On Oct. 21, the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Council discussed a motion to hold a referendum to change the appointment process for the Vice-President (VP) Finance position.
“[Option one: The] future AUS VP Finance will be appointed solely by [the] AUS Council,” read the motion. “[Option two:] Future AUS VP Finance candidates, before being allowed to run for election, will be screened by a screening committee which shall objectively determine […] whether each candidate has met pre-set criteria of accounting qualifications [….Option three:] Hire an external bookkeeper.”
Jacob Greenspon, AUS president explained that the changes were proposed due to problems AUS has encountered in the past from delayed tax filing and audits.
“AUS did not file taxes from 2008 to 2012, resulting in the government freezing $120,000 from the AUS bank account,” said Greenspon. “AUS also [failed] to send McGill its audited financial statements in that time period [….] As a result, McGill withheld our student fees.”
According to Greenspon, the lack of financial expertise among VP Finances has resulted in incorrect assumptions about the AUS budget.
“When our current VP Finance started his term, the AUS operated under the assumption that 2014 Frosh had ran a $10,000 deficit, and that the AUS on a whole ran a healthy surplus,” Greenspon said. “The auditors and the VP Finance were able to spot these mistakes and uncover the actual […] situation from 2014-2015 [which was] a $30,000 Frosh deficit, and [a] $65,000 overall AUS deficit.”
Traditionally, the VP Finance was democratically elected in the AUS General Elections along with rest of the executive committee. As no one ran for the position this year, AUS Council appointed Mirza Ali Shakir to the position. He previously sat on the AUS Financial Management Committee, and served in the society’s Department of Internal Audit.
Greenspon believes that a VP Finance with accounting qualifications will effectively ensure the financial safety for AUS. The composition of the proposed screening committee is still undecided but will include a variety of members including those within AUS and outside of AUS.
“The VP Finance position is unique […] in that there are many specific, technical skills required for the job,” Greenspon said. “These include a background in accounting, knowledge of tax-filing, and experience with auditing, to name just a few.”
Greenspon also had reservations about the third option—the hiring of a bookkeeper externally—being presented in the referendum.
“While accounting remains a technical job, the accountant’s understanding of the organization is crucial to their maintaining accurate accounting records, especially given the unique stature of an accredited student association,” Greenspon said.
As outlined by the motion, the hiring of an external bookkeeper would require an increase of around $3 in the student fee paid by each AUS member, per semester.
AUS will not be the first student society to implement a separate hiring process for the VP Finance position. The Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) President Mariam Hachem explained that the EUS’ VP Finance is not elected. Rather, the candidate is chosen by a selection committee, whose decision is then ratified by the EUS Council.
“The outgoing and incoming execs sit on this selection committee, [as well as a] number of members-at-large to the EUS, as deemed by the chair [of the selection committee],” Hachem explained.
The EUS additionally employs an external bookkeeper, who is responsible for bookkeeping and auditing.
“The bookkeeper has to be a certified accountant,” said Hachem. “[Candidates for VP Finance are] not required to have any accounting qualifications, […] but if they do, then it is obviously looked favourably upon.”
Tracey Cui, U3 East Asian Studies, believes that reform is needed in order to put an end to the long history of financial mismanagement in the AUS.
“I might [go with] option two – at least there will be some criteria set up by the screening committee that covers the basic skills candidates should have,” Cui said. “Or option three, [since] we can’t trust Arts students with accounting.”
This article was corrected on Nov. 3. The Tribune regrets these errors.