In a classic display of clumsy timing Stephen Lockwood, Chairman of the board of Alberta Health Services (AHS), announced that the independent audit into allegations of expense account abuse at Alberta Health Services would be limited to auditing the expense account claims of ex-CFO Allaudin Merali. Reportedly Mr Merali blew through $346,208 in expenses in 3½ years while working as a senior executive at the Capital Health Region (Calgary Health has since been rolled into AHS). That’s $270 a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for every day for 3½ years.*
Mr Lockwood’s announcement reversed an earlier decision by Dr Chris Eagle, Alberta Health Services CEO, that the Merali audit would be expanded to include the expenses of about 30 former Capital Health executives including Sheila Weatherill, formerly the CEO of Capital Health and an ex-AHS board member and Neil Wilkinson, formerly Chairman of the board of Capital Health and now Ms Redford’s ethics commissioner. (Yes the ethics commissioner)
Predictably Mr Lockwood’s decision to shield Ms Weatherill and Mr Wilkinson from further public scrutiny was met with outrage. Dr David Swann (Lib) characterized Mr Lockwood’s decision as a “bait and switch.”**Kerry Towle (WR) called it “atrocious”.** They’re absolutely right.
To rub additional salt in the wound, Mr Lockwood’s retreat from Dr Eagle’s promise came just one day after Ms Redford’s Privacy Commissioner, Jill Clayton, announced that Sept 24th to 28th was Right To Know Week.
Right To Know Week is ”…an annual event to promote freedom of information as essential to both democracy and good governance”.***Ms Clayton will be hosting two all day forums, one in Calgary and one in Edmonton, entitled “Openness and Transparency—From Concept to Reality”. These forums will “showcase some initiatives undertaken in Alberta to make information more accessible to the public”.
Ms Clayton was quick to acknowledge that “Leadership support is essential in developing a culture of openness and transparency”. (Hear hear!)
Turning our attention back to the leadership at Alberta Health Services…what did Mr Lockwood, the AHS Chairman of the board, say in support of his decision to reverse Dr Eagle’s decision? Oops, sorry, Mr Lockwood was not available for comment. Well, okay, what about Dr Eagle, the CEO of AHS? Did he make a statement about the chairman’s reversal of his decision? Ah, no, Dr Eagle was also unavailable for comment.
Well, how about Health Minister Horne, the politician ultimately responsible for AHS? Nope, Minister Horner was not available…however his press secretary, Mr Johnson, said Mr Horne had directed AHS to arrange an independent audit of Mr Merali’s expenses and to allow the auditor to go beyond Mr Merali if it was necessary to do so. To quote Mr Johnson “As far as we’re concerned, [AHS has] been given a direction and they’re following that direction. Why they did and said what they did is for them to explain.”**
Oh I see, go back to Mr Lockwood and Dr Eagle…who have no comment.
How much do you want to bet that at next year’s Right To Know forum, Privacy Commissioner Clayton will not be “showcasing” the backtracking and stonewalling on the Merali audit as “an initiative to make information more accessible to the public”?
It’s a crying shame.
*Calgary Herald, Sept 17, 2012, A11
**Calgary Herald, Sept 21, 2012, A4
***Alberta Government News Release, dated Sept 20, 2012