The highest echelons of Alberta Health Services are once again being rocked by a firestorm of public criticism after it was revealed that AHS Chief Financial Officer Allaudin Merali had claimed more than $345,000 in expenses to the former Capital Health regional authority.
Mr. Merali was fired by AHS hours before the Canadian Boardcasting Corporation aired the story about how he claimed thousands of dollars on lavish meals at restaurants, bottles of wine, catering, and an expensive phone for his Mercedes Benz car. Shifting quickly into damage control mode, AHS soon after released Mr. Merali’s expense claims on their website.
Making the controversy even more outrageous, Mr. Merali is expected to receive a severance package from AHS after his employment was terminated with cause (even AHS CEO Chris Eagle does not have this provision included in his contract).
The story was uncovered by intrepid CBC reporter Charles Rusnell, who has become one of Alberta’s star investigative journalists after uncovering cases of pork-barrel politics and scores of illegal donations made by public institutions to the Progressive Conservative Party.
The controversy claimed a second high-ranking AHS official yesterday as former Capital Health CEO Shiela Weatherill resigned from the AHS board of directors. Seen as a voice of credibility after her successful time as the CEO of Capital Health until it was merged into AHS in 2008, Ms. Weatherill was appointed to the AHS board after the departure of controversial former AHS President and CEO Stephen Duckett in late 2010. Ms. Weatherill was Mr. Merali’s boss when he served as CFO of Capital Health, when many of the expense claims were made.
Questions are also being raised about the role of Alberta’s current Ethics Commissioner, Neil Wilkinson, who served as chair of the Capital Health board of directors during Mr. Merali’s time as CFO of the former regional health authority.
The controversy is a blow for Premier Alison Redford‘s PC government, which was swept into office earlier this year after promising to breath new life into the four decade old government. To his credit, Health Minister Fred Horne responded quickly to the controversy and promised that future expenses for public officials at that level will be made public on a quarterly basis. With the damage already done, the largest measure of response the government has is to ensure this does not happen again.
As others have already pointed out, public funds used to fill these types of extravagant expense claims only take money away from where it belongs – on the front-lines of our public health care system.