It’s the kind of thing that really sticks in your craw: when you get a parking ticket or another sort of fine, it’s annoying but you pay it. Turns out plenty of people aren’t paying, and, if you look at the latest report from the provincial auditor general, that’s not about to change.
What can you take from the report? Well, the clearest thing is that there are 150 or so people who owe more than $20,000 apiece in fines, and that the province is owed a total of $33 million, a number that has grown by 20 per cent in just five years.
Another harsh number?
The Department of Justice apparently considers 74.5 per cent of that $33 million to be uncollectable.
The AG gave the division a pretty harsh examination: without repeating every single problem, it’s worth pointing out that Terry Paddon found the division didn’t have an operational plan, performance monitoring or proper reporting requirements, wasn’t using every method it could to collect moneys owing, and is not collecting money in a timely fashion. It has painfully few staff — fewer since job cuts last spring — and the amount of fines owing just grows and grows.
One interesting fact? Departments that have their work questioned by the auditor general get a chance to give their responses to the AG’s recommendations, and those responses are printed in the report itself. Most of the time, the tenor of the response is “work is already underway on improving …” or “Changes have already been …” The response from the Department of Justice? It can pretty much be summed up as “Ain’t happening.”
Most (almost all) of the AG’s recommendations are dismissed as unnecessary or impractical, which seems to suggest that the volume of unpaid fines will continue to grow. That’s especially the case because, since the department laid off 25 per cent of its eight collections officers last spring, each officer now has an individual case load of 1,400 files.
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There are some areas where you can agree with the department: refusing to re-register delinquent payers for MCP seems a little too close to health blackmail to be acceptable. On the other hand, preventing ticket debtors from holding hunting licences, registering companies or obtaining copies of brith certificates would certainly demonstrate that the government meant business.
One of the greatest ironies in the responses from the department? The AG suggested that the provincial government use the power of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to dock ticket dodgers of GST rebates and income tax refunds. The department’s response was that’s impractical because “collection action must be taken, documented and exhausted before accounts will be accepted by the CRA for collection.” Read between those lines and you can see that even the federal government isn’t convinced its Newfoundland and Labrador counterpart is doing its best to collect fines in this province.
One thing’s for sure. The status quo — the provincial government essentially throwing its hands in the air — can’t continue.
The bottom line? If you take the government’s diminishing effort in recovering fines, its resistance to basic performance and operational standards and its stonewalling on broadening methods to collect what it is owed, you could rightly decide the province isn’t trying very hard. And if you’re one of the people who owes money, that’s not going to make you move any faster to settle up.