Concordia Student Union (CSU) executives are seeking further information involving the actions of former general coordinator Omar Riaz who allegedly incurred an expense of more than $24,000 without proper approval on July 17, 2017. The payment was made to Deloitte and Stantec, two consulting firms, to consider the viability of purchasing a building to extend club spaces.
Deloitte conducts the CSU’s annual audits, but Deloitte and Stantec were contracted on-and-off for this project. The union’s finance coordinator, John Hutton said that when Riaz signed the three letters of engagement with Deloitte and Stantec, the letters needed to be approved by the financial committee. The committee consists of the CSU council and the Student Space Accessible Education and Legal Contingency (SSAELC) fund committee.
According to Hutton, so far, there is no proof Riaz consulted with any of the three bodies.
General coordinator Sophie Hough-Martin said the CSU currently has an outstanding debt to the two firms because of the consultation. The payments to Deloitte and Stantec are still pending and are to be paid through the SSAELC funds. Hough-Martin added that council felt Riaz should be held accountable for his actions.
On June 14, 2017, council voted against a motion to buy a new building for club spaces. According to Hough-Martin, at the time, council did not believe sufficient research, planning or visioning had been conducted to warrant purchasing the building.
During the first council meeting of the following academic year, however, council faced three invoices totaling at $24,033.32 to be paid to Deloitte and Stantec for conducting a consultation on purchasing a building on Bishop Street. The invoices were filed under the names of Omar Riaz and Robert Henri, the CSU’s current general manager. The invoices were commissioned on July 17, 2017.
During the 2018 council meeting, finance coordinator Hutton presented the invoices, since he needed council’s approval to pay the consultation fees. Hutton told The Concordian that he spoke to Riaz during an informal meeting shortly after the invoices were brought to his attention in May 2018.
According to Hutton, the executives didn’t know about the invoices or the letters of engagement earlier, because Riaz had ignored them for many months.
According to the CSU’s standing regulations, an approved amount between $10,000 and $50,000 must be further approved by the finance committee. The finance committee is comprised of the finance coordinator, four councillors and one member-at-large.
Former general coordinator, Omar Riaz said that several councillors pushed for professional advice. “Council overwhelmingly requested that the executive [team] seek professional opinion in regards to what is included in the reports,” Riaz told The Concordian. “The building was not in our interest, and [we] finally did not buy it. This was not a unilateral decision as council requested it and executives were aware of it.”
Nonetheless, Hutton said Riaz still needed approval from the three parties. “I believe Omar when he says he believes that he had a mandate to reach out to professionals for opinions,” Hutton said. “He still had to get approval to initiate the contracts.”
On June 18, Hutton sent Riaz an email with specific questions to clarify the situation, since his inquiries had not been answered during their informal meeting. In the email, Hutton asked Riaz to confirm whether or not he consulted the necessary parties before incurring the expenses.
On June 13, council moved that the outstanding debt should be paid from the SSAELC fund, which is usually used for renovations of student spaces and unforeseen legal issues.
The executives have consulted their legal team on the extent to which the CSU’s bylaws
were violated and how to respond to the violation, as mandated by council during the 2018 meeting. According to Hutton, their lawyer advised them to investigate the matter and obtain all of the facts. The CSU has not yet commenced any legal action.
“As a team, we are coming up with a solution to make sure that actions like this don’t happen in the future […], and that we come up to a reasonable solution to this issue, because we don’t believe student money should be spent in this way without proper accountability and oversight in the future,” Hough-Martin said.
Photo by Etienne Lajoie