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Lavish-spending health CFO, Allaudin Merali, quits

By Bill Kaufmann, Calgary Sun

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CALGARY -- Alberta Health Services' (AHS) financial boss has resigned as it was revealed he'd racked up an exorbitant $346,000 in expenses.

The move was announced Wednesday ahead of a media outlet revealing information that AHS CFO Allaudin Merali had spent the $346,000 in 146 filings in a role with the Capital Health Authority from 2005-2008.

Merali, who also has a lengthy history of running up huge expense bills with Ontario's eHealth, was hired as the AHS's top bean counter last May, after officials there deemed him "the most qualified candidate," acting CEO Chris Mazurkewich said Wednesday.

Merali's spending, documented on 778 pages of invoices and receipts, "involved a different order of magnitude" than the AHS had previously understood, he said.

"After reviewing the records, we are concerned, and Mr. Merali agrees, that they will detract from his ability to act as AHS' Chief Financial Officer."

The ex-CFO charged nearly $1,600 at one Edmonton restaurant and on one day in July 2006, he expensed $406 at another Edmonton eatery and $180 for taxis.

Merali, who spent lavishly at health-care conferences, repeatedly charged taxpayers for car washes and gasoline, and expensed $524.86 to replace glass on his Mercedes, while also charging $2,000 to install a phone in the vehicle.

In 2008, he expensed $1,839 at the Edmonton Mayfair Golf Club with no explanation for the AHS.

Mazurkewich told reporters the AHS wasn't aware of Merali's spending habits when it hired him last spring.

"We did not go through his expenses when he was employed by capital health," he said.

As a consultant for eHealth Ontario, he was paid $57,750 for 21 days of work in December 2008 when he billed seven days a week, but only half days ($1,375) for Sundays -- and was reimbursed another $10,000 for expenses that month.

In Ontario, Merali's bills climbed to an average of $76,000 a month in January through March 2009, including $24,000 for flights between Edmonton and Toronto.

Those expenses fuelled a considerable scandal in Ontario.

Back in Alberta, Merali is now eligible for a year's severance pay, though the amount is under negotiation, Mazurkewich said.

In a statement, Health Minister Fred Horne said he supports Merali's departure, saying it's needed to ensure Albertans' confidence in their medical system.

"I am concerned, and I understand why Albertans would be concerned, about these expense claims," he said. "While travel and hosting expenses can be part of regular business, institutions such as AHS are funded by taxpayers' dollars and, as such, taxpayers rightly expect accountability."

He said the AHS's accounting practises are far more stringent than they were under the Capital Health Authority.

But Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said the case points to a wider sense of wasteful entitlement among the current Tory regime.

"When we've got defeated MLAs collecting millions in severance packages, health executives receiving fat bonuses for underperformance and the premier herself approving huge pay hikes for cabinet, nobody should be surprised when instances like these come to light," she said.

"The public service is merely following the example set by the government."

bill.kaufmann@sunmedia.ca

Twitter@SUNBillKaufmann


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