By Bryan Meler
If you look across this year’s executive team of the Pakistani Students’ Association (PSA), you won’t see any familiar faces.
Saying goodbye to last year’s executives was part of a deal the PSA made with the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) in order to be reinstated as an official student group over the summer.
The group’s dismemberment was the result of the former team failing to inform the RSU about the cancellation of their Desi Dhamaka concert—a South-Asian cultural showcase—in the winter of 2018, leading to the fraudulent misuse of $6,984.97 in university funding.
Instead of planning another concert, the PSA will go back to organizing dinners, says their current president Zulqarnain Imtiaz. “Their expectations were too high last year.”
Their dinners will provide an opportunity for the Pakistani community to get together at Ryerson, but they are also what sparked the group’s interest and motivation in wanting to do more in the first place.
Hirra Farooqi, last year’s PSA president, says Ryerson’s Pakistani students wanted to see their community represented through a concert. Farooqi and Arslan Ahmed, the former vice-president of events for the PSA, followed their wishes. Ahmed did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
On Oct. 23, the PSA proposed a plan to the RSU to hold a Desi Dhamaka concert in January at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC), which would cost roughly $15,000 to book. Since the group hadn’t secured any funding yet and had only $532.97 in their trust fund, the RSU told them to scale back their event. The PSA then found a smaller venue in Vaughan. But Dawn Murray, the RSU’s campus groups coordinator, says the RSU’s other advice was ignored.
The PSA booked Pakistani pop star Bilal Saeed, which would require him to fly to Toronto to perform. Having him on their bill rounded their deposit for artist fees to $9,300, because they also booked Sidhu Moose Wala, an up-and-coming Indian-Canadian artist.
The artist fee was added to the $1,000 deposit the PSA needed to pay for the venue, and the extra $900 required for security. The PSA was able to pay the venue deposit, thanks to their $2,000 grant from the RSU. That, along with the $5,000 in university funding they received from the president’s office, was put in their group’s trust account.
“There was a lack of communication [with the RSU]… We never got around to telling them”
The PSA was planning on selling around 700 tickets for their event to cover costs, but they’d soon be met with a different reality. Since the PSA Formal was in March, and was scheduled within several weeks of the concert, a lot of students didn’t want to buy tickets for both events.
To create more time for ticket sales, the PSA moved their Jan. 26 concert to Feb. 9. They also received support from M.I. Associates, a real estate company from Pakistan, who agreed to pay off their entire artist deposit fees of $9,300. In exchange, the PSA would need to promote the company during the concert.
But just three days before the start of the show, the PSA had sold less than 100 tickets. The group didn’t have enough money to pay for the concert, which would have required another $10,000, in addition to the deposits, to cover the performers and over $6,000 for the venue, according to Farooqi. The PSA then decided to cancel the event.
Farooqi made the announcement over the PSA’s Facebook page on Feb. 6, but she didn’t inform the RSU directly. That same day, the PSA received a cheque from the RSU trust account for $6,984.97. The RSU believed the money would be used as a faster way to pay for the venue and security.
Without returning the cheque or notifying the RSU, the PSA used it to pay back M.I. Associates. And because they owed the company $9,300, Farooqi says they paid the remaining $2,315 from their own pockets.
“There was a lack of communication [with the RSU],” Farooqi said. “We never got around to telling them.”
Murray and the RSU didn’t realize the event was cancelled until March 29, when they attended a grant meeting where the PSA mentioned their failed Desi Dhamaka concert. The RSU later called in the PSA to clarify, eventually finding out the group had misused $6,984.97 in RSU funding—money that, along with their $1,000 deposit, would never be recuperated.
As a result, the RSU stripped the PSA of student group status. “Looking back, it was unrealistic to try and pull off that large of a concert,” says Farooqi, who adds “what the RSU had to do was fair,” but she wished the executives received better training for event planning.
Murray says the union’s guidelines are adequate for planning a $500 event or a $5,000 event. She also noted that last year, Musicians@Ryerson successfully pulled off a concert at the MAC with over $25,000 in total expenses.
Because of last year’s fiasco, the RSU has emphasized group education on event planning through their presentations, despite not changing any policies.
The PSA won’t have to worry about filling last year’s deficit, but they must ascribe to four extra amendments, which they agreed to in June. The PSA will have the Student Group Committee oversee their financial activities and intervene when they choose fit. Executives from last year can’t return as signing officers. And the association did not get an office in the Student Campus Centre, but this has since changed.
“We didn’t have the experience” says Farooqi. ”We hope other clubs, and this new team, can learn from our mistakes.”