How many times will the city get it wrong on computer and information technology costs?
City council’s audit committee heard this week that costs for a computer project called the Financial Planning, Analysis and Reporting System (FPARS) have escalated from $7.9 million to $69.9 with almost no scrutiny from councillors.
In 2010, four years after the project was launched, council approved a $55 million increase without knowing if the costly changes would result in future savings, says a report by Jeff Griffiths, the city’s auditor general.
The increase was approved by council as part of the city’s $9.2 billion budget in 2010, but councillors were provided with almost no information, and apparently didn’t ask for any.
The biggest part of the increase - $22.5 million – was to pay for “increased management change capacity,” whatever that means.
But it sounds eerily like the background to the city’s infamous deal with MFP Financial Services in the late ‘90s, in which lease financing costs for computer and IT equipment swelled from a few million to
more than $75 million without the knowledge of council.
It was a huge scandal and resulted in the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry, which itself cost the city about $14 million, to unravel the deal and come up with recommendations to make sure taxpayers wouldn’t be hornswoggled again.
I worked at the Star’s city hall bureau back then, and did a lot of the investigative reporting that prompted the inquiry. It still defies belief that nobody was ever charged with a crime, given the scope of malfeasance.
Careers of some of the key players were shredded by testimony at the inquiry and reporting that preceded it. Anybody remember former city treasurer Wanda Lyczyk, lobbyist/bagman Jeff Lyons, or Dash Domi, brother of former Maple Leaf Tie Domi?
It was also the end of former city councillor Tom Jakobek, whose involvement finished him as a political force, just when he launched a bid to be mayor.
So it's incredible to me that we’ve arrived at such a familiar place, a decade later. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised. When the city spends billions of dollars every year on buying goods and services, there's a lot of room to fool around.
I’ll be watching closely to see where this goes, if anywhere.