IN A report released last week, the Victorian Auditor-General concluded that the Victorian Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Enhancement Program (CJEP) has been implemented over time and over budget.
The CJEP is an information and communication technology platform which was designed to streamline the flow of information between key agencies involved in the Victorian criminal justice system. These agencies include the Victorian Police, the Office of Public Prosecutions, Victorian Legal Aid, the County Court and Corrections Victoria.
First given the go ahead in October 1998, the CJEP was allocated a budget of $14.5 million and a deadline of November 2000. However the scope of the project was expanded between 2000 and 2002, which resulted in a budget increase of $15.4 million (to a total of $29.9 million).
But according to the Auditor General’s report, as of March this year the Department of Justice had spent $39.9 million on the CJEP, with an estimated $4 million more to be spent before the project’s completion — a blowout of $14 million above the expanded budget.
On top of this, CJEP partner agencies have incurred about $10.4 million in costs — costs which have not been recorded or monitored by the department — and as of April, the department had spent an another $18 million on maintenance, support and enhancements to the implemented programs.
In addition, the report said that although four out of five components of the program had been completed, the implementation of the electronic brief/disclosure program (called E*Brief) has run considerably over time and is not expected to be completed until 2009.
Victorian Shadow Attorney General Robert Clark has jumped on the report, and said in a statement last week that “it was no wonder Attorney General Rob Hulls has recently been trying to blame lawyers for delays and costs in Victoria’s courts when he has known this damning report was about to be tabled”.
However in response, Victorian Attorney General Rob Hulls has defended the present government, saying that responsibility for the budget blow-out falls on the previous liberal government.
“Many of these scope changes were required because the original planning and budgeting for the project were substantially inadequate,” Hulls said. “The labour government had to rescue a badly planned and inadequately scoped project to ensure its success.”
In the report, the Auditor-General said that the cost blow-out is mainly the result of an underestimation of the complexity, magnitude and level of cross-agency involvement that would be required, an inadequately developed business case, inadequate specification of system requirements and both development and implementation issues associated with contractor performance.
Further, while noting that the CJEP had delivered benefits, the report strongly criticised the inadequacy of the systems in place for measuring these benefits.
“The lack of systematic measurement and reporting of CJEP benefits represents a lack of accountability to ministers, stakeholders and the community, given the importance of CJEP and the extent of public funds invested in its development,” the report states.