Op-ed: Minister Virk needs to explain unreported payments at Kwantlen

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By David Eby

This week, New Democrats asked the minister of advanced education to explain unsettling evidence of unreported payments worth over $100,000 to executives at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

After all, Minister Amrik Virk was on the university’s board when the payments were made. Not only that, he was the point person on the board responsible for accurate government reports on the salaries of Kwantlen’s best paid executives. These reports have one purpose: to make sure executives aren’t overpaid.

But despite repeated questions, the minister failed to provide any explanation for why at least $100,000 in payments to Kwantlen executives were hidden from public view in Kwantlen’s reports.

Those payments were not included in the reported salaries, but were recorded instead as payments to suppliers of goods and services, listed alongside Future Shop and Coca Cola Canada. The payments were not included in the executive compensation report to government, a report that was also posted online for the public to review.

In the legislature, we presented evidence that KPU made a $50,000 payment to the current university president in the 2013 budget year and failed to properly report it as part of his compensation. In 2012, the university made a similar $56,280 payment to the former university vice-president, which it also failed to report properly.

We wanted to know why the payments were hidden and proper salary disclosure procedures were ignored.

And since Minister Virk was vice-chair of Kwantlen’s board of governors and chair of its human resources subcommittee at the time the payments were made and not properly reported, he should have been able to answer these questions.

This is a matter in which an institution with a legal obligation to report the total compensation of its best-paid administrators failed to do so. It is a serious problem, and one that the 17,000 students who fund this university’s budget, and the taxpayers who supply almost $70 million a year to this institution, would undoubtedly like to see resolved.

This hard-earned money should be accounted for. If it is not, the B.C. Liberals should take that problem seriously.

Yet instead of committing to an independent investigation, Minister Virk said he would ask the finance ministry to look into the matter. Another case of government investigating itself isn’t good enough. Instead, an independent investigation by the auditor general would be more appropriate so that taxpayers and the students of Kwantlen can be sure that the money they are contributing to this institution is spent properly.

This isn’t the first time Minister Virk has turned his back on B.C. students.

While the minister didn’t cut his own office’s budget, he didn’t hesitate to cut $17 million from universities and colleges. He’s cutting another $25 million next year. He says that universities and colleges should be able to find savings in “administration,” while his own office doesn’t need to find any savings at all.

If the minister succeeds in forcing these cuts onto schools that can’t afford them, schools that are already slashing student services and increasing tuition fees, he’ll get a bonus from the premier, a bonus he says is worth more than $5000.

And when faced with questions about how he will spend the government’s $750 million slush fund for universities and colleges, the minister won’t reveal his plans.

He won’t commit to funding a desperately needed expansion of SFU Surrey – even though the rest of the province has three times as many seats at universities and colleges as Surrey does.

He also wouldn’t commit to using the funding to pay for long-overdue maintenance at schools in B.C. that are literally falling apart – a window fell out of a building at Camosun College last year, and water cascades down the walls in older buildings at SFU’s Burnaby campus.

With money so tight in the system, except for where the minister’s bonuses and his office are concerned, Minister Virk needs to clarify these hidden payments at KPU. This could be the first step he and his government make towards finally putting students first.