Conflict in Kelowna: UBCO’s student union to conduct external review

UBC’s Students’ Union Okanagan (UBCSUO) is in talks with Meyers Norris Penny (MNP), an accounting and consultancy firm, to conduct an external review of the union’s operations. A vote to hire the firm is expected at the UBCSUO’s next board meeting on June 10.

The move comes after two consecutive years of aggressive spending by the UBCSUO: the union ran consecutive deficits of more than $300,000 in 2015 and 2016. This put the non-profit society in violation of its own bylaws, which prohibit operating at a deficit.

Prior to this, the union ran surpluses of $452,283 in 2013 and of $137,222 in 2014.

In March 2017, an investigation by The Ubyssey also exposed evidence of mismanaged funds and conflicts of interest among the union’s past student leaders at the time of deficit spending.

“What’s important here is for students to regain trust in the student union,” said the UBCSUO’s new president, Trophy Ewila. “The review will give us raw data and points of view from experts to see what has gone wrong in the past, so we can look to the future [and] improve services in the long term.”

Once initiated, the review is expected to take six months and cost between $30,000 and $40,000. Its scope would be comprehensive, according to Ewila — including businesses, staffing, governance and finances. The review is the first of its kind in UBCSUO’s known history.

MNP was attractive to Ewila and his executive because of the firm’s experience with UBC Vancouver’s AMS. The AMS hired MNP to conduct an external review in 2016, which cost $46,000 and produced recommendations that were all accepted by the society.

“We’re serious about this — it’s not something we’re taking lightly,” he said.

“A step in the right direction”

The mandate to conduct an external review came from the previous UBCSUO Board, which voted in favour of it at an April 6 meeting. The vote was in-camera — meaning the public was barred access — and attendees signed a confidentiality agreement before beginning. That board completed its one-year term on May 1.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said the union’s then-President Blake Edwards after the meeting. “The Ubyssey’s investigation and some other things coming to light internally have really pushed us that way.”

He further noted that his board had known about the UBCSUO’s financial situation prior to The Ubyssey’s investigation into the union’s deficits. As a result, they took steps throughout their term to prevent problems in the future, including a pre-approval process for cheques and bolstering the online information available to students to increase transparency.

“We have been very adamant about running a balanced budget and being a lot more strict,” said Edwards.

UBCO’s associate VP Finance Rob Einarson was also present prior to the vote at Edwards’s request. He told The Ubyssey that he could not comment on the specifics of the union’s current financial situation — he was there to outline the relationship between UBC and the union, and to offer financial advice should they need it.

“Success for them is success for us,” said Einarson. “We don’t want to see their condition deteriorate.”