NEWS

Mema refuses comment as authorities digest designation debacle

City enforces strict silence as municipalities ministry, auditors and accounting authorities in two provinces take stock of CFO’s designation troubles
Victor Mema
Victor Mema
A strict policy of official silence was being enforced this week as the City of Nanaimo’s finance chief found himself at the centre of a debacle over his accounting credentials.

City officials and councillors are being tight-lipped about what steps have been taken to remedy chief financial officer Victor Mema’s improper use of an accounting designation in BC.

The blanket ban on public comments came as provincial authorities, the city’s independent auditors, and accounting authorities in BC and Alberta were caught up in the fallout over the issue.

Mema: “No contact or discussion”

News Nanaimo reported last Sunday that the controversial CFO has been signing the city’s financial records using the Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation when he is not legally permitted to do so in BC.

Mr. Mema could bring himself into compliance by registering with the provincial accounting watchdog Chartered Professional Accountants of BC (CPABC), which sets standards for accountants and investigates complaints.

He is currently a member of CPABC’s sister organization in Alberta, where officials this week said Mr. Mema is in good standing and has no disciplinary marks against this name.

However, the finance chief has refused to discuss the issue or say whether he will apply for membership in BC so that he can use the CPA designation in this province. He attended this week’s council meeting but the designation issue was not addressed.

Three emails seeking comment were not returned and when reached by phone yesterday, all Mr. Mema would say was: “I want no contact and no discussion with you.”

Victor Mema
Mr. Mema at this week’s council meeting

Three to five weeks’ process

CPABC’s vice president of ethics Edward Tanaka said his organization does not comment on whether or not someone has applied to become a member.

He said it takes about “three to five weeks” to process a membership application by “a CPA member in good standing from another Canadian province.”

“With respect to use of the designation, generally, once we are aware that someone is improperly using the CPA designation in BC, we inform them what is required to be compliant with our provincial legislation,” he said.

The city did not respond to an email asking when they would issue a statement explaining Mr. Mema’s situation and what was being done to address it.

It is understood that city manager Tracy Samra has been downplaying the designation snafu and warning that any public discussion could be defamatory to Mr. Mema.

Tracy Samra
Tracy Samra warned against comments

Auditors aware

Meanwhile, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter confirmed that the city’s auditors KPMG LLP became aware of the problem with Mr. Mema’s CPA status after News Nanaimo’s article last week.

The auditors are concerned that Mr. Mema signed various financial documents using the CPA designation, which may amount to false declarations. The auditors could ask the city to reissue its financial statements without the CPA designation after Mr. Mema’s name.

KPMG’s media department failed to respond to emails seeking information yesterday while the lead audit partner for Nanaimo was not immediately available to comment.

BC’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, which receives a variety of financial reports from the city, said in an email that all municipalities must appoint a financial officer with authority to sign financial documents, but it does not dictate their qualifications.

“It would be the local government’s responsibility to ensure the CFO is qualified accordingly,” the ministry said.

“In good standing”

Chris Pilger, director of communications for CPA Alberta, confirmed that “Mr. Mema is an active member and is in good standing with CPA Alberta, and he has no history of unprofessional conduct.”

CPAs can be either full members — typically those who live and work in Alberta — or affiliate members whose full membership is with another recognized provincial or international CPA organization.

He said Mr. Mema is one of about seven percent of CPA Alberta members who “live outside of the province and pay full fees” to maintain their CPA designation.

“These individuals would represent a wide diversity of circumstances, from those out of the workforce to those working either elsewhere in Canada or abroad,” he said.

Growing list of questions

Mr. Mema’s designation drama adds to the growing list of questions about the city’s finance chief.

Last September, the District of Sechelt filed suit against Mr. Mema seeking repayment of almost $10,000 related to allegedly personal expenses he charged to a corporate credit card. He has not responded to the allegations in court.

Nanaimo officials subsequently blocked News Nanaimo’s request to access corporate credit card statements for Mr. Mema and Ms. Samra, even though it released records for three other senior managers.

Meanwhile, a scheduled report on management expenses that should have been released in early December has still not been published.

Published records show that Ms. Samra and Mr. Mema spent more than $50,000 in expenses in the 18 months to the end of last June, the most recently available figures.

The two top managers’ spending is almost four times the $13,000 their predecessors spent in their final two years at the city.

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  • The problem here is that if Mr. Mema should make an error of judgment in his professional career, neither he, nor the City of Nanaimo is covered by the professional insurance carried by the provincial association. This is not just an academic factoid, it is the very reason most professions such as doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants have professional bodies governing their ranks. With the events happening in Nanaimo recently, the City should protect itself against any accusations of wrongdoing or failure to follow correct procedures. I am again relieved that I do not live in such a place.

  • I was initially leaning towards it just being a minor mistake that would be rectified immediately. Now however, with a lack of immediate action and simple statement saying that, it gets a little deeper. I am wondering whether the fact that Mr. Mema is embroiled in a current case before the courts, whether that impairs his ability to get the provincial designation? What appeared to be a simple oversight on Mr. Memas and the CAO, along with council, may not be so. If it is not, it has serious implications in relation to the verification of financial information an d the resulting planning based on that information. At first I thought that some were just making a tempest out of a tea pot. Now…….maybe not.

  • thanks dominic… this surreal civic governance in nanaimo gets more surreal by the day… some might view it like a nightmare that one wants to escape from.. rob ford has nothing on our leaders, or whatever you want to call them! maybe that’ being a bit harsh on rob ford!

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