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Part 5: Governance and accountability for the three projects

Ministry of Justice: Modernising the courts.

In this Part, we discuss:

Summary of our findings

The adequacy of governance and accountability varied between the projects. Although governance and accountability arrangements for centralising dealing with applications to dispute a fine were better than for the other projects, there were weaknesses in how the Ministry maintained standards of governance and accountability.

In each of the three projects, there were documents that did not appear to have been formally approved. During two projects, there was inconsistent reporting on the progress of projects. There were also significant weaknesses in records management, and a lack of engagement with affected people and organisations was not adequately addressed.

In our view, these weaknesses indicated that there was insufficient governance and accountability over the three projects. It would have been difficult for governance groups to maintain effective oversight of the relevant Ministry investment in modernising courts, and it is not clear that appropriate decision-making processes were consistently followed.

The Ministry told us about substantial changes it made to its internal governance and processes around investment since 2014. We describe these changes in Part 6.

Governance and accountability is important

Our report on governance and accountability states that good governance helps ensure that the intended improvements from projects are achieved on time and to budget.7 We expected the Ministry to use good practice that supported good governance and accountability of its projects.

Limited evidence of formal approvals

Governance groups need to approve important reports and decisions. There was limited evidence of the Ministry consistently recording formal approvals. Even for a project that was run as "business as usual", such as centralising dealing with civil claims, we expected evidence of governance groups giving formal approval and the Ministry recording it where appropriate.

In each of the three projects, there were documents, such as business cases, project initiation documents, and benefit realisation plans, that did not appear to have been formally approved. For example, there is no evidence that the Ministry formally approved the business case that proposed centralising five functions, including dealing with civil claims.

There was also a lack of evidence that formal approvals were given for requests to change the scope of projects, although it was clear that the proposed changes had been acted on.

For example, when centralising dealing with applications to dispute a fine, the project management team wanted approval to delay the implementation date because of feedback from three organisations. Although there was no evidence that the Ministry gave formal approval, the implementation date was changed from May 2012 to August 2012.

The lack of formal approvals could indicate not enough governance and accountability or that appropriate decision-making processes were not followed. Formal approvals are important because they help ensure effective decision-making on issues and proposed changes to projects. It also ensures that project managers are held to account for the delivery of the project.

No formal reporting for dealing with civil claims

Although centralising dealing with civil claims was not managed as a formal project, we still expected information about costs, time, and risks to be reported to an appropriate governance group. This information was needed for the Ministry to know that the project was progressing as expected.

During the project, there was no evidence of formal tracking and reporting of costs, risks, issues, and progress against timetables to any governance group.8 We also saw no evidence that the relevant governance group needed formal reporting about the project. This meant that the relevant governance group did not have the information it needed to ensure that the project for centralising dealing with civil claims was progressing appropriately or to decide whether it needed to intervene.

Inconsistent reporting was not always addressed

There was inconsistent reporting of the three projects' progress. This included tracking the progress of projects in status reports against different information than was identified in their business case. There were also instances of project dependencies, risks, and issues not being consistently identified and tracked.

For example, information in the AVL business case did not align with information in the project status reports that were available. This included:

  • the budget for the project changed from $7.6 million capital funding in the business case to $8.99 million in the project status report without explanation; and
  • the risks identified in the business case largely did not align with the risks in the project status reports. For example, some main operational and reputational risks in the business case did not appear in the project status reports. Several new risks were also added to the project status reports without explanation. These new risks included duration of project, changing scope, technology procurement, and performance of vendors.

For centralising dealing with applications to dispute a fine, the Ministry did not identify at the start or during the project what the risks were to successfully achieving the intended improvements. This meant that it was unlikely that the Ministry adequately considered risks that could have prevented the successful delivery of the project, the likelihood of their occurrence, or what mitigations, if any, should be put in place.

During the project, there was minimal reporting on issues. For example, in the programme management team meeting minutes in November 2011, the Ministry noted that the project manager would consider the risks and issues from a potential delay to implementing the project in response to internal feedback.

However, it is not clear whether the project manager communicated this information to the Courts and Criminal Matters Bill steering committee, the group that was governing the project. This is important because identifying, understanding, and managing risks and issues is a fundamental part of effective governance.9

We expected the relevant governance groups to provide project oversight and hold project managers to account for maintaining good project management practices. This includes requiring project managers to give them the appropriate information so they can do their job effectively. There was no evidence that governors asked for improved reporting for these projects.

Weaknesses in records management for the AVL project

There was significant weaknesses in records management. For example, for AVL, the Ministry lost 16 monthly project status reports between September 2013 and March 2015. Ministry staff attributed the loss of reports to the lack of an effective document management system and staff not handing over a full set of documents to the Programme Management Office.

Project status reports are for members of the relevant governance groups. Significant gaps in records meant that we could not determine whether governors had all the information they needed to effectively govern the projects. We also could not determine how effectively the Ministry tracked costs, time, risks, project dependencies, and preparing for implementation of projects over time.

Lack of engagement with affected people and organisations was not adequately addressed

Because of the number of organisations involved in AVL and centralising dealing with civil claims, we expected the relevant governance groups to ensure that there was proper oversight of engagement planning and actual engagement.

However, for both projects, we found no evidence that this occurred. As we discussed in Part 4, a lack of consultation and communication contributed to a range of difficulties during and after implementation.

7: Office of the Auditor-General (2016), Reflections from our audits: Governance and accountability.

8: The business case for centralising some administrative functions did not identify the governance body or owner for the work that dealing with civil claims was a part of.

9: We talk about the importance of managing risks effectively in our 2016 report, Reflections from our audits: Governance and accountability.

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Report details

CoverMinistry of Justice: Modernising court services

ISBN 978-0-478-44281-6