What Went Wrong with KPIRG?

A lack of efficiency and proper checks on its funding contributed to the research group’s unfortunate decline

(Thomas Buecking)

The Kwantlen Public Interest Group’s days may be numbered, but if a well-organized group of students were to restart a PIRG at KPU, they could learn from the torrid history of their predecessors.

For context, KPIRG has spent the past year scrambling to reorganize and reestablish itself after becoming the subject of controversy for filing a notice of civil claim against its founder last spring. The claim, submitted in March 2018, sought legal action against former administrative coordinator Richard Hossein for alleged fraud of approximately $112,000. Since then, the group has had their funding and autonomy agreement revoked by the Kwantlen Student Association, and is now anticipating the results of an upcoming student referendum that would redistribute its existing funds into scholarships and bursaries.

In my time observing the group, one of the questions I often asked myself was, “Where does KPIRG’s funding go?”

Until recently, it received $0.80 per credit from the student body, which translated to a little over a quarter of a million dollars annually. The KPIRG board used that money to hold events, of course, and to pay members of their staff $15 per hour, if we go by their job postings. I obviously don’t know what those staff members did in their offices all day, but it supposedly involved gathering research. KPIRG board members also occasionally issued grants to causes they deemed important.

But importantly, KPIRG didn’t have a lot checks and balances for its money. According to the notice of civil claim, Hossein told other members of the organization that they needed to pay out several thousands of dollars for  “consulting,” without offering many more details.

If the allegations are accurate, did no one ask what “consulting” was? Did no one ask about the company that Hossein had “hired” without anyone else’s input, but whose services he demanded compensation for? Did anyone even Google it? Why was no one suspicious about a consultancy firm demanding to be paid in cash?

As for KPIRG today, informed students will notice that it hasn’t updated its social media presence since October, and that the KPIRG website is down. Considering this, I wouldn’t be surprised if the student body votes to establish scholarships with the remaining money in the PIRG fund rather than re-invest any of it into the research group.

It is, of course, unfortunate that KPIRG might not be able to afford to pursue its legal claim against Hossein, but I would be willing to bet that the KSA has an interest in making sure irresponsible groups don’t get access to student funds in the future. Beyond that, I’m sure that the student government has legal justification for doing so.

As for a future PIRG at KPU, it would take a group of very dedicated students willing to prove to a future KSA that they won’t repeat history and will maintain very stringent financial controls over the new organization. More importantly than that, they will need to demonstrate to students via clear advocacy, events, and completion of actual research that their money is being used for something worthwhile.

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