General coordinator and finance coordinator accepted gifts: CSU council
The Concordia Student Union council issued formal warnings to CSU general coordinator Omar Riaz and finance coordinator Soulaymane El Alaoui during a regular council meeting on Sept. 20. The council learned the two coordinators were given plane tickets to Vancouver by Lev Bukhman, the CEO of Alliance pour la Santé Étudiante au Québec (ASEQ), which is the CSU’s insurance provider.
The CSU coordinators did not report the gifts to councillors in their executive report of the Student Union Development Summit (SUDS) conference that they attended at the University of British Columbia from Aug. 18 to 21.
According to CSU councillor and signing officer Rowan Gaudet—who motioned for the formal warning—the coordinators should have called a special council meeting in the summer to ask if they could accept the gifts, as per a motion passed by the council on Feb. 8, 2017.
Gaudet and fellow signing officer Rory James knew about the trip, but never got to sign off on cheques for plane tickets. “To go to B.C., I was assuming they hadn’t hitchhiked, therefore flights would be necessary [and] there were no flights expenses to the CSU,” Gaudet said.
According to Gaudet, ASEQ, also known as StudentCare, offered CSU coordinators plane tickets for the same event last year, but the coordinators refused.
The February 2017 motion read that “should the CSU or its coordinators be offered any benefits or gift […] the council will have final approval as to whether it can be accepted or not.”
Gaudet told The Concordian that “according to Quebec law, they have to declare any gifts from corporations they represent.” ASEQ renewed its contract with the CSU, worth about nine or 10 million dollars, on April 12, 2017.
“It’s absolutely a motion we didn’t oversight,” El Alaoui argued. The CSU finance coordinator said he didn’t consider the plane tickets to be a gift.
Riaz and El Alaoui have 90 days to individually pay the CSU back the cost of the flights and of a meal in Vancouver, according to the motion. The finance coordinator said this amounts to about $900 each.
“When we accepted the flights, it was an opportunity that we saw to reduce the cost of going to the conference because, at the end of the day, all these costs the CSU would have paid for anyway,” El Alaoui said.
During the council meeting, signing officer James told the council that Riaz and El Alaoui’s recommendation to bring health insurance services in-house—meaning creating a space for ASEQ services on-campus—would necessitate a “transactional relationship” between ASEQ and the CSU.
“If they receive the benefit of this company, they shouldn’t be involved in the future with this company: negotiations, contracts, nothing,” James told the council. “Regardless of what happened in the past, [going] forward they cannot negotiate on our behalf.”
According El Alaoui, a lot of students are unaware that they have an insurance plan as part of their fee-levies.
“There are 20,000 students enrolled in the health and dental plan. A lot of people that are enrolled are having difficulties and they come to [the CSU] reception to ask questions, but because the receptionists are not the frontline customer service providers, they have to redirect them to [ASEQ’s] customer service on the phone,” Riaz explained. The CSU general coordinator said that is why in-house ASEQ services would facilitate the procedure.
The contract signed by the CSU with ASEQ in April allows the union to bring some of the insurance company’s responsibilities in-house, according to El Alaoui. The CSU finance coordinator explained during the council meeting that one of the goals of the visit to UBC was to see how UBC’s Alma Mater Society (AMS)—the university’s equivalent of the CSU—operated ASEQ’s services in-house.
Riaz told The Concordian he and El Alaoui arrived in Vancouver on the evening of Aug. 15 to meet AMS executives.
El Alaoui explained that a meeting is scheduled on Sept. 26 where he, Riaz, Gaudet and James will discuss how the two CSU coordinators will move forward if they can’t be in contact with ASEQ.
Other points of contention
The paid flights were not the only problems Gaudet and James addressed at the council meeting. They also took issue with Riaz and El Alaoui’s report about the SUDS conference.
“A lot of points were just three or four lines. I expect that you should get details out of this conference.”
Riaz explained the report was only to present recommendations to the council.
Gaudet also criticized Riaz and El Alaoui’s use of the Health and Dental Plan Premiums budget line for the trip’s expenses, arguing that “this [was] not just an expense line to just incur expenses for the trip.”
El Alaoui later told The Concordian that the money was put there as a holding because he didn’t have the authority to create a budget line without council’s approval.
“Since there’s [no line for the budget] and those costs were already coming in, we put it in Health and Dental Plan Premiums because it’s related to [that], and the [expenses] are not going to stay there,” El Alaoui stressed.
In addition, Gaudet was critical of a section in Riaz and El Alaoui’s report called “Number of execs.” In it, the two coordinators wrote that they “realized that the CSU is the only [union] with a large, even number of executives.” The report continued to say that the “main issue brought up with having an even number of executives is that [fewer decisions] can actually be made” because of the increased likelihood of a tie during votes.
Gaudet also took issue with El Alaoui’s arguments regarding the high number of executives at the CSU. “Technically the CSU could function no problem without a Loyola coordinator or without a sustainability coordinator,” Gaudet told the council. “But we’re greatly advantaged by having someone whose sole focus is sustainability [or] the Loyola campus.”