Students' society gets nod to search for funds

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 12:00 17/01/2014

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The whereabouts of more than $200,000 of Massey University Extramural Students' Society money should soon come to light after the association's new executive got the legal go-ahead to run it.

New figures were revealed at the association's annual meeting this week that show the amount of financial uncertainty surrounding the student society, with numbers reaching into the hundreds of thousands.

But unaccounted-for funds can can now be hunted after the association's co-presidents had their legitimacy validated in a letter from law firm Fitzherbert Rowe.

Confusion has surrounded the society and whether former president Jeannette Chapman - who was ousted after members called a special meeting to place a vote of no-confidence in her presidency in October - was still the legal head of the association.

New co-presidents Tiri Porter and Mark Lester said this had slowed things down with the society's stakeholders which were, "although dealing in good faith", not throwing full support behind them.

The Companies Office and the New Zealand University Students' Association had recognised the handover, but banks, creditors and Massey had been hesitant, they said.

This meant funds were frozen, bills were left outstanding, creditors were left in the lurch and the executive was unable to access accounts, incoming mail, membership lists, executive minutes, records or cash transactions because Ms Chapman still claimed to be president.

But a letter forwarded to the executive before the society's annual meeting on Wednesday night confirmed Ms Chapman had been overthrown because the special meeting was "valid and effective".

This was good news for the executive, who were still grappling with overhanging issues from the previous term, especially concerning finances, Ms Porter said.

The meeting was told in 2012 that the executive, under the leadership of Ralph Springett, created a three-year strategic plan for the association's financial operations.

It registered $400,000 in capital and nearly $310,000 in service contracts held with Massey University, though the service contracts have since been cut.

It deposited $200,000 with the Massey University Foundation - an organisation established several years ago with the aim of raising $100 million "to enable excellence in scholarship, teaching and research at the university" - for safe holding.

Interest on EXMSS's nest egg was then used for extramural student scholarships, which equated to about $6000 annually.

The other $200,000 was to be used on getting EXMSS to break even in 2015 - with operational costs covered and the focus turning to building membership. But those assets have been unaccounted for, with EXMSS's new executive unable to access financial records.

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Ms Porter said legal verification would hopefully lead to other society stakeholders reinstating their support, then allowing them to iron things out.

"That was holding us back in a lot of areas, like trying to get into the EXMSS office, accessing EXMSS bank accounts and settling agreements that were hung over from when Jeannette was in office," she said. "This just opens the door a lot more to be able to proceed forward."

Inquiries into the financial state of the society had been undertaken before and would again when access to accounts could be gained, Ms Porter said.

The Manawatu Standard has repeatedly tried to contact Ms Chapman for comment, but she has not returned calls, and her landline and cellphone have been disconnected. She was not at this week's annual meeting.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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