Committee finds VP External had no real conflict of interest but did violate society’s code

The AMS Ethics and Accountability Committee concluded that AMS VP External Kalith Nanayakkara did not have a real conflict of interest stemming from his position as founder and president of ThePlug Vancouver.

However, the report, released four months after the committee took up the case, did state that Nanayakkara was in an apparent conflict of interest and erred in judgement.

In November, councillors asked questions about Nanayakkara’s role with ThePlug after AMS Events and ThePlug promoted a Halloween pub crawl during the pandemic.

On November 18, 2020, Evans wrote a letter to Council informing them that Nanayakkara had sent an invoice to the AMS Events manager on behalf of a photographer contracted as part of FirstweekPlug, a collaboration between AMS Events and ThePlug at the beginning of the school year. Subsequently, the matter was referred to the AMS Ethics and Accountability committee by council.

According to the report, Nanayakkara or ThePlug didn’t inappropriately benefit from Nanayakkara’s position as VP External, but stressed how the appearance of the conflict of interest broke AMS code.

“A reasonably well-informed person could properly have the perception that the VP External, in exercising his official powers, may have been influenced by his private interest in ThePlug,” the committee wrote in the report.

The only recommendation set forth in the report for Nanayakkara, who is nearing the end of his term as VP External, was that he publicly apologize. In an interview with The Ubyssey, Nanayakkara says he plans to comply with that recommendation. “I did wrong and I regret those actions,” he said.

Nanayakkara must have the formal apology complete by April 28.

Since the matter was first brought to Council, Nanayakkara has remained on as president of ThePlug but he said he has had no business with AMS Events on behalf of ThePlug.

“I’ve been called so many horrible things on the internet. I’ve been accused of exploitation of stealing money from the AMS to fund my own startup,” he said. “I had to withdraw from courses, I am on concession right now. It really damaged me from so many different angles.”

Nanayakkara said he wished the verdict had come out sooner, as it would have helped people gain an accurate understanding of what happened.

The report also recommended that the AMS adopt a more robust and public conflict of interest system, look into designating a staff member to be a point of contact on issues regarding conflicts of interest and work to re-establish student trust in the AMS.

“The Committee has seen a tendency to instinctual[ly] distrust ... the AMS and its Executives. The AMS must do more to combat this and to address the root issues that result in this sense of disconnect,” read the report.

When asked about the distrust UBC students seem to have for the AMS, Evans said “electorates have a healthy degree of skepticism about elected representatives, and in various settings, whether it be the federal government or a student union.”

When asked what he’d do to improve student trust in the AMS, Evans said the society needs to improve its communication with students.

“A lot of UBC students see the AMS [as] this very mysterious, not very accessible organization, where that doesn’t have to be the case,” he said.

Evans also highlighted that in his experience, AMS executives are trying their best and acting in good faith.

“I hope we can help people feel at ease that executives aren’t acting in bad faith, ever. We always want to do the best we can and there’s nobody who’s more upset about when things don’t go well than ourselves.”

Nanayakkara was elected a member of the Ubyssey Publications Society Board of Directors and will begin his term in April 2021. The board has no say over The Ubyssey’s editorial operations.