Stu­dent union or­ders foren­sic Au­dit of its funds

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - EL­IZ­A­BETH PAYNE epayne@postmedia.com

With just weeks to go un­til a fall term be­gins, stu­dent gov­ern­ment at Univer­sity of Ot­tawa is in chaos, with po­lice in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­le­ga­tions of mis­use of funds, and trans­fer pay­ments to the stu­dent union hav­ing been frozen by the univer­sity.

Dur­ing a stand­ing-room-only meet­ing Sun­day, the board of ad­min­is­tra­tors of the Stu­dent Fed­er­a­tion of the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa voted to call in foren­sic au­di­tors to look into the funds ad­min­is­tered by the stu­dent union.

The move came af­ter the univer­sity be­gan with­hold­ing trans­fer pay­ments to the stu­dent fed­er­a­tion un­til its con­cerns are ad­dressed. The univer­sity had called for the foren­sic au­dit.

“Pro­tect­ing the in­ter­ests of uOt­tawa stu­dents is of pri­mary con­cern to the Univer­sity, which wants to en­sure that money col­lected from stu­dents is prop­erly man­aged,” the school said in a news re­lease.

The univer­sity’s de­ci­sion to freeze trans­fers fol­lowed a re­port in a school news­pa­per that out­go­ing SFUO pres­i­dent Hadi Wess had lodged a complaint with po­lice over his sus­pi­cions of mis­use of funds by other SFUO ex­ec­u­tives.

In its re­lease, the univer­sity said it “takes th­ese al­le­ga­tions se­ri­ously.”

Dur­ing Sun­day’s meet­ing, the board also moved a mo­tion ask­ing Wess to re­pay nearly $1,000 to the stu­dent fed­er­a­tion. The money, ac­cord­ing to the board mo­tion, was used for out­side le­gal fees.

A mem­ber of the stu­dent fed­er­a­tion ex­ec­u­tive said the freeze on fund­ing trans­fers from the univer­sity would not neg­a­tively af­fect 101 week, the an­nual stu­dent ori­en­ta­tion week set to be­gin soon.

But he told the board that the stu­dent union might have dif­fi­culty oper­at­ing if the sit­u­a­tion is not re­solved.

Spec­ta­tors at the meet­ing said they were dis­ap­pointed and de­pressed to hear of the al­le­ga­tions and wanted them thor­oughly in­ves­ti­gated.

“As a stu­dent leader, it is in­cred­i­bly heart­break­ing, be­cause the stu­dent lead­ers I know do it be­cause they want to make the stu­dent ex­pe­ri­ence bet­ter,” said Rox­anna McVicar.

She said she wants to know what kind of ac­count­abil­ity poli­cies ex­ist, how the stu­dent gov­ern­ment and its board of ad­min­is­tra­tors plan to as­sist the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and how they are go­ing to en­sure trans­parency.

Sev­eral peo­ple raised con­cerns that the meet­ing was chaired by one of the ex­ec­u­tive mem­bers who is a fo­cus of the al­le­ga­tions.

“To what ex­tent are you de­cid­ing your own fate?” asked a stu­dent at­tend­ing the meet­ing.

Mar­ket­ing stu­dent Moe Aburouss said he has started a pe­ti­tion in an at­tempt to im­peach ex­ec­u­tive mem­bers of the stu­dent union who are the fo­cus of the al­le­ga­tions. “It is time for us to unite as stu­dents and come to­gether and face th­ese al­le­ga­tions head on and im­peach them.”

“The SFUO is in­de­pen­dent of the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa and the Univer­sity plays no role in its gov­er­nance,” the univer­sity said in a state­ment. “How­ever … (uOt­tawa) wants to en­sure that money col­lected from stu­dents is prop­erly man­aged.”

The univer­sity col­lects stu­dent fees for ser­vices such as stu­dent tran­sit passes and ac­tiv­i­ties such as clubs, and trans­fers the money to the SFUO for ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The univer­sity will con­tinue to col­lect the levies and will con­tinue to cover some ser­vices, in­clud­ing the U-Pass tran­sit passes.

Th­ese mea­sures will con­tinue un­til a foren­sic au­dit es­tab­lishes that “sound fi­nan­cial prac­tices and con­trols are in place.”

Stu­dent Alec Con­nor said he is happy to see the univer­sity freez­ing trans­fers to the stu­dent fed­er­a­tion be­cause he has lit­tle faith in its abil­i­ties to han­dle the money prop­erly.

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