KARACHI: A medical university established in the name of Benazir Bhutto in her hometown of Larkana is being managed by politically-appointed employees who are running the show on their whims and in violation of all government rules and regulations.
An inquiry report found that the recruitment process adopted for hiring 401 employees in various cadres in the university was riddled with irregularities, nepotism and lack of transparency.
An inquiry committee formed on the orders of Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah observed gross violations in the whole exercise and termed the appointment process "a smokescreen on the face of merit." After the report, the CM annulled the appointments, directing the varsity's vice-chancellor to start a fresh recruitment process.
These irregularities were unearthed following a process initiated in the Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Medical University (SMBBMU) to hire teaching and non-teaching staff in February this year. The staff members who felt aggrieved for being denied preference on the basis of employees' quota made hue and cry about the irregularities in the hiring process. Taking notice of these allegations, the CM formed a committee in May this year under the supervision of Larkana Commissioner Mohammad Abbas Baloch, with Sindh Higher Education Commission Director Noor Mohammad Shah and surgeon Dr Sher Muhammad Shaikh as its members, to look into the matter.
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"We held a series of meetings with university officials and also visited the vice-chancellor and registrar, who is also the chairperson of the central selection committee, but they failed to provide us with proper records of the recruitment process. All the appointments were made in a single day," one of the members of the committee said.
Officials in the Sindh government said that two different advertisements were published in February, 2015 and March, 2016 respectively to fill the vacant posts. The syndicate of the university also passed a resolution approving 20% quota for sons, daughters and wives of deceased employees of the university. However, due to a ban on recruitment, the process of hiring could not be initiated. It was finally initiated in February this year when a central selection committee was constituted by the registrar on the directives of the VC.
"Registrar Afsar Bhutto, who is a retired government employee working on a key position in the government university, is the main character in this scam. He is a close relative of a key figure working in Bilawal House," an official familiar with the development alleged, adding that the registrar himself became chairperson of the selection committee, nominating the human resources director, deputy finance director of SMBBMU and three other representatives from outside the varsity who are his close friends.
Sharing the breakup of the vacant posts filled in SMBBMU and its affiliated colleges and institutions, the officials said a total of 171 positions for accountants, assistants, personal assistants, computer operators, senior and junior clerks, watchmen, plumbers, gardeners and peons were vacant at the varsity. However, 82 different positions were filled at Chandka Medical College, Larkana, 145 at Ghulam Muhammad Mahar Medical College, Sukkur, 121 at the Bibi Aseefa Dental College, 13 at the Benazir Institute of Nursing and Community Health Sciences, Larkana and 21 positions in the pharmacy department of the varsity.
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"A total of 1,808 people applied for the posts, out of which 401 were selected," a senior official working in the university said.
The inquiry, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, states that the entire application process was not transparent from the beginning. "If such appointments were allowed to continue, it would prove disastrous for the future of the medical university," said the findings of the report, adding that the whole process was arbitrary and haphazard.
Observing that the total number of seats was not mentioned in the advertisement and there was no mention of any reserved seats for employees as part of the quotas, the report read that after the ban was lifted on government employment, there was no fresh approval from the syndicate.
"No fresh applications were invited and the recruitment process was started abruptly, based on old applications. In doing so, the fundamental rights of new potential applicants were not safeguarded," the report said, adding that the application forms did not mention whether the application was being submitted on open merit or on an employee quota.
According to the report submitted on June 5 to the CM, the inquiry committee members repeatedly requested the university officials to provide the required documents pertaining to the recruitment process but were given a lukewarm response. The registrar, who is a retired associate professor and has now been appointed on an interim arrangement, initially promised to cooperate with the inquiry committee but failed to provide a proper record and did not turn up to record his statement. Subsequently, meetings were also held with the VC of the university, requesting for the records, but nothing came of them.
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Regarding the written test and interviews, the report said that a total number of marks scored by each candidate in the written test were not made public, nor were they shared with inquiry committee. "The possibility of how so many candidates could be scrutinised, tested and interviewed within one day cannot be imagined, when 1,808 candidates applied and 401 were selected," said the Larkana commissioner, adding that the results of the interviews and tests were not announced publicly and the details of the results were also not shared with the inquiry committee.
"The offer letters awarded for various categories from Grade-5 to Grade-16 did not mention whether the candidates were being offered a job against open merit or any quota."
Another inquiry member, requesting anonymity, said "This led us into confusion as selection on merit must be kept separate from selection on quota".
The committee members also expressed reservations over a 20% quota for the children of retired and serving employees. "Employees' quota for retired or serving employees is not given in any other department in Sindh government. This is also not mentioned in the charter of the university,” read the report. “The university syndicate was not competent to reserve 20%, which is one fifth of the total seats for employees. The concept of an employee quota was followed for personal gains," it stated, adding that the syndicate of the university has powers to make decisions but cannot reserve such a huge quota for retired employees.
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"We have come to the conclusion that the recruitment of 401 employees in different cadres was made without completing codal formalities," the report read in its concluding remarks, adding that the central selection committee was not constituted as per any rules or regulation. The head of the university should have been vigilant and cautious about the whole recruitment process, which was not carried out as per the rules and regulations.
"The hand-picked central selection committee acted in haste. The files and documentation process was disorganised and jumbled. This rendered the whole process doubtful. The responsibility lies on the shoulder of the chairperson and members of the central selection committee who failed to act in accordance with any law or rules and acted on their whims, will and volition instead."
Sources in CM House said that the CM annulled the appointments and wrote an official letter to the VC of the university on July 17 to start the process afresh. "Officials involved in irregularities will be punished," an official working in the CM's office said.
On one hand, the permanent employees working at the university have protested against the 401 fresh appointments. However, those selected have approached the Sindh High Court seeking orders to join their jobs.
VC Professor Dr Mohammad Asghar Channa said that the CM had ordered him to cancel the 401 appointments, but since the case is now in the court, he could not comply with this directive. "Let the court decide the fate of this case," Channa said.
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