No severance pay for former Alberta Health Services CFO
Published Monday, August 6, 2012 10:47AM MDT Last Updated Monday, August 6, 2012 6:37PM MDT
Alberta Health Services announced Monday that former Chief Financial Officer Allaudin Merali, who was fired for his lavish expense claims, will not be receiving severance pay.
Merali was fired after it was discovered he had charged nearly $350,000 in expense claims from his time as Vice President and CFO for the former Capital Health Region.
"We heard the huge cry of Albertans on past practices and we just felt this was currently the best decision that Alberta Health Services could make at this time," said acting AHS board chair Catherine Roozen.
Merali's expense claims showed he charged for items ranging from a bottle of water to a pizza slice, to opera tickets, butler services, wine, calls from a cruise ship, and several dinners at high-end restaurants including one case where more than $3,000 was spent on a single dinner.
Scott Hennig with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says the announcement that Merali would not be receiving severance pay was the right move.
"That's good to hear. We're very pleased that Alberta Health Services is taking a hard line with him on that," Hennig said.
"I don't think very many taxpayers would have been too happy not only shelling out $350,000 for this guy's dinners and extravagant lifestyle, as well as another few hundred thousand dollars for a severance."
Alberta Health Services also announced Monday that an independent forensic audit of Merali’s expense accounts would be conducted.
Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne has directed that an audit be conducted by an external accounting firm to be appointed this week by the AHS Board.
The results will be made public and will determine if the expenses claimed between January 2005 and August 2008 totalling $346,208 adhered to the policies and practices in place under the former health region, and AHS’ current policies.
“I told Albertans that I would ensure that steps were taken to make sure that nothing like this would happen again,” Horne said.
“What I have done is I’ve directed the board to engage an external auditor, an independent auditor to review these expenses and review them against the Capital Health policy and rules that were in place at the time and determine if they were allowable. I’ve also indicated to the board that that auditor is to be free to make recommendations for any further investigation that he or she thinks is required.”
Last week AHS announced that it has asked the Auditor General to review AHS’ current policies and practices, and provide direction and advice on if and how current policies and practices can be improved.
AHS also announced that it will publicly post records of paid expenses for the CEO, and the Executive Vice-Presidents and Senior Vice-Presidents that report directly to the CEO, as well as the Board.
Following the details of Merali’s expense claims released last week, AHS board member Sheila Weatherill resigned.
Weatherill had signed off on many of Merali’s claims. She had previously served as Capital Health’s President and CEO.
Alberta Health Services says there are no plans to include Weatherill in the audit, but the Health Minister says it will be done if necessary.
"In the event other information comes forward to suggest we should be looking deeper, we don't want any stone left unturned here, we don't want anything swept under the rug," Horne said.
“What I am hoping is that the very strong actions that have been taken in the last few days will help to some extent to reassure Albertans that we’re getting to the bottom of it and that the right questions are being asked and that as we move ahead we’re going to make sure that things are organized such that this kind of thing cannot happen.”
The minister has also requested an Auditor General's report on AHS expense and travel policies be reported directly to him, however critics say that's not acceptable.
"What we'd liket o see is the Auditor General to go back and ensure that any of these types of wrongdoings, money that was received wrongfully, is repaid to the taxpayer," said Shayne Saskiw with the Wildrose.
"Secondly we think that the report from the Auditor General should be made public."
Neither Alberta Health Services or the health minister would comment on whether or not paying Merali severance would open the door for a lawsuit, or whether he should be entitled to some compensation if the audit finds Merali's claims were within guidelines.
It's not known how long it will take for the audit to be completed.
A government review on the hiring, selection and contracting practices at Alberta Health Services is expected to be announced in the coming days.
With files from Amanda Anderson