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Former AHS Exec. responds to results of expense audit
Julia Parrish, CTV Edmonton
Published Friday, December 14, 2012 11:49AM MST
Last Updated Friday, December 14, 2012 7:26PM MST
A day after Alberta Health Services released the results of an audit into the expenses of a former health authority executive; the man at the centre of the case has broken his silence with a statement.
On Friday, former Capital Health CFO Allaudin Merali distributed a statement – and gave his side of the story for the first time.
In the statement, which was dated Dec. 13, Merali said the expenses that were released from between January 2005 and August 2008 abided by standards that were in place at the time, but standards at AHS were tighter, and he was “fully committed to abiding by those standards when I was hired as Chief Financial Officer of AHS.”
In August, Merali left his job at AHS after the expense documents he referred to were released.
Merali goes on to say: “I cannot accept that my past expenses are held up to a different standard, and reported in the media without context and without regard to simple fairness, so as to cast implicit doubts on my integrity.”
“Every dollar of expenses which was reimbursed to me was incurred entirely transparently and for the benefit of [Capital Health]. Any personal expenses were either not submitted for payment or were immediately reimbursed to [Capital Health] in accordance with expense policies which were in effect at the time.”
Merali went on to address a number of specific items that had been reported on regarding his past expenses – referring specifically to ‘butler’ services, which he said was a catering company hired to serve food at business reception held in his home.
He also said he expensed nothing for himself beyond travel expenses “that were normal for my job at the time.
“The imputation that I simply lived a high life at the taxpayer’s expense is an invention of sheer malice,” Merali continued in the statement.
On Thursday, the results of the external audit identified $368,000 in expenses from Merali, which added $57,000 to the total since August.
The audit found $5,613 in expenses was not compliant with expense rules at the time – including the payment of $2,303 for a blue tooth phone kit, and nearly $600 for a flight for Merali’s wife.
As for his other claims, $62,800 in expenses were covered – but no policy was found to support it – and $103,000 in charges was signed off on, but documents to support the expenses were not found.
Merali referred to those expenses in his statement, and said “There are instances where the auditors have not located all expense records and written policies, but it is clear that there was no attempt on my part to gain personal benefit for myself, my wife or anyone else with whom I was associated.”
Some critics don’t buy the former executive’s statement.
“He’s really just trying to split hairs,” Derek Fildebrandt with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said. “He’s trying to justify the unjustifiable.”
Meanwhile, others said Merali was unfairly targeted in this case.
“He submitted his expenses according to the guidelines that were in place at that time,” U of A political professor John Church said. “It was up to his superiors if they thought those expenses were inappropriate to not sign off on them.”
After the audit’s results were released, AHS said the book was closed on the subject – and Merali would not be asked to pay anything back.
“The classic line from Alberta Health Services,” Fildebrandt said. “’We’re interested n the future, we don’t want to look at the past’, well, you know what, the past is important.”
On the other hand, Church wasn’t so sure all of the attention should have focused on Merali.
“I’m not sure whether part of that process needs to make scapegoats out of certain individuals like Mr. Merali,” Church said.
CTV News has learned Merali is out of the country – attempts were made to contact him for a phone or Skype interview, but our e-mails were not returned.
With files from Veronica Jubinville