In one of his last acts as CSU president, Prince Ralph Osei authorized a loan of $45,000 to the Concordia Volunteer Abroad Program through a presidential decree to aid in the purchase of land and eventually construct a facility in Uganda for the organization’s use.
Students from Concordia have visited Uganda for the past five years with CVAP and the facility will allow the program to save approximately $45,000 a year on hotel expenses for these volunteers.
“The strategy was that why don’t we build a facility over there that will be used both by our students when they come to Uganda in the summer and when they leave the facility will also be used by the local community in terms of HIV outreach and in terms of reaching out to the needs of the community,” Prince Ralph Osei told the CSU council.
The loan, authorized on August 12 by Osei but since approved by the CSU council, was given out of surplus funds accumulated by the student union during their last fiscal year and will therefore not affect their budget for the 2010-2011 academic year.
Since its creation in 2004, CVAP has sent around 60 students to volunteer in the war-torn Gulu region of Uganda yearly, though no students took the trip this past year. As a fee-levy group they receive 35 cents per credit from every student in the university, amounting to around $225,000 a year.
While the project will reportedly only cost $125,000 total, the university pays these fee-levy groups their accumulated finances in May, leaving CVAP on a hunt for bank loans and private investment this summer. Having found only one willing donor who was going to charge 10 per cent interest on the money, Osei said he felt the need to step up.
“For them to be paying 10 per cent interest on this amount of money, I felt it was a rip-off,” he said, prompting him to award the loan at no interest. VP external and projects Adrien Severyns is also running an anti-poverty campaign this year, which Osei felt fit in perfectly with their decision to help CVAP and would avoid leaving Concordia students to “foot the bill” on the ten per cent interest that they would have been forced to pay out of their fee-levy.
“If the CSU can cushion the roughness of the whole thing then we felt it was the best thing for us to step in and make this thing happen,” said Osei.
Despite receiving the minimum two-thirds approval required from the council, Osei’s presidential decree and loan did not garner unanimous acceptance from those in attendance.
While assuring the council that she supported the volunteer work of CVAP and was not opposed to helping them out, Lex Gill, council member for Arts and Sciences, questioned the decision to give out loans when no process or regulations exist for such an action in the CSU’s by-laws. “In that sense I feel like it sets a dangerous precedent for fee-levy groups to feel like they can go to the CSU for loans,” she explained during discussion at the meeting, adding that she may be in favour of the loan if they implemented some sort of guidelines in their laws.
“We are not a bank, and we never operate as a bank,” Osei responded. “Sometimes some things are thrown at you that you have to use your discretionary ability to seize an opportunity and to run with it. I think this project spoke volumes when it came before the entire executive.”
Gill also raised concern that the CSU is losing out on the interest they would make if that $45,000 were in the bank. Additionally, since ground had already been broken on the newly purchased land, were the council to have voted down Osei’s decree it may have jeopardized the entire project and put the “democratic nature” of the council into question.
Still, when it came time to vote, a motion to support the presidential decree was passed with 11 in favour and only one opposed with two abstentions.
When asked whether outside, neutral sources had been consulted to confirm or investigate the amount needed to build the structure in Uganda, new CSU president Heather Lucas said that the money was given to CVAP “in good faith,” and that having signed a contract with the organization, the money will be paid back to the CSU in May 2011 regardless.
“If anything we’re helping them out,” she told the council. “They’re doing something good in Uganda and the CSU is part of that. That’s an incredible thing.”