Following the firing of Alberta Health Services (AHS) Chief Financial Officer Allaudin Merali, AHS board member Sheila Weatherill announced her resignation. It was reported that Merali charged taxpayers $350,000 in expenses.
“She felt the reputation of Alberta Health Services and, even more importantly, public confidence in our health care system was the most important thing,” stated Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne regarding the resignation of the former Capital Health CEO and AHS board member at a news conference Thursday.
During her time as CEO of Capital Health from 1996 to 2008, when the province’s health regions merged, Weatherill personally approved the AHS CFO Allaudin Merali’s copious expenses. Merali earned an annual salary of roughly $400,000, but an investigation showed he charged taxpayers approximately $350,000 on restaurant outings ($1,200 at one Boston restaurant), repairs to his Mercedes Benz, bottles of wine, a phone for his car and to pay his two butlers $30 per hour.
Hours prior to CBC News uncovering its documents on national television, the Alberta government confirmed that Merali was gone from the AHS. The provincial health minister said this revelation has raised a number of concerns over both the AHS’s hiring measures and expense policies.
Alberta taxpayers aren’t the only victims of Merali’s lavish spending habits. He was one of many consultants connected to Ontario’s $1 billion eHealth expense scandal that was uncovered in 2009. At the time, Merali earned $2,750 per day, but he charged taxpayers for many expenses, like soda pop, tea and muffins, and $21,000 for 31 flights to Edmonton over a five-month period.
Due to his employment contract, Merali will be given a severance package, but the amount has not been made public. Horne, who dined with Merali and spent $220 on a dinner when the health minister was a health consultant at the time, said Albertans will be told how much they will pay Merali.
“I'm as dumbfounded by this as anyone else. I want to know what the board knew. I intend to find out. Should we have known? Yes,” stated Horne. “The board of Alberta Health Services and I will be having some very, very serious conversations in the weeks and months ahead.”
QMI Agency is reporting that Liberal leader Raj Sherman is calling for a forensic audit by the auditor general’s office, while Wildrose critic Shayne Saskiw is urging the province to take a part the board.
“It’s the same old, same old [Progressive Conservatives]. We’re seeing the same thing here with them stacking government offices with PC cronies,” said Saskiw. “I don’t think anybody’s really surprised at that when you look at the history of this government.”
Premier Alison Redford spoke to CBC News during a business trip to London Friday. She called the AHS expense scandal “inappropriate” and said the government would have eventually found out if the organization didn’t deal with it quickly.
“We can't allow this sort of conduct to happen. It’s entirely inappropriate,” stated Redford. “I am pleased to see that the right decision was taken with respect to terminating the employee and that the board member chose to leave. My view is that if those two things hadn't happened, we as government would have stepped in and insured that the same result was delivered.”