AHS expense scandal: Questions for Fred Horne

EDMONTON, AB (August 3, 2012): Today, the Wildrose Official Opposition questioned the claims of Health Minister Fred Horne that he was unaware of Allaudin Merali’s involvement with past expense scandals when the PC cabinet approved his hire as provincial controller and when his own Superboard hired him as Chief Financial Officer.

Below is a brief timeline of the events involving Merali, the PC cabinet, and the expense scandal which Wildrose says raises doubts about whether or not Horne is being up front and truthful:

  • 2005-2008: While with Capital Health, Merali racks up nearly $350,000 in expense claims charged to Alberta taxpayers, including extravagant meals (one with Horne), alcohol, opera tickets, repairs to his Mercedes Benz and butler services. The expenses are signed off and approved without being flagged by anybody in government.
  • 2009: Merali heads east to Ontario and is named in the high-profile eHealth expense scandal. He is originally paid $57,000 for 21 days of work and later racks up expenses worth $76,000 a month, including $21,000 for 31 flights between Toronto and Edmonton. The scandal dominates headlines in Ontario and across the country.
  • March 15, 2012: The Alberta PC cabinet formally hires Merali as controller for the entire province, under the Treasury Board ministry. The controller is responsible for government accounting standards and financial reporting as well as financial management and control policies.
  • May 7, 2012: Merali is hired as Chief Financial Officer for Alberta Health Services. Duties are largely similar to those of the provincial controller. (Horne would later claim he had no involvement in the hire.)
  • July 24, 2012: Cabinet replaces Merali as provincial controller with Darwin Bozek.
  • Aug. 1, 2012: CBC uncovers the details of Merali’s three-year expense binge at Capital Health. Merali’s contract with AHS is “terminated.”
  • Aug. 2, 2012: Horne tells media he is “outraged” by Merali’s expenses and that he “wasn’t aware” of the details of Merali’s Ontario expense scandal. Finance Minister Doug Horner contradicts Horne, saying cabinet was aware of his involvement with eHealth when Merali was hired as controller in March.

“This sequence of events certainly puts Fred Horne in a difficult position,” Wildrose Official Opposition Leader Danielle Smith said. “Either Mr. Horne was aware of Merali’s questionable past and is now wrongly claiming ignorance to save his skin, or he really didn’t have a clue that the man he endorsed for controller and later allowed to become Superboard CFO had a documented history of ripping off taxpayers. This kind of sloppy background work is hardly the performance of a Minister who exercises good judgment or who knows what’s happening in his department.”

Wildrose Justice Critic Shayne Saskiw points out that Merali also has ties to the Progressive Conservatives as a donor.

“It’s starting to become clear why this man received the political stamp of approval from Premier Redford and her cabinet,” Saskiw said. “Clearly, he is a supporter of the PC party. It’s just more evidence of the culture of corruption and entitlement that the PCs have allowed to flourish in Alberta over the last 41 years.”

Wildrose Health Critic Heather Forsyth says this incident among many others bring into question Horne’s credibility as Health Minister.

“This minister seems to only acknowledge things after he’s caught,” Forsyth said. “From feeding our seniors mush, to covering up bullying and intimidation in the health care system, to refusing to acknowledge knowing about Merali’s past,” Forsyth said.  “Albertans know better and expect more from this health minister.”

-  30 -