By Annie Arnone
Conflicts of interest regarding employment and voting rights have become a hot topic among the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) Board of Directors, according to various board members.
On Aug. 28, the RSU met for an emergency board meeting, where they voted and approved their 2017- 2018 budget. During the meeting a motion was brought forward by board member Salman Faruqi to move money from the legal fees expense to athletic groups funding. Vice-president operations Ali Yousaf said the amount that was reallocated towards athletic groups funding was $10,000* which came from legal fees. The motion was approved in a roll call vote, putting athletics funding for the year at a total of $25,000.
Former RSU president and board member Obaid Ullah was one of several to vote on the allocation of athletic groups funding which, according to RSU bylaws, poses as a potential conflict of interest given that Ullah is a member of the Ryerson cricket team. He is also a member of the RSU’s bylaw committee.
Under the bylaw subsection regarding conflicts of interest, “A member having an actual or potential conflict of interest with respect to a matter before the membership shall [immediately] disclose it to the membership and shall refrain from participating in the discussion of the matter other than to answer questions from other members of the corporation, and shall refrain from voting on the manor.”
A board member told the room if anyone had a potential conflict of interest, that it should be disclosed. But it was not until the motion was voted on and approved that some- one asked Ullah about his involvement with athletics, president of the RSU Susanne Nyaga said.
Logistics surrounding Ullah’s involvement with the team boiled down to his recent injury—a broken ankle—which he claims affected his ability to remain on the team.
However, he was seen on CityNews just two days before the meeting identified on screen as the “president” of the cricket team. Ullah is no longer the president, but remains a member of the team.
“As board members, we are elect- ed to represent students on campus, so I’m going to vote for the students on campus” said Ullah, calling board members’ allegations of his conflict of interest “absurd.”
On June 14 board member Claire Davis unsuccessfully ran for the position of sustainability commissioner and was called into question because of a “potential conflict of interest”, since she is a staff member at the Good Food Centre (GFC)—a service funded by the RSU.
According to Ullah, Davis’ position on the RSU is “illegal.” However, Nyaga said this is untrue, under the circumstances.
The RSU policy manual states that “board members shall not engage in any business or transaction or have a financial or other personal interest that may improperly impact upon the performance of their official duties. This includes, but is not limited to having material interest in any business that has dealing with the Ryerson Students’ Union.”
According to Nyaga, upon employment, Davis was informed by executive members of the RSU that there will be terms to her involvement as a board member. This includes the inability to vote on equitable motions, due to a potential conflict of interest, as well as a re- convening in October during the RSU by-elections where she’d be required to choose whether she’d stay on the board or with the GFC.
“[I’ve] been really careful around it,” said Davis. “I wouldn’t vote around equity … I upheld my part of that, but looking at this and finding out other people involved in sports are still going to those meetings voting on funds … it’s like there’s no base level of who’s being called out anymore.”
The RSU by-elections will take place in October 2017.
The RSU has yet to comment on whether or not Ullah’s conflict of interest will be addressed in the upcoming board meeting.
Correction: Vice-president operations Ali Yousaf initially told The Eyeopener that $15,000 was moved to athletics, however Yousaf later said that the actual amount was $10,000. The Eyeopener regrets this error.