EDMONTON, AB (August 7, 2012): The AHS expenses scandal lies at the feet of Health Minister Fred Horne who has fumbled the file from the very beginning with severe and sloppy mismanagement, the Wildrose Official Opposition said today. Just a day after Allaudin Merali’s lavish expenses were exposed, Horne insisted that his expenses fell within the boundaries of appropriate behavior at Capital Health, “I don’t want to take away from the shock and outrage people are feeling…but I wouldn’t want to speculate on wrongdoing,” Horne said.
This was reinforced by now former AHS board member Sheila Weatherill who, as Merali’s boss signed off on high price dinners, wine and car repairs, argued explicitly that, “Capital Health had appropriate expenditure policies that were consistent with other public sector organizations.” Horne backpedalled yesterday when he announced that AHS would not be offering a severance for Merali. Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw argued that the announcement yesterday shows the government has been inconsistent and lax in protecting taxpayers and enforcing accountability for the use of public dollars. “This smacks of incompetence and last minute damage control. If the Minister now admits that these expenses are bad, why weren’t they bad in 2009? Where else is this happening with senior government officials?” Saskiw said. “It is appalling that there is no protection in place for taxpayers and no accountability from the government for giving Merali another soft landing with the Alberta government. Taxpayers are right to ask for the severance and all questionable expenses to be paid back, full stop.” Saskiw added that the government needs to immediately move to post expenses by government members and senior public officials as well as expand an audit to all other executive officials at other health regions between 2005-2008 to see if there are more improper expense accounts. Despite Horne being “dumbfounded” and “outraged” that Merali was hired given his tarnished reputation in the Ontario eHealth scandal, Wildrose Health Critic Heather Forsyth said that there is clear evidence that Horne has been misleading Albertans about his ties with Merali. “We already know that this Minister benefitted with a $220 dollar lunch from Merali and gave the thumbs up at the Cabinet table in March to give Merali control at the Treasury Board,” Forsyth said. “It’s time for the Health Minister to get honest with Albertans and health care workers across the province - who hold our health care system together - why this type of spending went unchecked.”