entered the hotel and the security manager told us that Hamid was having Jummah prayers.
Kawuma: Tell us more...
Okello: They ushered us into some room together with journalists. But the minister was with two gentlemen (Mugabo and Lubowa). I can see them in court [He identifies them]. I had first met these two individuals in 2016 when I received a telephone call from Ntinda police.
They were reporting a case of two gentlemen impersonating as ministry of Labour officials. The two [Mugabo and Lubowa] gentlemen, I was told, were arrested after they had extorted money from the business community while claiming to be labour officers. When I went to the police in Ntinda, I had a look at the two gentlemen and I confirmed to the police that they were not labour officers.
Kawuma: Did you establish where they were working?
Okello: One [Mugabo] had a business card purporting to be a personal assistant to the minister [Kabafunzaki]. I cautioned him to stop extorting money from the unsuspecting public.
Kawuma: So, back to the hotel; what happened?
Okello: The minister [Kabafunzaki] said he wanted to meet the staff. He moved around the hotel and found some people who were working. He told them that in the meeting he was going to hold, he doesn't want supervisors, managers or any other senior person; he wanted only junior workers.
Thereafter, I saw some people who were accompanying the minister chase away supervisors and other managers from the room where the meeting was going to be held. In the process, the minister also joined in chasing away some senior people.
While the minister was addressing the laborers, Hamid came while drinking water. To calm down the minister, Hamid called him to the boardroom in one of the hotel rooms. The meeting which was chaired by the minister was attended by journalists and me.
Kawuma: What did the minister say?
Okello: He [Kabafunzaki] spoke loudly; he told Hamid that that he shouldn't mistreat Ugandans; after all he was running business without paying taxes. The minister then told Hamid that he needs him to furnish us with the NSSF payment schedules, copies of workers' employment contracts and documents showing insurance cover for workers.
Kawuma: What else transpired?
Okello: Hamid told the minister he doesn't understand what he was talking about. The minister told him he was investigating Jamilah Opondo's sexual harassment case.
Thereafter, the minister started addressing the press and gave instructions that the hotel should immediately furnish labour officials with the documents he had requested for. Before we could leave, Hamid told the minister that he was being framed by Opondo because she had attempted to steal $100,000 from a clearing agency. Hamid said he had evidence to prove his case.
Kawuma: Tell us what happened after that.
Okello: While I was leaving the hotel, the two gentlemen [Mugabo and Lubowa] who were with the minister entered my car. Actually, they forced their way into my car, saying they wanted a lift to the ministry. We left Aya hotel at around 3pm.
Kawuma: What happened after?
Okello: At around 4pm of the same day, I received a phone call from Hamid, the owner of the hotel, telling me that the persons the minister had travelled with had gone back to him demanding for a bribe so that the case of sexual harassment by Opondo can be killed. He [Hamid] told me he was surprised that Kabafunzaki could send somebody to seek a bribe from him. I attempted to reach the minister but his phone was off.
Kawuma: So, what happened on April 7, 2017?
Okello: On April 7, 2017, at around 11am, I was in office of director, labour on the sixth floor. I saw Hamid and his financial controller, Abdul Hamid -Maulana, entering the office of the minister.
Kawuma: Do you know what transpired?
Okello: I don't know what happened. I saw them passing. Then the following day I heard the minister had been arrested.
Kawuma: Did you make a statement?
Okello: The police, thereafter, summoned me to make a statement based on what I had seen.
The trial resumes on August 28.