The apparatus of the Latin American Students’ Association

This is a translation of the text I published last Thursday. I made it because Kenta asked me so. It was hard because of the implied complication of translating Spanish into English. It seems important, however, to share my thoughts about LASA in English, as many of the members cannot understand Spanish. The great effort of translating has made me think that I should write simpler and shorter texts in the future.

On past January, I attended a meeting with Sandra, Marcela, Viridiana, and Alonso to discuss the conformation of a Latin American Students' Association at the Australian National University. It gratified me being proposed as Secretary, for I felt that I could help in the foundation of a project that aims to last for many years and that I could influence the implementation of this idea with personal thoughts that please me. They gave me, then, the relevant task of writing a Constitution. This resulted in an easier task than could be thought because the Australian National University Students' Association has a Model Constitution on which I could ground my work. In summary, I did nothing but a few modifications in the proposed text, altering some of the terms and adding a clause to hold the next election until next year. The reason for this measure is that, in this way, the first Executive would have the necessary time to settle down the bases of the Association, preventing that abrupt changes at the beginning of the process affect unfavourably the continuity of the institution. But the experience of the first three months has ended up by convincing me that this has not predictable effects, so that it is useless to prevent them. We had Anne as Social Officer during a little longer than a month, up to when she resigned, and then Alonso left the treasury to undertake her position and we included Firas as Treasurer. Despite this mobility, the Association has worked pretty well up to know.

We had some delay to obtain the Australian Business Number (ABN), one of the necessary data to officially sign up the Association in ANUSA (the Australian National University Students' Association). This errand could have been done in a couple of days, but the Australian Taxation Business' bureaucracy left trapped our request by a requirement impossible to fulfil without having previously gotten the ABN: some register number with an institution that is already signed up in the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), ANUSA in this case. Zora, ATO's officer, did not provide us an ABN until we submitted to her a copy with the directions of ANUSA to affiliate as an Association in the Australian National University (ANU). So the Latin American Students' Association has remained in 'clandestinity' during three months, although it is about to finish the gathering of necessary data to request the affiliation to ANUSA. We already have an ABN, but we still need to open a bank account. In the same manner, we will have to add a short description of the Association and attach the Constitution, a list of members, and a transactions record.

As the Secretary, I have devoted to the task of giving a shape to the administration of the Association. Certainly, the commencing team started improvising on the go this way of administration, but the fact that we had accepted a Constitution meant that we cannot do this: now it is necessary to act in an institutional manner. Because an institution does not exist just because it has a name nor because it owns an office or a building (in fact we lack any of these): what is fundamental to any institution is a regulation. As I distinguish between limited and unlimited games, I can also discriminate here between an informal group of people and an institution. For the informal group incorporates people with no concrete goals, does not necessarily have a name, can perform improvised activities, and does not require self-awareness as a group. An institution, on the other hand, incorporates people who share an objective, does have a name, defines activities in accordance to its objective, and is in the mind of people when they act in relation to it. So it becomes necessary to be aware of what is our apparatus (regulation) and to observe it to ensure that our Association does not cease existing.

One of the most important aspects in our apparatus is that related to authority, for it is necessary to take decisions about how the Association reaches its goals. The base of our authority, according to section 7 of the Constitution, is in the General Meeting of the Association's members: in it, members elect the Executive's members and take the decisions they believe necessary (if a group of at least ten members called the General Meeting with this particular purpose) for the Association. The election of the Executive is important because the Executive has wide faculties, given by section 6 of the Constitution, to lead the Association and act in order to reaching its goals. Thus, section 6(9) of the Constitution specifies that "the* Executive has the power to do all things it believes to be in the best interest of the Society subject to provisions of this Constitution and the Grants and Affiliation Regulations of ANUSA." As a good administration demands that all decisions are recorded, so that they acquire a physical body and may be recognised by any current or future member of the Association, Executive's decisions adopt the shape of Resolutions. And, as they are decisions of the Executive, they require the signature of all its members to be effective: it is not possible, therefore, that the Executive undertakes any determination without the agreement of all its members. This, certainly, cannot be defined by an internal election, but by conviction: each of the Executive's members commits him/herself to actively support the Resolutions by signing them, for nobody can be forced to sign down that in what he/she does not believe.

It has been obstructive, in this sense, the confusion regarding how and who is to take the important decisions in the daily work of the Association, a confusion that has led to make wrong assumptions and to act as if these were true: it is not healthy, therefore, that regulation establishes some thing but members do another that interferes with that. As part of the measures to clarify the exercise of authority within the Association, as it is testified in the Constitution's spirit, I have not only submitted many messages through electronic mail to Executive's members and other close collaborators, but I took care of writing an Executive's Regulation in which each member's functions are clearly defined. It establishes that it is the Executive who exercises the highest authority and who, furthermore, resolves disputes within the Association: something that is not explicitly ordered by the Constitution, but coincides with its regulatory spirit. The members of the Executive perform specific delegable functions and can resolve individually about them, but each member has to inform the others so that they know their resolutions and can make any objection or observation in regards of them. It happens to be, therefore, a collegial deliberative body, for its members are identified as fellows with no hierarchical distinction who collaborate in the performance of diverse and complementary functions, and take decisions grounded on the individual conviction of every one to the pursuit and attainment of LASA's goals.

Understanding, protection, and observance of these regulations is the only manner to ensure the permanence of our Association. If we intend to relativize rules, we are putting LASA's existence in danger: because this, as well as any institution, cannot exist without a regulatory frame that sustains it. A way to ensure the continuity of this frame is regulating little and in a simple manner: excessive regulation would increase the risks of breaks, just like it happens to inflexible structures. Our Constitution is brief and leaves wide margins to interpretation that need to be filled but exceptionally. That is why it makes sense to let the deliberative faculty rely on the Executive, for this can take the relevant decisions whenever they are necessary: and it will not do it on the base of a vote the reasons of which can be a mystery even for the one who delivers it, but on the solid base of a conviction articulated in a discourse exposed and concurred among all Executive's members. Indeed, the existence of a regulation is so important that even the formulation of its objectives is engraved on the Association's Constitution, and not on a pamphlet or manifesto, that could have neither the same endurance nor the same spiritual value than this fundamental and foundational norm.

All of the aforementioned needs a wider and better access to information (Constitution, resolutions, and minutes) by members, but we have not figured out the best way to share it with all of them: I will shortly publish the links to access the Constitution and meetings' minutes, but resolutions will have to wait until we have been officially recognised by ANUSA. It is worthy to say, at this point, that this text represents my particular views and it does not necessarily correspond to the vision of the Association or the Executive. Anyways, I have the intention to keep sharing my reflections about LASA in regard to the different affairs that concern us.