Editor’s note: The author is active in student politics, and is currently advocating for a forensic audit of the 2019 Fall Kickoff event.
By: Corbett Gildersleve, SFU Student
Fall 2019’s Kickoff, for those who attended, was pretty fun. New artists were brought in, a new venue was tested, and there were even some food trucks. It also had a record-shattering deficit four to five times more than the average. The budget — which was poorly debated and hastily approved at the Board table, as previously reported by The Peak — was significantly higher than previous years. The event undersold tickets by almost half (1,200 down from a target of 2,500), leaving the SFSS in the red to the tune of $105,995.
During one of their meetings last November, I asked the Board to conduct a forensic audit to investigate the event. Why? Because you don’t lose that much money, say “lessons learned,” and move on to the next project. An independent investigator conducting a forensic audit would be the only way for students to know what really happened to their money.
What is a forensic audit? It’s a focused investigation into spending to see if any financial mismanagement, fraud, or negligence occurred. Some members of the Board have said that the event was simply more expensive due to a different location. Looking at the budget, final report, and meeting minutes, there are too many questions and too much concerning behaviour to take their word at face value. A full forensic audit is necessary, both to keep the current (and outgoing) Board accountable and to prevent future SFSS events from squandering student funds.
On November 29, the SFSS Board was presented with a two-page report on the concert. It contained a basic event and budget summary. It was both wholly inadequate and misleading. Three paragraphs of text were allocated for an event that took months to plan and cost over $178,000. It stated the deficit was $45,000. However, the SFSS also contributed an initial $60,000 in a 14-minute-long emergency meeting in August, bringing the actual total closer to $105,000.
This figure doesn’t include board, admin, and staff costs. Calculating the true losses for this event is therefore much more difficult. With a budget they’d never seen before, the Board majority decided to shut down questions and rushed through a motion to add $60,000 of student money to a one-off event. I consider this negligence is reason enough to have a forensic auditor investigate.
To put this into perspective, the SFSS will have spent more to cover the losses for the concert than they did last year for the whole of the communication office ($103,000), Women’s Centre ($93,000), Out on Campus ($73,000), or Surrey campus office ($55,000). That includes staff, events, and program costs. The SFSS will have spent more on this concert than they did on accessibility funding ($1,600), the Food Bank ($29,000), the Advocacy Committee ($12,000), Membership Engagement ($17,000), and student bursaries ($10,000) last year combined — with $30,000 left over. It really shows how warped the SFSS’s priorities have become that a one-day event is more important than a year’s worth of programs, events, and advocacy.
So, why a forensic audit now? Why spend more time and money when the SFSS already has annual audits? In sum, the annual audit only looks at the finances of the SFSS as a whole, and provides summary information. The 2019–2020 annual audit will be the next Board’s burden to carry, and students won’t see it until next fall. Many of the Board members who worked on the concert now won’t be on the Board after April.
Meanwhile, a forensic audit conducted this term would dig deep to verify what happened and why — it would look at who negotiated the prices, signed the cheques, and made the decisions to see if any policies, bylaws, or laws were broken. Students deserve to know how and why their money was mismanaged. The annual financial audit won’t bring justice; a forensic audit will.
The Board is charged with managing the fees you paid to them, and in this case, they did a poor job. You deserve to know why and what changes need to be made for this to never occur again.
So, I ask all of you to call, email, and talk to Board members to demand they hire an independent investigator to audit this event.