Transparency should be more than a buzz word.
By The Runner
At their last council meeting on April, the Kwantlen Student Association (KSA) continued its steady path towards unaccountability and secrecy.
Students and The Runner were barred from the portion of the meeting where new executive members were chosen. The four executive members wield a large amount of power, and are elected from within the existing KSA council, not by students. This marks the first time in Kwantlen history that the discussions and recommendations for executive appointments have been made in secret.
Large portions of meetings held in camera (in secret) are no longer an anomaly. This is regression. It echoes the mistakes of past councils.
Every council meeting this calendar year has had segments in camera. Some of these are undoubtedly necessary. Legal advice and certain human resource issues need to be discussed in private, as was the case for two hours during a recent meeting. More often though the council uses these as excuses to hide discussions that are politically unpopular or embarrassing.
After a November 2011 referendum toppled a controversial regime at the KSA, the new board promised accountability. There has certainly been more openness since, but the slow creep towards secrecy is worrying.
Controversial decisions are being made in secret for not other reason than to control the board’s public image.
In February of last year, an out-of-court settlement was reached between the interim KSA, and an impeached board member. Members of the previous board had been placed in bad standing, meaning they couldn’t run for a position in the KSA again. The decision to put the former KSA in bad standing was voted on unanimously at a special general meeting on Nov. 30, 2011. The out-of-court settlement removed the restriction from running again. Beyond that, the KSA agreed to pay for former board member Balninna “Nina” Sandhu and student Gary Dhaliwal’s legal costs. This was done in secret, and students still don’t know how much was spent.
On Dec. 5 of last year, the KSA board of directors agreed to grant club status to anti-abortion group Protectores Vitae. The decision went against an internal KSA pro-choice policy, and another policy banning clubs with overt religious or political causes. The entire portion of the meeting regarding the decision was made in camera. It’s unclear what was said at that particular meeting that swayed the KSA to disregard their own rules. We at The Runner would very much like to know and we think students ought to know too.
Transparency and accountability are nice election buzzwords. Stephen Harper uses both terms frequently every time he runs for office. It must work for him. That hasn’t stopped the Conservative Party from running the most secretive government in Canadian history, where information and image are tightly controlled.
The new (post-2011) KSA can’t campaign on accountability and then shut out students from every controversial decision. Or rather, they can, but then they look like they’re taking a page out of Stephen Harper’s big book of political marketing strategies.
Anyone who’s followed Kwantlen student politics can’t help but be cynical. They’ve had money mismanaged. They’ve had conflicts of interest. They’ve had back-to-back corrupt student governments. And as students, we’ve learned our lesson. We don’t naturally trust student politicians, especially those who’ve received their seats uncontested. The latest Kwantlen election wasn’t much of an election. Only one council position contested, like a real democracy. The rest got in more-or-less automatically.
In this climate, it’s good to have a healthy distrust of student politicians.
For the April 3 meeting, Christopher Girodat, chairperson of the executive committee, prepared a motion on behalf of the KSA’s standing committee on governance suggesting all “confidential or sensitive documents” only be distributed in hard copy, and in camera. Such documents can only be shown once all electronic devices are turned off and “placed on the table.”
In 2011, Girodat heavily criticized an attempt by the then-KSA-council to ban electronic recordings of council meetings, saying “If you don’t want it to be recorded don’t say it.” The circumstances are different between that motion and his, but the distrusting attitude towards board members, students, and reporters is the same.
Even though we can’t know the process that led to the appointment of the four executive members, we know who they are. Girodat is returning as director of student services. The other three members, Melinda Bige, Richard Hosein, and Gaurav Kumar, are new to the executive.
The three new executive members should not continue down the path of secrecy. As much as possible, they should let students be privy to decisions that concern them. And don’t lock out reporters. It looks bad.
Hosein and Bige have openly questioned secrecy, during the anti-abortion club issue. Here’s hoping that they keep firm to their convictions. A new executive committee could steer the student association towards genuine transparency.
If the KSA ever wants to put any faith back into Kwantlen politics, transparency is desperately needed.