MLA calls for dismantling of AHS after department rocked by scandal
MLA Shayne Saskiw is calling for a return of regional health authorities after a scandal last week rocked the leadership of the Alberta Health Services superboard.
AHS Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Allaudin Merali abruptly left the job on Aug. 1 after it was revealed that he’d racked up $346,208 in expense claims between 2005 and 2008 when he was CFO for Alberta’s former Capital Health Region. The 146 claims included $1,750 for repairs to Merali’s Mercedes as well as thousands of dollars for unexplained “dinner meetings” at expensive steakhouses, all allegedly on the taxpayer’s dime.
Before coming to work in Alberta, Merali was implicated in an expense claim scandal in Ontario. He’d only been the AHS CFO for three months before his abrupt exit. An AHS press release stated that Merali would be receiving a severance, according to the terms of his contract.
The AHS news release states the health group “is confident its current policies and practices meet or exceed national standards.” Despite that confidence, the health board has made a request to the Auditor General to review their policies.
“We have requested an assessment of whether AHS policies are consistent with best practices expected of public sector organizations in Canada, and whether there is compliance with these policies,” said AHS Acting CEO, Executive Vice President, and Chief Operating Officer Chris Mazurkewich. “We welcome any recommendations that will improve our systems and processes and underscore our commitment to transparency.”
Former Capital Health CEO Sheila Weatherhill, who signed off on Merali’s expense claims, also resigned last Wednesday. Saskiw said the scandal is indicative of a “culture of corruption” that permeates the current government.
“This is a pattern we’re seeing far too often with this PC government,” the Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA said. “This scandal shows that the Alberta Health Services superboard is a failure.”
He said the province should return to regional health authorities, which were conglomerated into the central bureaucracy of Alberta Health Services in 2008.
“We need to be able to make local decisions on key priorities,” Saskiw said. “A local board would listen to the community and know it’s a priority. Instead we’ve got someone who doesn’t understand the north making all these decisions.”
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