Tag Archives: student unions

Posted in In the news, Montreal, Opinion

Student union money is easily embezzled

The Concordia Student Union has a budget of about a million dollars a year (actually, it’s probably more than that now, but within an order of magnitude). That’s a lot of money, and it’s managed by amateurs who swoop in without any experience. So it’s unsurprising that eight years ago, the union discovered that one of its executives made off with almost $200,000 over a year and a half by writing cheques to herself and hiding the evidence from the bookkeeper.

When the executive discovered what happened (at first they thought it was more like $30,000), it was reported to the council of representatives in a super-secret meeting. The press release came out a week later. It took four years before she was finally convicted, though the union still hasn’t recovered all the money.

This month, history appears to be repeating itself, and the CSU has apparently discovered another “financial irregularity” about “misappropriation of funds” which was presented to a super-secret meeting. No dollar amount is given, but one would assume we’re not talking about a few extra beers in the expense account. No one is named, of course, but it would have to be someone with access to the money, either an executive or an accountant.

For someone to do this at the CSU takes balls (and “creative accounting” skills) the likes of which I have never seen. The union put rigorous financial controls in place after the first fraud, including new financial policies and the hiring of a financial controller. It will be interesting to see how these safeguards were foiled this time.

Meanwhile, a bit further west down de Maisonneuve Blvd., the Dawson Student Union has a financial scandal of its own. It seems one of its executives racked up $29,000 in expenses on her executive credit card (well, I assume it’s a her – if a guy is spending that much on clothes and jewellry, there’s bigger problems afoot).

Whose bright idea was it to give apparently limitless credit cards to 18-year-old CEGEP students? I mean seriously, did nobody consider the rather obvious possibility that this might happen?

What the CSU and DSU have in common, despite the fact that stealing from them is like taking candy from a baby (a baby with a trailer full of candy), is that both were accredited as official representatives of their students, meaning the schools’ administrations have certain legal obligations involving student fees, and can’t interfere in their affairs.

I’m not suggesting differently here, but this is clearly a systemic problem. CEGEP and university students can’t be trusted with huge bank accounts. Rigorous financial controls need to be put in place, and those controls need to be verified on a regular basis by an independent third party.

Perhaps the government should step in here. The same law that says universities must hand over student fees to accredited student unions should also require certain financial control measures be put in place, and there should be regular inspections by the government to ensure that they are respected. Miss your audit by a day and you get a visit from a government agent. Even if you don’t, you still get a visit. Otherwise things like this will just keep happening.

And all of this is completely separate from the misappropriation of funds by student clubs and smaller associations. It was rampant in my time and I doubt it’s gotten much better.