13 years on, KU’s Benazir Bhutto Chair still lacks permanent staff

Arshad Yousafzai
Monday, May 23, 2022

Even after the passage of over 13 and a half years, the Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Chair (SMBBC), which was established at the University of Karachi on November 12, 2008, is yet to get permanent faculty members, employees and director.

Currently functioning in the old computer science building near the KU examination section, the construction work of the SMBBC complex is incomplete despite the university administration having been provided with enough funds by the Sindh government.

The employees are under constant stress of being fired at any time. There are only six contractual employees: a research officer, an accountant, a clerk, two messengers and a driver. The SMBBC director’s vehicle, however, is in use by a top KU official despite having no connection to the chair.

This January the contractual employees wrote to Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to look into the matter, fearing that some influential groups seek to close the SMBBC because of their affiliation with other political parties.

Terming the SMBBC the first of its kind in the province, the employees said the chair is to established with a seating capacity of 200 for comprehensive research to be carried out in the name of a great leader.

They said that setting up the SMBBC is a way to pay rich tribute to Benazir’s vision, mission, and numerous services for the country, region and the world. This chair plans to provide education related to peace, democracy, governance, poverty, women’s rights and other subjects on which the vision of Benazir stands, they added.

They pointed out that since its inception at KU, the chair has been facing many administrative hurdles, such as the chair cannot get a permanent status due to the political dynamics of the university.

They also pointed out that the chair’s administrative and academic building has not been constructed despite the provincial government already having provided enough funds for the purpose. “The work of the SMBB Convention Centre stopped in 2017 due to the hurdles created by the KU administration,” reads the letter.

The research staff has been working for over 13 years but they are yet to be given a permanent job status. They have been told that the SMBBC will not get a permanent status, and that its staff cannot be regularised.

Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, and the then KU vice chancellors Prof Dr Muhammad Qaiser and Prof Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan have already approved the proposal to regularise SMBBC employees, but the university management has instead deducted their salaries and stopped their house ceiling.

On April 6 Bilawal House Research & Coordination Committee head Laal Bakhsh Bhutto wrote to Universities & Boards Minister Muhammad Ismail Rahoo requesting that the SMBBC be saved from conspiracies. “No work is being done on the SMBBC, while its employees are being harassed into leaving their jobs.”

Following that, SMBBC acting director and Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences Dean Prof Dr Nusrat Idrees has convened a meeting on Monday (today). Its agenda includes the appointment of a regular SMBBC director, future plans, briefing on infrastructure, and any other item with the chair’s permission.

Though the university had published advertisements announcing the vacancy for the position of SMBBC director in 2021, no one was called for an interview despite receiving a number of applications.

The agenda of today’s meeting does not include any discussion on the job status of the contractual employees, or the appointment of faculty members and researchers. When contacted, Dr Nusrat said that the status of the SMBBC is not permanent, while the construction work of the convention centre has been handed over to the project director.

However, the SMBBC and the convention centre had been separated after the recommendations of an inquiry committee that was constituted by the Public Accounts Committee in 2020.

Dr Nusrat said she has approved MPhil and PhD courses to be taught at the SMBBC, but the issue is that the chair has no permanent faculty members. The problem is that institutions run through endowment funds have no budgetary posts, she said, adding that this is why we have convened a meeting to discuss these issues.