The first such case in Bhutan of action being taken against a senior figure for such complaints
In what is the first case of its type in Bhutan of a major management or senior figure losing a job over sexual harassment complaints, the State Trading Corporation of Bhutan Limited (STCBL) board compulsorily retired the CEO Kuenga Namgay over sexual harassment complaints made by three women employees of the company.
Initially, the first complainant approached the Human Resource section of the company and lodged an official complaint. The victim in question submitted electronic sms messages sent by the CEO to her as evidence.
The sms messages sent by the CEO were of an intimate nature where the CEO was expressing certain personal feelings for the girl. The messages were not related to office work and were also persistent from someone in a position of power over her, which was enough to make the girl feel scared and uncomfortable enough to file a complaint.
Given that the official complaint was against the CEO himself, the 11-member management committee of the company met without the CEO to discuss what to do.
The management committee sought the advice of the STCBL Board and its Chairman who is the former Education Secretary, Karma Yeshey.
The management committee based on its deliberations and advice from the board decided that the only option was to invoke the STCBL Service Rules which detailed out a process to file complaints or grievances like sexual harassment, what committee would investigate it and how it is to be investigated.
The company had updated its service rules in 2018 to specifically include sexual harassment in its service rules.
The in-house investigation committee was made up of people listed in the service rules.
When the investigation started two more girls came forward with similar complaints against the CEO accusing him of sending intimate texts to the two of the them. The two young girls were disturbed enough to delete all the messages.
However, the evidence this time was signed testimonies from the colleagues of the two girls who also saw the messages.
One of the girls in her complaint even alleged that the CEO had touched her inappropriately.
The investigation team interviewed the victims and took written testimonies from the three victims, and also witness testimonies in the case of the sms messages.
A source in the STCBL said, “The three girls were young and in junior positions and they were scared that someone so senior and in a position of authority over them was doing this.”
The team then interviewed the CEO to get his side of the story.
The CEO admitted to sending the sms messages to the first two girls but he rejected the complaints of the third girl who had also alleged inappropriate touching.
The investigation committee found that the alleged incident of inappropriate touching allegedly happened only when the girl and the CEO were there, and so, in their view, it could not be conclusively proven with any witness testimony or third party evidence.
The committee after finishing its investigation submitted the report to the management committee. The committee met again excluding the CEO and decided to submit the report to the board for further decision and action.
The source in STCBL said that this was done as the committee was not empowered to make any decision on the CEO who had signed a three-year contract with the board.
A Human Resource Committee of the Board that normally interviews and hires management staff studied the investigation report and found it substantive enough to put up to the board.
The board deliberated the matter for two rounds based on the investigation report. The board found this to be a case of sexual harassment which comes under the major misconduct category of STCBL’s service rules.
The final decision of the board in May was to compulsorily retire the CEO who would get his benefits accumulated so far.
The CEO stepped down from May 11th when he stopped coming to office.
The source said that the three girls were told of the decision of the board and asked for their opinion. The three girls expressed satisfaction with the outcome and did not want to take the matter any further.
A STCBL official said that the matter was very clear for management committee as an official written complaint had been filed and so due process had to be undertaken as per the service rules of the company even if it was against their boss, who is the CEO of the company. Another factor was also the possibility that if the management did not handle the matter professionally, the complainant had the option to seek formal legal redress in the courts.
Of the 11-member management committee three were women, having a certain degree of gender balance.
The CEO had worked in Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) prior to this.
When the paper checked with DGPC there was no record of a similar official complaint or case there. He had left of his own accord to join STCBL.
He entered service with STCBL in September 2019 and so had served 8 months.
When The Bhutanese contacted the ex-CEO, he said, “I have accepted that I sent the messages and it was just chatting and nothing physical. It has been misunderstood. For example, I told one of them to be careful in a relationship to not conceive and it was taken as sexual harassment.”
He denied the allegation of the third complainant that he had touched her inappropriately and he said nothing like that happened.
STCBL has 210 employees and it is one of the DHI Companies.