By Annerijn Vink
Tim Kroezen: Any update on the money that was stolen a couple of years ago?
Noam Auerbach: No, there is still no update on that money.
-Minutes GA 6 May 2013
Long before current third years were first years, the UCSA already faced a theft. And while we still haven’t got that money back, we are now dealing with a new theft issue. Even though the name may imply otherwise, this year’s Budget General Assembly will be remembered mostly for its confusion about board liability.
On 22 April, Treasurer Nina found out that €8753,90 of cash money – ticket sales from the Yearbook, the UCSA Birthday Bash, the InterUC tournament and the Silent Disco party – was stolen the night before. The money had not been in the safe but was in an envelope in the office. Thanks to security cameras, the police could identify the person who entered the office with an own access key.
The public prosecution unit of the Netherlands, the Openbaar Ministerie, has taken up the case over summer. While that might take several months or years, the club year runs until the first of July. Although the trial had not even started, Nina had to close her books. The loss was accounted for as an unforeseen expense, eating away the association’s savings.
Like at any other Budget GA, the members needed to approve the old Board’s financial overview, remove liability from the old Board, and approve of the new budget. This time, it would get interesting: should we remove the old Board’s liability if we are not sure whether the trial will help us getting the money back
The Auditing Team, the Independent Body and the Board of 2012-2013 all contacted several legal experts. Still, even until a few minutes before the GA, there were meetings between the AT, the IB and the UCSA Board about the interpretation of Dutch law and the Statutes.
The not-so-budgetty Budget GA
During the Budget GA, Nina apologized to the members. “If you ask me how this is possible, why I did not deposit the cash, I honestly cannot give an answer. You can trust me that I asked myself that question often enough,” she said.
At each Budget GA, after the financial overview of the last year is given, the Auditing Team presents a report. They also give a recommendation: should we approve the financial overview, thereby removing liability or not? This time, the recommendation was neutral. Chair of the Auditing Team Astor Hermans told the Boomerang that overall “the numbers worked out, receipts and invoices were handled neatly, and Nina stayed within budget considerably better than her predecessor. However, the issue of cash money was pretty grave.”
The Auditing Team discovered that from Introweek until April 21, no one had deposited any cash at the bank. Moreover, the money was partly kept outside the safe.
Suddenly, the Budget GA was not about the budget anymore. The main issue became how the association would get the money back. Was this a case of negligence of the old Board? If we approve the financial overview, thereby removing liability, will that limit the association’s options to hold the Board accountable for the loss?
Noam, the old Chair of the UCSA, stated very clearly during the GA that “if you approve the financial overview, nothing changes. Dutch law always stands above the Statutes, so the association can always sue us. But you can trust that we will do all we can to get the money back.”
With 90 members voting in favour, 24 abstaining, and 0 voting against, the GA approved the financial overview and removed the old board’s liability.
According to Astor, if the GA would not have removed the financial liability, the GA could have voted to hold the old Board accountable. “But now, the only way is to go through court. However, making a criminal case for this is hard. We could argue for negligence, but in the end, it was not Nina’s fault. It was theft,” Astor said.
On the other hand, as member of the Independent Body Rens Bakker said: “The IB received conflicting information. But based on the sources we trusted most, removing the liability would not affect the Association’s ability to get the money back. The internal UCSA procedures might change, but eventually, the ability to take legal action will not.”
How is it possible that these two bodies disagree on the consequences of the liability removal?
“The legal consequences were unclear for all parties involved. Up until the last minute before the GA, we weren’t even sure of it ourselves,” Astor said. “I’m not a legal expert myself, and the experts that the AT, the IB and the UCSA Board consulted pointed in conflicting directions.”
During the GA, too, there was a lot of fuzziness about the consequences of approving or disapproving the financial overview. “There was some degree of confusion in the audience, but the AT has their statutory limits. We have no legal responsibility, that is the job of the IB,” Astor said. “The IB was very much involved before the GA, but during the GA they should have made the issue more clear. What does it mean to remove the liability? Can we still go through court?”
Rens: “Basing ourselves on our legal experts, the IB saw no dangers in approving the financial overview. During the GA, our role was not very prominent, but we could only inform the GA about the consequences of a vote. The IB’s role is not to give an opinion. Besides, there was a very short time span: we couldn’t make an analysis of Dutch law by ourselves. A written statement of a legal professional would have been nice, but time did not allow it. Still, we were reasonably sure that our stance was the right approach.”
Information from legal experts conflicted. The AT was unable to speak up about legal issues –they are an auditing team, after all. But can the IB be blamed? Pressed for time, the IB could not get a written statement from a professional. According to them, removing the liability or not does not really matter – there will always be Dutch law providing an overall standard. So who should we listen to in the end?
If the AT was convinced that removing the liability would reduce our chances of getting our money back, why didn’t they give a negative recommendation for the overview? “We already warned for the cash issue last year and we discussed it before Nina started her term. Therefore, we could not give a positive recommendation. A negative recommendation would push it too far: apart from this incident, she did an excellent job,” Astor said.
“The advice of the AT became important because it concerned both the financial overview and the liability. Even though these are two separate things on the agenda, according to the Statutes, they go together,” Rens said. “Technically seen, they are responsible for financial affairs. But their recommendation would have an effect on the liability vote, too.”
Changing the statutes
Dutch law provides the option to split the approval of the financial overview and the removal of the liability. At the very least, this would have made the discussion clearer. Unfortunately, the Statutes, the constitution of our association, put them together in one vote (see the box).
“We only realized hours before the GA that we could not vote on the financial overview and the liability separately,” Astor said. “We thought Dutch law was above the Statutes, but that is only the case when the Statutes do not specify a certain rule or when the Statutes and the Dutch law conflict.” Changing the Statutes requires half of the association’s members to be present at a GA, a two-third majority vote in favour, and a trip to the notary.
“That is just super hard. We are thinking of changing the Statutes in the future, in cooperation with the UCSA, but it is really difficult to get 375 UCU students to come to a GA,” Astor said.
Learning from mistakes
Luc, current Treasurer of the UCSA, said that “we are cooperating with the AT towards a change in the Policy Manual. Something towards the idea of a limited amount of cash we can have in a safe per two working days.”
Moreover, since October this year, the Board has a liability insurance.
The risk of forgetting about the theft remains. In two years, most of the current UCSA members will be gone, and the memory of €8753,90 will be erased. The Minutes of 6 May already demonstrated how easy it is to forget a theft that happened only a couple of years ago. The current UCSA Board confirmed that they do not have any updates on both thefts, but that they are in touch with ex-Board members to clarify as much as possible.
“Getting the money back, no matter how long ago the incident took place, is up to the UCSA Board. They need to pursue the interest of the association, and I’m sure they are well aware of the huge amount of money we lost,” Rens concluded.