From The Hip: It's time to practice what we preach
for Smoky River Express
Last Monday's announcement by Alberta Health Services that former Chief Financial Officer Allaudin Merali (dismissed for his outrageous expense claims) would not be receiving severance pay is a minor victory for taxpayers.
Merali was handed his walking papers after it was discovered he had charged a modest $350,000 (heavy sarcasm) in expense claims during his tenure 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,” acting AHS board chair Catherine Roozen told the media this past week.
And rightly so, may I add.
According to CTV, Merali’s crooked paper trail of expense claims ranged from a bottle of water to a pizza slice, 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 believe it or not.
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.
Also weighing in on the debate was government watchdog Scott Hennig, Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
He fully endorsed the decision by Alberta Health Services regarding Merali's situation and took it one step further (in a news release on the CTF website) by reinforcing a similar need for transparency at the provincial government level.
That push towards accountability would see MLA and cabinet expenses posted on-line, all in an effort to ensure "Joe Taxpayer" isn't being taken to the cleaners.
The CTF surveyed Alberta PC leadership hopefuls last September, including Premier Alison Redford, asking them a series of questions relating to spending and transparency.
Redford's response in the survey, not surprisingly, was, “Yes, greater transparency in government is needed and Albertans have the right to know how MLAs are spending their tax dollars.”
Almost a year later, Alberta taxpayers are still awaiting official word from Redford which would see the Alberta government follow the lead of Alberta Health Services, the Auditor General’s Office, the Information and Privacy Commissioner, City of Toronto and the federal government by requiring all expenses incurred by senior bureaucrats to be disclosed online.
In a day and age when preaching transparency and accountability in the political circle is as common as an Alberta blizzard, it would only seem fitting for all levels of government using taxpayer dollars to make their spending practices public knowledge.
If there's nothing to hide, then surely this shouldn't be a problem, right?