Midterm review: VP finance portfolio

So far this year, the AMS has seen three different people serving as VP finance — former VP finance Rita Jin, President Eshana Bhangu as interim and current VP Finance Lawrence Liu — as the AMS faces a projected $1.25 million deficit.

The recent departure of the AMS's managing director, Keith Hester, could also pose a challenge for this portfolio. As managing director for the past six years, Hester worked closely with the VP finance and oversaw the AMS's businesses, events, communications and financial and administrative affairs.

Because of the turnover in the VP finance position this year, we’ll be reviewing progress within the VP finance portfolio as a whole rather than an individual executive.

In March 2022, students elected Rita Jin as VP Finance. But she later resigned in July after AMS Council did not approve her course load for the summer and fall terms.

Before her resignation, Jin was working on many of her goals, including passing changes to the student society’s credit card policy and expanding access to student club subsidies. She also told The Ubyssey in July that she was working with TELUS mental health as part of her campaign promise to increase mental health coverage.

As interim VP finance from July to September, Bhangu said she prioritized supporting clubs and constituencies — like the Arts Undergraduate Society — and preparing the transition to a new financial system.

She also said she started up the VP finance caucus — a group of all the VP finances from each constituency — and released a set of Indigenous finance guidelines after an Indigenous contractor called the AMS’s financial system a “hindrance” to working with Indigenous people in May 2020.

Bhangu said she worked on enhancing the AMS businesses’ performance — which have been underperforming since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — as well as addressing the AMS’s deficit by getting AMS Council approval to sell $2.35 million worth of art from the permanent art collection.

Bhangu did experience some challenges as interim VP finance, notably with the decrease in AMS mental health coverage from $1,500 to $1,000 in September. Bhangu and the AMS/GSS Health & Dental Committee later increased coverage to $1,250 following widespread student concerns.

“It was a matter of doing due diligence and doing some projection of what it's going to look like over the next few years. How long can we sustain the $1,250 [coverage] versus how can we even sustain $1,500 for another year?” she said, adding that it was important for any change to be permanent.

After winning a by-election in September to permanently fill the VP finance position, Liu — who served as the VP funds in the VP finance office before his election — said he’s facing “a huge learning curve,” but that the transition has been good.

He said his main focus over the past month has been transitioning the AMS to a new financial system — which officially took place on November 1.

“It’s not something that directly impacts everyday students … but I think it’s just overall going to improve the financial aspect of the society,” he said.

Liu added that he hoped to hold workshops and town halls next term to help club treasurers learn about the new system and collect any feedback.

Moving forward, Liu said he hopes to continue finding sustainable ways to fund mental health coverage and overseeing the establishment of a Mediterranean food outlet where Blue Chip currently is in the Nest — something started by Bhangu. Blue Chip will move to the old Pie R Squared location as part of this project.

On addressing the deficit, Liu said he planned to work with the directors and managers within the AMS to figure out how its businesses’ performance, both financially and in terms of providing affordable options for students.

“I think that will really be very beneficial in in us working with the deficit, especially with our budget reforecasts which come this January.”

— With files from Nathan Bawaan