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September 29, 2008 | by  | in Online Only |
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Fraud

Last week The Press ran a story about an employee of the Christchurch Polytechnic’s Student Association who is suspected of defrauding the Association. I’ve decided to semi-fisk this… so bear with me.

“Interim co-president Tracey Cox said the president, vice- president and three others had left the executive for various reasons. This left seven members, none of whom had been on the executive before. 
“All the people left are new. We came on board in March,” she said.

This is a problem for all student associations and unions. We have students coming into positions that they have little training for. CPSA is unfortunately not a member of NZUSA who provide training for executive members. However it should be pointed out that the person under investigation for fraud was not an elected member. She was the Association Manager.

How did the manager get her hands on the funds anyway? VUWSA requires cheques to be signed by the two people of the president and the three VPs. And while this doesn’t always lead to desirable outcomes, it is   another limit on the ability of a president to mess with student money. If VUWSA was to consider hiring an association manager it would be a wise idea to keep the two signature rule.

“Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology chief executive Neil Barns said the association’s elected representatives were clearly struggling.
“It would be fair to say that we are concerned that they get through this period of change, particularly for the students, because they provide quite a lot of services to students,” he said.
He hoped next month’s elections would return some stability to the association.
“There are clearly some tensions going on with the organisation, and the fact they changed presidents is of concern to us,” Barns said. Acting presidents were taking the roles, but they had not been there very long, he said.

This underlines the need for associations to split the role of President from that of CEO. Lets face it. At the moment we have someone who comes in to a role with perhaps no idea how to even balance their wallet in the back of their panda suit, let alone $2,000,000.

This case shows that we can’t always trust an appointed person, but at least they can be held accountable by a police investigation. I think the only reason a student politician hasn’t defrauded the association is because they’re too stupid to.

National Party tertiary education spokesman Paul Hutchison said students should be able to decide for themselves whether they wanted compulsory membership of student associations.

“I’m aware there are concerns by some that say there isn’t strong accountability for the money they get,” he said.

“All the time, I hear murmurings of there being inappropriate usage of student levies by the unions.”

It was important that accounts were “absolutely transparent” to show that each student dollar was being spent well on students, he said.

Compulsory membership is such a nasty term. The fact is you pay the fee and you have the option of partaking in the the activities and services the student have to offer. I suspect there are very few students who go through this university who never take advantage of something that VUWSA has done, or a a right that VUWSA has fought for, or something that VUWSA has set up for students. I think many people think of the VUWSA levy as a gym membership. You get it, go a few times and then forget about it. I think of my $125 like it is an insurance policy. I know that if the university fucks me over, if Studylink fucks me over, if a VUW staff member fucks me (over), those bitches in the bottom of the Student Union Building have my back. If I run out of food they provide it for me. If I am bored they offer a plethora of clubs to keep me entertained.

I also hear murmurings of inappropriate use of student money. Let us face it, we can’t stop Winston Peters from being a human and doing something dodgy, so why should we expect our student leaders to be any different. The answer is not to throw away an institution that has for over 100 years helped students, it is to strengthen the fiscal responsibility of our student union to make sure that fraud cannot happen. VUWSA already makes it so that both the President and a VP have to sign VUWSA cheques. No one is infallible, look at John Key’s transparency over his Transrail shares. What we do have is accountablity and transparecy. Anyone can go down to Alex’s office or onto the VUWSA website and request the budget and any public documents. Although they move into committee a lot during their meetings, they don’t hide that much from us students.

“ACT MP Heather Roy introduced a private member’s bill into the ballot in late 2006 that would make joining student associations voluntary.

“There seems to be very little accountability and transparency. At the end of the day, students have to pay that fee, and many of them feel they get very little in return,” she said.”

Many of them feel they get little in return… as opposed to actually tangibly not getting anything. A lot of what the student association does, at least in VUWSA’s case is low key. Maybe VUWSA doesn’t promote what they do enough and is not as visible around campus as it perhaps should be. Maybe this is because they don’t want to waste funds, maybe it is because student politicans are percieved as a joke. Who knows, but this is surely a challenge to the next VUWSA executive. They should be out there as a team working for students and showing the worth of the association to students. Instead of faffing around campaigning for their political parties, arguing with each other they should be out educating students about what it is they do and making themselves accessible to students with questions, ideas and criticism.

Ms. Roy, probably acting on the information of the many young actoids which inhabit Vic and other universities, also fails to note that as a non profit incorporated society they have to have act within certain parameters of the law. One of these is that they shouldn’t break criminal law. If Ms. Roy or any student suspects that fraud is happening in student union it should be bought to the attention of the police, as CPSA responsibly did.

Ms. Roy then said:

“It seems executives often treat this money as their own, rather than money collected from students to be distributed on their behalf.”

Student unions, and the people on their executives are not living the high life. Although I really would like to break a story about a member of the exec embezling money, laughing about it while sipping cognac and smoking a cuban cigar handed to him by a prostitute all paid for with student money, it is unlikely this is going to happen. 

One wonders who the gatekeepers telling her such things are , and if they are being truely objective. I’m sure because of the scrutiny that VUWSA comes not only from Salient, but the VUWSA lawyers, accountants that our student union is not acting in such a way.

“A Victoria University student lobby group called for an end to compulsory membership of its students’ association last year after an officer racked up nearly $6000 in calls to a psychic line.”

The article in no way distingushes between a paid employee and an elected representative. The person accused was not a student, they were the manager of the students association. The parallel the author draws between the CPSA and Clelia Opie’s psychic hotline scandal is flawed. The writer aslo does not mention that Opie paid back the $6000 of calls she made. It is also debateable that the A-Team ran soley on the basis of Opie fucking up, but more like what they saw as the continued mismanagement by muppets of VUWSA.

This should be a learning experience for not only CPSA but for all student assocations. I personally quite like the system at the moment, and not just because it brings you Salient. Clubs enrich our lives and create a cultural atmosphere at uni. Welfare support ensures that all students can survive. Advocacy means that if we have problems with the university they are solved.

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The editor of this fine rag for 2009.

Comments (10)

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  1. They’re referring to Student Choice, not the A-Team.

  2. A nuanced, cogent, coherent assessment. Nice work :D

    P.S. Isn’t it a shitter how the careful and measured op-eds get bugger all feedback?

  3. Wee OBNOXIOUS Hamish says:

    Yeah Rory, I agree.

    *FARTZ*

  4. Jackson Wood says:

    Yeah. If it wasn’t for wee hamish I would probably cry.

    Oh and thanks for pointing that out Peter. I wasn’t a student in 2nd trimester last year, so missed out on a lot of what was going on around campus. Good luck in Otaki!

  5. Alyx says:

    Very true, Jackson – student politicians and the work they do is often ignored, but that tends to be the way of politics. When you do something right, it gets ignored, when it goes wrong, its a headline.

    I think, despite some of the negative publicity that the Exec has received this year, that they have still achieved a lot. They put on a great O-Week, they helped out with the Film School debacle, they gave out a lot of bread and Eye on Exec was interesting reading when I was bored in lectures.

  6. Tom M says:

    In all honesty, if Studylink screwed you over, would you actually go to VUWSA?
    I certainly wouldn’t, they don’t come across (as a general rule) as savvy and reasonable negotiators.

  7. Laura McQuillan says:

    When WINZ wouldn’t give me a Community Services Card, Heleyni sorted them out for me. It was good as. The welfare VPs are generally pretty good when it comes to stuff like that.

  8. jonno says:

    It’s not like anyone from Act to get anything right though.

  9. Greg Powell says:

    Well what a shame, dam National party now has a great reason to push for all students associations to be voluntary, great!!!!!

    Come on NZUSA show what you are made of aye and start supporting the polytechnic’s of Aotearoa, show that you are worth joining and maybe groups like ourselves would. But hay if you want to support the National party banner and see the rights of students and student voices lost to the stress involved in being a student than go for it. All you will end up doing is placing all student associations and unions in the same boat of becoming voluntary.

    CAPSA, be strong and lets work on this together and show everyone that you are worth it.

    Greg

  10. Jackson Wood says:

    Greg I think you’re being a tad hard on NZUSA. Although association membership is compulsory, membership to NZUSA is not. CPSA is not a member.

    Mr. Falloon said: “generally there were enough checks and balances on how associations spent their money… Things could always be better. There are unique challenges associations face, and that polytechs face, and perhaps some may take more time to find out about them,”

    I don’t see how this is them waving a National party banner. He was just asserting that 99% of time it works. 1% of the time someone fucks it up. It’s funny that that 1% of the time also happens to be the times when mainstream media chose to take an interest in student politics.

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