A high-ranking Nanaimo senior manager used a city-issued purchase card multiple times to pay for flights that were not work-related, according to city documents obtained by the News Bulletin through a freedom of information request.
According to the documents, Victor Mema, the city’s chief financial officer, used a city purchase card to book 11 separate flights for personal use between July 2016 and September 2017 and Tracy Samra, the city’s chief administrative officer, approved the purchases.
Where Mema travelled, along with the costs of his flights, are unknown as the information was redacted by the city, but the documents do show that he paid the city back sometime in 2017.
Rod Davidson, the city’s former manager of bylaw, regulation and security, was the only other employee to book flights for personal use with a city purchase card, having spent $179 in September 2016. However, Davidson repaid the city that same month, according to the documents.
The documents obtained by the News Bulletin also include a list of all city employees, including Mema and Davidson, who used a city-issued purchase card to buy airfare for work-related purposes between 2016 and 2017.
Mema, who has been on leave since early March, spent $1,516 on airfare in 2016 and $3,117 on airfare in 2017 for work-related purposes according to the documents, which show that he purchased multiple flights to the United States to attend conferences in Florida and California last year. He also used another city employee’s purchase card for a $699 flight to San Diego last October in order to attend a treasury conference.
The city has more than 700 employees, many of whom are expected to attend conferences, trade shows and other professional development events. Flights are booked and handled differently by each department within the city, which is currently in the process of deciding whether to hire a travel agency in an effort to lower costs and streamline bookings.
Jamie Slater, senior accounting manager for the city, said it is not uncommon for city employees of all levels to be attending conferences and professional development courses, which often take place on the Lower Mainland.
“There are a lot of employees going to Vancouver to do their professional development,” she said.
City-issued purchase cards are only given out to specific employees, typically those in management roles or specific unionized employees, according to Slater, who said employees can use them to book airfare and the city does have a policy on how purchase cards are used.
“The policy kind of stipulates what kind of expenses go on there, and of course, personal expenses aren’t part of that,” she said, adding that senior managers can also use their purchase card to pay for their staff to attend various work-related events.
Slater said it is somewhat unusual for employees in high-level senior management positions to be using another employee’s purchase card. She said in Mema’s case, his assistant ended up booking the flight to San Diego for the treasury and finance conference.
“If [Mema’s assistant] booked something on his behalf, then it would have gone on her purchasing card … in that instance he probably would have asked her to book it for him and that is how they would have ended up on her card,” Slater said.
Earlier this year, the city announced that it was undertaking an independent investigation to deal with an “allegation of significant” concern. A few days later, the city told the News Bulletin that Mema was on leave from the city for an indefinite period of time.
Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said he could not confirm nor deny whether Mema’s purchase card expenses are the subject of the independent investigation and Slater said the city cannot comment on the matter.
All employees are required to submit their purchase card statements to the city’s finance department for review according to Slater.
“We do go through them line by line, receipt by receipt and every statement has to have your manager or somebody one up from you approve your purchasing card statement,” Slater said. “So in Victor’s case it would have been our CAO.”
Slater said Samra, who is also on leave from the city, approved and signed off on the non-worked related flights that Mema expensed on his purchase card.
“She was his direct supervisor,” she said.
At the end of the day, Slater said it is important for the public to know that the city’s accounting department does examine all purchase card activity and does everything it can to address any misuses.
“We really do have checks and balances. We are looking at these things every single month and discrepancies are being reported,” she said. “If there are any misuses, it has certainly been addressed.”
Mema and Samra did not respond to questions from the News Bulletin.