COLUMN: Robson – Administrator sucked up money meant for patients

- August 7th, 2012

Health expert a champion spender

by John Robson

So how about that high-flying health expert who whacked Alberta taxpayers for $487,000 a year in salary plus $346,000 in expenses in 3½ years at the Capital Health agency, then bonged eHealth in Ontario for over $75,000 a month as a consultant before getting hired as chief financial officer with Alberta Health Services? The Olympic magnitude of it inspires a certain awe.

I know, I know. It ended kind of badly when Allaudin Merali had to quit as CFO of AHS, at least one board member walked the plank and Health Minister Fred Horne is scrambling to save his own hide. And yes, taxpayers got soaked. But seriously, it is some kind of strange achievement. These people aren’t like us, are they?

I don’t just mean they know each other and float about on a giant dreamy cushion of public money making sure their friends don’t somehow slide off the edge. Although it’s no coincidence that the AHS board member who just resigned, Sheila Weatherill, was the CEO of Capital Health who signed off on Merali’s expenses.

Nor am I referring to their bizarre ability to deny responsibility, like Weatherill insisting in resigning that “Capital Health had appropriate expenditure policies that were consistent with other public sector organizations” as if that made it better not worse. Or Horne saying he didn’t know about Merali’s connection with eHealth. What, you couldn’t Google such a high-profile hire? Especially since you personally shared a $220 meal with him back in 2005.

Do you eat a lot of meals like that? I don’t. My submarine sandwiches cost $5.65. It would take 19 to get to half a $220 tab. Only a competitive eater could even consider such a feat. That’s what I mean about it being disgusting yet remarkable, even Olympian in its scale.

Suppose you were told to rack up $98,800 a year in expenses (Merali’s Capital Health pace) while doing an important job. Sure, for all the eHealth Ontario actually got, consultants and staff might as well have spent all their time in restaurants. But we got rules here. You need to show up for work and still find time to blast through $270 a day in expenses every day of the year including Christmas, or $378.91 a day if you take weekends off.

Obviously you must aim high. At one point Merali billed Alberta for $1,750 to fix his Mercedes and at another for two grand to put a phone in his car. (I accomplished the same feat by pocketing my cell phone and getting behind the wheel but I’m an amateur.)

Top performance also requires willingness to sweat. Merali sometimes expensed muffins even while earning the equivalent of $243.50 an hour. And at eHealth he hit taxpayers for thousands a month in flights between Edmonton and Toronto. That’s dedication for you. I mean, those long flights quickly become a dreary grind. Besides, it’s hard to ring up extra expenses five miles above Thunder Bay or Norway House.

No wonder he had to spend hundreds per meal day after day, sometimes over $1,500, to sustain the pace. But it conjures up images of an equivalent of the Food Channel’s Iron Chef show, except instead of competing to make exotic meals Iron Diners would compete to eat them. It wouldn’t be easy.

Could mere mortals consume a $95 lunch and a $183 dinner every workday and not collapse? You’d be making fois gras inside your own body. And remember, you also have to put in eight hours at the office. And somehow spend another $100. Every workday.

I’m telling you, these people aren’t like you and me. They do things we can’t. I get tired just thinking about it. But wouldn’t it be grotesquely fascinating to watch?

Categories: Contributor Columns

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