Flames of the Torch: Transparency in SGI
We planned on using this space to give a brief analysis of Student Government, Inc.’s budget that passed on Monday. Unfortunately, due to a bit of bureaucratic red tape and an aversion to healthy debate (something that we’ve become used to here at St. John’s), we don’t have the budget yet publicly available.
Blame should not yet go to the new SGI board. President Christian Williams has expressed a sincere desire to release the complete budget, and we trust him at his word, and expect to see it sooner rather than later. After all, the hard work SGI did in putting together a budget, it wouldn’t make sense to put it under lock and key.
But that doesn’t explain why SGI’s budget isn’t publicly available already. At the meeting Monday, anybody who attended got a copy of it for about five minutes — enough to glance at the major figures (that’s why we say “around” $1.14 million for the total budget number, because we didn’t have the foresight to copy it down to the number), but not enough to break them down in any way.
The reason, we are told, is to avoid “World War III” style bickering between organizations who feel that they aren’t receiving their fair share of other students’ money. In other words, the previous SGI e-board didn’t release its budget because it didn’t want to foster a debate about how the majority of our Student Activity Fees were allocated.
This is absurd. We here at the Torch pride ourselves on acting the same as a paid daily newspaper as much as possible. SGI, we presume, prides itself on acting the same was as a federal, state or local branch of government. In “real-world” government, budgets are debated and scrutinized by its constituents, and “real-world” newspapers and other publications.
And it’s not just us. It’s all of our money that SGI is spending. It’s all of our organizations that they are allocating money to. And, to some extent, it is the experiences of all of us they are shaping with their budgetary decisions. The least SGI can do for us
is let us take a look under the hood. The only consequence we can see is students becoming more involved and invested in their government. If that means having to answer a few angry emails, why not?
There’s almost certainly nothing untoward going on here — simply an attempt by previous SGI e-boards and University administration to avoid criticism that they believe is meritless and unnecessary. But we have to say “almost,” because we don’t know. We know the rough numbers of the budget and the broad overview (organizations get more, operations get less). But we don’t know the specifics.
For example, Williams had big backing from Haraya, the pan-African student organization last semester when he was running for president. Did they get a nice boost in their allocated funds in return this year? We don’t think Williams would do that, but until we have the numbers in front of us, we just don’t know. Not publishing the full budget leads to reckless speculation like that.
Williams, SGI treasurer Elaine Vasquez Jorge and the rest of the board are very proud of the work they’ve done so far, and to us, they seem really eager to establish real transparency, for which we applaud them. This is the first test of that. Make the budget public. Let us see how you are using our money. We all have the right to know.