Newfoundland and Labrador would be able to collect a chunk of a massive pile of unpaid fines if it started withholding moose licences and other documents that citizens need, the auditor general recommends.

Terry Paddon's latest report found that the province is owed $37.3 million in outstanding fines, and the government knows it will never collect the lion's share.

Auditor General Terry Paddon

Auditor General Terry Paddon says government should use different tools to try to collect outstanding fines. (CBC)

About 75 per cent of the fines on the books are considered uncollectable, in large part because many of them are so old and not enough was done to pull the money in.

"The amount of fines are getting older and the amount of outstanding fines where people owe fairly significant amounts is getting bigger," said Paddon.

The number of debtors is staggering, with 81,771 separate accounts of fines owed. As of last March, 72 per cent of provincial fines had been on the books for more than three years.

To remedy things, Paddon recommends that government deploy a tool that it scarcely uses: withholding licences and documents that people need.

Apart from moose licences, the report suggests holding up requests for birth certificates.

The auditor general's report also suggests re-registration of MCP cards, although Paddon told CBC News on Friday that he did not recommend withholding access to medicare.

When shown the text of the report, he said, "Mea culpa."

Paddon told CBC that the focus of his recommendation was to spur an effort to collect.

Compelled to work

Paddon also supports the idea of compelling people to work to pay off their debts.

"The provision is there, it just hasn't been implemented, to shovel sidewalks, for argument's sake," he said.

There are 8,640 accounts the government is actually trying to collect.

However, there are fewer government employees available to collect them. In the last provincial budget, the government cut two of its eight collection agents, leaving the remaining six agents with a workload of more than 1,400 cases apiece.

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball said those cuts were short-sighted.

"This was an area to generate some revenue here, and if you lay off staff — you see just six people there now and 81,000 accounts, for instance — you know, that seems like an awful lot," Ball said.

"That's a big workload."

Much of the money is considered uncollectable because the debtors do not work and do not own property.