By Eliza Croft
Residents at a number of halls had to use their own money to pay for official O-Week supplies due to University administration not approving student leaders’ purchase cards in time. Some students were only reimbursed their money this week. The University has maintained that applications for cards were “processed in a timely fashion”.
Purchase cards are used by residents’ committees, bar/canteen co-ordinators, and pastoral care teams to pay for incidental expenses at residential halls. Cards must be re-approved when new students enter the positions each year. Observer understands that this process involves a series of approvals, starting from the Head of Hall, then by the Division of Student Life (DSL), and finally by ANU’s finance division.
Callum Dargavel, President of the Bruce Hall Common Room Committee (CRC), told Observer that this whole process is usually completed by the end of January, in time for O-Week expenses. “We were not given any clear reason at the time and were informed too late to rely on alternative payment tools like invoices,” he said. Jade Lin, President of the Wright Hall Association of Members (WHAM) said that her hall did not receive its purchase cards until after 5 March – a month after residents moved in. Observer understands that approval from DSL took longer in previous years.
Observer understands that this delay affected all ANU-owned halls – that is, all halls except Burgmann and John XXIII Colleges, and the UniLodges. The halls were affected to varying extents, as some had access to other purchase cards which did not need approval.
Dargavel told Observer that the Bruce leadership team “suffered more than others”. The team could use the Head of Hall’s purchase card, but this had a spending limit which was “almost entirely used up paying for bar stock”. Dargavel said that in order to help cover the approximately $10 000 in O-Week expenses, CRC members contributed about $5400 in total, ranging from a few hundred dollars to $3000 per person.
Lin said that her team did not have to put in so much money. “Our wonderful Head of Hall, Sammie, negotiated once we hit his purchase card limit to effectively be able to use his purchase card again,” she said. Still, she said, some team members went out of pocket up to $400, “which is quite significant for students who are already spending a lot of potential working time volunteering for college events instead”.
The lack of purchase cards caused more issues than students being out of pocket. If purchases are made using the cards, they are GST-exempt. However, this exemption is lost if the purchases are made by someone else and then reimbursed. This effectively means that, where purchase cards could not be used, there was a 10% mark-up on purchases.
Halls also encountered various logistical issues. Lin said that, as the purchase card holder has to be present for purchases, she had to “get [the Head of Hall] out at K-Mart in the middle of the night”. She told Observer that this was particularly disruptive because Wright Hall does not have a Deputy Head, so “we effectively interrupted [the Head’s] important pastoral duties to go to random shops for O-Week”. Ursula Hall Residents’ Committee (URC) President Emma McGrath-Cohen said, “[The delay] did make things quite difficult for everyone because admin had to waste time shopping for us and the canteen.”
Those students who contributed their own money had to wait a number of weeks for reimbursement. Dargavel said his team “processed our forms at the end of O-Week” and were told on Monday (8 April) that the payments had been made. “It would have been preferable for faster reimbursements but I don’t know if that was possible,” he said. “ANU Finance has been very helpful.”
When asked to give comment on the late purchase card approvals, a University spokesperson said, “Purchase card applications from students on 2019 residents’ committees were assessed in accordance with the ANU Purchase Card policy and procedure. Once correctly completed applications were received, they were processed in a timely fashion.”
On the issue of reimbursement, the spokesperson told Observer, “The University is not aware of any delays to reimbursements and the issue has not been raised with Division of Student Life. If residents are still out of pocket for O-Week expenses, they should prepare and lodge their claim with their Hall as soon as possible. Claims need to include supporting documents in accordance with University policy and procedure.”
Dargavel said that while there needs to be “accountability” for expenditure at halls, “there seem to be mechanisms in place” to provide this. “Regardless of the reasons for the delay, I don’t believe that student leaders…should be forced to use their personal savings to carry out their roles,” he said.
The Presidents of all ANU-owned halls were contacted for comment.
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