Ageing IT systems let Victorians escape AU$886m in fines

Inadequate IT systems have failed to let the state's debt recovery officers properly track down offenders, and although a replacement system was tendered in 2007, it still hasn't been put in place.
Written by Michael Lee, Contributor

An own motion investigation by the Victorian Ombudsman into unenforced warrants in the state has found that the Sheriff's Office failed to collect 2 million warrants worth AU$886 million due in part to poor IT systems.

Tabling the report to parliament on Thursday, the investigation found significant problems with the system that the Sheriff's Office uses to manage infringement notices and the like. The Victorian Infringement Management System (VIMS) was found to be inadequate, limited in its ability to handle the information required by sheriff's officers, and is around 15 years old.

Some of the problems include introducing delays when several sheriff's officers attempt to use the system, taking nine hours to produce a report on a single offender, and being unable to exercise the power to suspend offenders' licence or vehicle registration if they have more than one offence.

The investigation also found that these inadequacies were meant to be resolved in a new system being developed out of a contract put in place with an external provider in 2007. At the time, the value of the contract was for AU$24.9 million, and had an implementation date of August 2009.

Today, the project cost has almost doubled to AU$44.6 million, and is only expected to be completed at the end of this year.

A lack of detailed specifications for the system, prior to the award of the contract, was blamed for the budget and schedule overrun.

Victorian Sheriff Brendan Facey is noted in the report as acknowledging the issue of unenforced warrants prior to his commencement in the role in 2011.

"VIMS is inadequate, and no longer supports best practice enforcement of outstanding infringements, enforcement orders, and warrants," Facey said in response to the ombudsman's initial draft report.

He stated that since November 2011, the system has been given more significant priority, and noted the state government's allocation of AU$34.6 million towards items such as more effective debt recovery processes.

Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark also blamed his predecessors, saying in a statement that the system was a remnant from the former Labor government.

Clark said that its funding showed it was already executing the ombudsman's recommendation of making the fines reform program a priority.

The ombudsman's report also highlights the inability of the Sheriff's Office to locate certain offenders, and made the recommendation that data matching could be achieved if access to telecommunications records was gained.

The Department of Justice said that it has commenced negotiations with the Commonwealth government in order to receive these records on an ongoing basis, but it has not yet received final approval.

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