CSU Finance Coordinator Soulaymane El Alaoui explains the decisions
Two weeks ago, the Concordia Student Union’s new finance coordinator, Soulaymane El Alaoui, presented the finalized version of the 2017-2018 budget to the CSU council. It was approved in its entirety, save for three amendments.
El Alaoui was the VP of events for the Commerce and Administration Students’ Association (CASA) last year, in addition to being part of CASA’s finance committee, where he worked with the committee to look over and approve the CASA clubs’ budget.
The CSU’s 2017-18 budget is noteworthy because of its budgeted deficit of just over $46,200. “I budgeted for a deficit specifically so we can spend the previous year’s money and do more things,” El Alaoui explained.
However, the budgeted $46,219.16 does not take into account depreciation and amortization costs—the expenses for assets over time. According to El Alaoui, when those cost come into effect, the CSU will have a deficit. The accurate number for these costs have yet to be determined.
At the June 14 council meeting, the finance coordinator said he considered the student union to be in a “good financial position” if the deficit was over $45,000.
The three amendments made to El Alaoui’s initial budget proposal are as followed:
- The first one concerned the collaboration—what the finance coordinator described as a “pilot project”—between the CSU and the associations of the university’s four faculties: the Faculty of Arts and Science, the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science, the Faculty of Fine Arts and the John Molson School of Business. El Alaoui’s initial proposal was a $4,000-budget ($1,000 per faculty). It was amended to $10,000, meaning $2,500 per faculty association.
- A motion proposed by ASFA President Julia Sutera Sardo during the council meeting added $2,000 to the sustainability budget for the CSU to purchase menstrual products. On Jan. 30, 2017, Sutera Sardo and ASFA committed to offering free menstrual products to all Concordia students and community members.
- Finally, the budget for conferences increased from $1,000 to $6,000 in the final version of the document.
Issues with the 2016-17 budget
El Alaoui said he saw numerous discrepancies when he looked at the final numbers for 2016-17 and compared them to the year’s corresponding budget. Even before he became finance coordinator, El Alaoui had looked over the numbers. “I got their budget from last year. I was just curious,” he said.
“We were way over budget on some lines, way under budget on others,” he explained. For example, during the 2016-17 year, the CSU only spent $10,000 of the $23,000 set aside for sustainability issues on campus.
Such issues include providing menstrual products to students. Sutera Sardo, who made the amendment to add $2,000 to the sustainability budget, told The Concordian in January 2017 that she wanted to provide more DivaCups for students because they are more sustainable.
When you make a budget, you talk to people to establish, ‘How much do we need to spend this?’ or ‘How much do we foresee spending on this?’ And then you have to actually, during the year, run after those people to hold them accountable.
However, for matters such as handbook printing, the CSU overspent by $2,000 ($62,000 instead of the allocated $60,000), not to mention adding an additional line to the budget labeled “handbook” which accounted for another $6,000 in spending, for a total of $8,000 not budgeted for.
“[It’s] not necessarily a sign of mismanagement, but it’s just bad budgeting I guess,” El Alaoui said.
“When you make a budget, you talk to people to establish, ‘How much do we need to spend this?’ or ‘How much do we foresee spending on this?’ And then you have to actually, during the year, run after those people to hold them accountable.”
“The hardest part of making a budget like this,” El Alaoui said, “is that I don’t know why things were budgeted the way they were last year.”
Over the last 15 months, the CSU has had four different finance coordinators. In March 2016, Anas Bouslikhane resigned from the position before finishing his mandate. His replacement, Adrian Longinotti, was asked to resign by the CSU after the executive body deemed him unfit to act as a representative of the student union.
In November 2016, Longinotti was replaced by Thomas David-Bashore, who was the finance coordinator from December 2016 until the following CSU elections in March 2017 when El Alaoui was elected.
According to El Alaoui, it would be preferable if there were two coordinators. The second person would be an assistant for their first year, and would become the finance coordinator in their second year.
“In an ideal world, I think for all student clubs or student associations, it should be a two-year position, because otherwise there’s no institutional knowledge,” El Alaoui said. The finance coordinator, he added, does he what he thinks is best without training. A two-year mandate would be better because, “that way, you have a full year of training.”
CSU General Coordinator Omar Riaz said the idea of a two-year mandate hasn’t been discussed by the student union. The question of extending the student mandate would also have to go through a student referendum to be implemented.
Financial problems with the CSU Advocacy Centre
The CSU Advocacy Centre is budgeted to have a $53,000 loss in the upcoming year. This means it will break even, since it had a $53,000 surplus last year. El Alaoui said he wants the advocacy centre to spend that surplus.
The centre received $90,000 in additional funding from the Graduate Students Association (GSA) last year. According to El Alaoui, the GSA wanted to be affiliated with the CSU Advocacy Centre.
The $90,000 contribution was paid in full in 2016-17, but intended to be divided over two years. This accounts for most of the surplus in the centre’s budget by the end of last year.
However, El Alaoui said the $53,000 deficit could have been much higher, specifically $69,560, if it wasn’t for $16,060 in emergency funds given to the centre by the CSU as a support line to help finance student services.
Despite a reallocation of CSU funds to increase the centre’s fee-levy earlier this year, El Alaoui said he believes the fee-levy still needs to increase.
The $16,060, El Alaoui says, was a short-term solution, “kind of a Band-Aid solution.” He said he would like to see the CSU hold a referendum “to increase the student fee-levy because [the advocacy centre] is not getting enough to be able to do everything that they can.” He said he wants the centre to be financially sustainable in the long term.
A decrease in the advocacy centre’s funds, El Alaoui said, “would also mean reducing their potential for advocacy engagement for the students and their potential for projects.”
El Alaoui said the centre’s situation will be reassessed in the fall, once the centre has obtained its first fee-levy. “They’ll see how much it would need to be increased by at this time. The CSU is also looking at other solutions,” he said.
The new finance coordinator said he wants more transparency within the CSU. Despite being labelled “budgets” on the CSU website, the only documents that can be found are audited financial statements. The latest is from 2015-16. However, none of these represent the actual budget, and no financial documents are available for 2016-2017.
At the June 14 council meeting, El Alaoui told members the CSU website will be “revamped” and, for that reason, the budget for website external labour is “going way up.” For 2017-18, the CSU doubled the previous budget for external labour, from $10,000 to $20,000. El Alaoui said the CSU wants to make the website more user-friendly and accessible.
He said he also plans to write up a document explaining every aspect of the budget, and make it available to the student body. He would like the CSU to publish a budget similar to the one put out by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), the McGill student association. The SSMU budget is 18 pages and offers clarifications for all the elements mentioned in the document.
This article has been updated for accuracy and clarity with regards to the fact that amortization and depreciation costs are not taken into account in the budget presented to the CSU council. The Concordian regrets the error.