For several months, the University of Toronto administration froze the accounts of the New College Student Council (NCSC), as the audited reports for the 2013–14 year were not filed on time. The NCSC accounts remained frozen until this month.
The NCSC is funded by a compulsory levy, which all New College students pay. According to the Governing Council’s Policy for Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees, every student society is required to submit an auditor’s report by December 31 each year. The university withholds fees from student societies that fail to meet the deadline until an auditor’s report is submitted.
The NCSC’s reserve funds were not affected. During the time that their levy was withheld, the NCSC continued to operate using these funds.
Nicholas Grant, vice-president finance of the NCSC, told The Varsity that the auditor sent him a list of 25 items where “the money didn’t seem to be allocated properly,” with the costs of these items ranging from $50 to $50,000.
According to Grant, many of these items were not properly listed in the budget under the correct portfolio. “There [was] something to the tune of $30,000 that was not listed anywhere and there was all this extra money that they couldn’t really explain where it came from,” Grant added.
In total, Grant said that there was around $70,000 in funds that were improperly allocated and he confirmed this issue was eventually resolved. “Those were the missing pieces towards the end of all this. And that’s what dragged into September.”
Grant placed much of the blame for the situation on his predecessor, Alicia Lazaro. “The current executive of the NCSC alleges the previous vice-president finance acted irresponsibly and didn’t do their job,” said Grant, adding “we allege that the main cause of our financial problems is that this individual did not complete a financial audit to be presented to the university, falsified information, destroyed documents, and deliberately avoided transitioning execs in an attempt to delay discovery of these problems.”
Grant said that he became aware of these issues after taking office. He claimed that Lazaro did not provide him with a transition package and after he took control of the vice-president finance’s email address, he noticed that there were no emails between Lazaro and the auditor. Lazaro reportedly told Grant that she did not have any communication with the auditor, and that the 2013–14 audit was her predecessor’s responsibility. “[This] is untrue,” said Grant, “because her predecessor’s term would’ve been done by the end of the financial year so there’s no way she could’ve compiled the audit.”
However, the auditor told Grant that he had been constantly exchanging emails with Lazaro. Grant believes that Lazaro deleted the emails. “The auditor actually forwarded over all these conversations,” said Grant. “There are about 50 or so messages back and forth between her and the auditor explaining in great detail the situation, so she was well aware of everything.”
Grant also stated that there were important financial documents saved in the NCSC’s Google drive that were overwritten during Lazaro’s tenure.
“We actually lost all those financial documents and financial statements, such as the cheques that were going out, any contact that she would’ve had. It would’ve been all stored centrally and it was stored centrally for all the previous years, but that’s all been overwritten on all of our digital documents and we can’t find any of that.”
As of present time, Lazaro had not responded to The Varsity’s request for comment.
Troubles with the auditor
Grant also disclosed to The Varsity that the accountant who was in charge of the council’s audit quit the auditing firm unexpectedly in August and “the firm had to start much of the work over again.”
Afterwards, the person in charge of the firm assumed most of the responsibilities that the previous auditor had. However, Grant noted that the auditor “hadn’t left complete documents” although he said that he was able to get much of the important information for the audit within the two months before the auditor left the firm.
The NCSC held an emergency meeting on September 25. Between several in-camera sessions, there were discussions of increasing the scrutiny put into the budget, doing more to keep executives accountable, as well as working with the University of Toronto Students’ Union and the Office of Residence and Student Life at New College. There was also talk of possibly implementing changes to the position of vice-president finance, as members of the council felt that the previous vice-president finance was unprepared for the challenges of the position.
Althea Blackburn-Evans, director of news & media relations at U of T, confirmed that the NCSC’s audit was eventually received and that the administration has ways of assisting the student societies that fail to meet the deadline.
“The satisfactory auditor’s report was submitted in October of this year so the funds have been received,” she said. “If the student societies ever miss a deadline, the vice-provost students will work with them and with the appropriate student life staff to help them meet the obligations of the policies.”
An audit for the 2014–15 year will have to be submitted by the end of this year, and according to Grant, this audit “already has a whole bunch of problems with it that we’re trying to deal with.”
“About $15,000 [is] just straight up missing, as in money that just disappeared from the office,” said Grant. “I have had these conversations with the president from last year after he had already left. He said that there is just money just disappearing and nobody really paid attention to it or cared what’s going on.”
“This is going to be a problem for my year coming up because I have to complete [Lazaro’s] audit now for the most recent financial year that just finished. There are massive paper trails that are missing.”