A government review of complaints filed against the Southern Interior Development Initiative Trust could be completed within the next month, says Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart.
Stewart said the report has been undertaken by Bruce Ralston, provincial minister of jobs, trade and technology.
He met with Ralston this week to follow up on the progress of the report, and was told some action should be expected within the next 30 days.
“I think for all of us, the main message is we just want SIDIT to be successful,” Stewart said, noting all the elected MLAs across the Southern Interior share that sentiment.
SIDIT came under fire last month when a recipient of funding from the trust, Kelowna tech company Mazu, went public with concerns the loan policy decisions had jeopardized the future of the company and brought forward complaints from other loan recipients about how they were being treated.
In Mazu’s case, Taylor had to seek an alternative private lender due to a repayment guarantee stipulation SIDIT wanted imposed on a previously agreed to loan extension, which left her staff missing out on two paycheques in January and in danger of the website startup folding.
Stewart said he has spoken with three of the complainants, one of which was Mazu founder Janice Taylor, and with the acting chair of the SIDIT board, Grace McGregor, about the situation.
“We all want to find a solution that is going to see this controversy resolved,” Stewart said.
“I absolutely believe there is a solution to all this, we just have to find it.”
SIDIT was set up to be at arms-length from government but they still have accountability to the legislation act that set it up and government can amend that act if necessary, he noted.
“I guess my only public comment is to make sure there is a degree of transparency, that (SIDIT) can’t operate as if it’s their money, it is the B.C. taxpayers’ money, and that’s probably what the minister feels as well.”
The money Stewart refers to is the $50 million seed money that was funded by the province when SIDIT was created in 2006.
SIDIT was one of three similar trust initiatives created by the Liberal government under then premier Gordon Campbell to help stimulate regional economic development by offering non-conventional loan opportunities, the other two being for northern B.C. and Vancouver Island.
Stewart said a turnover in CEOs over the past two years has both reflected a change in philosophy in how the board treats loan clients, which in turn has generated the complaints, and an apparent lack of specific understanding about how tech company financial lending works within the current administration.
“SIDIT was never set up to primarily be a tech company financial supporter, but as that industry has grown it has become a bigger aspect of business startups seeking funding. I have an idea of how sophisticated that aspect of lending to high tech companies is from my experience when I worked in Southeast Asia trying to help tech companies secure funding,” Stewart said.
“The rounds of funding concept that high tech firms operate under is challenging for most people to understand. It is complicated and I venture to guess most of the board, with many members now newly appointed to the board at the provincial and local levels, are new to all this as well.”
The SIDIT 13-member board consists of eight regional government elected officials and five government-appointed members-at-large.
Okanagan directors include former Kelowna mayor Sharon Shepherd, Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff, Vernon accountant Peter Moore and UBCO vice-principal, research Philip Barker.