Millennium Post

CAG is only doing his duty

Notwithstanding the practicality and correctness of the accounting methodology applied by the auditors in the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India [CAG] in ascertaining the combined loss of Rs 2.20 lakh crore to the exchequer in generous giveaway by the government to several large companies with regard to coal block allocation, special privilege to Reliance Power and land lease to GMR in an airport project, it would be wrong to assume that the country’s super-auditor had acted beyond the constitutional mandate to come to such conclusion. In discharging his audit function, the CAG has both the constitutional mandate and professional obligation to make any observation that concerns the government’s income and expenditure. It is for the government to accept them or reject CAG’s comments on technical and legally valid grounds, but not on the question of his constitutional jurisdiction.

The instantly aggressive reaction of the union minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office [PMO], K Narayanswamy to the latest bunch of CAG reports that ‘CAG is not following its constitutional mandate’ and that ‘its job is only to look [into] the audit performance’ is, to put it mildly, unfortunate and also unbecoming of parliament member and minister in the union government, who seems to have little respect for either the constitution of India or the people of the country that the parliamentarians firstly represent. The good news for the whole country is that the CAG is finally exercising its constitutional mandate to expose corruption in government-private deals, which are robbing the exchequer of lakhs of crores of rupees which, had they gone to the nation’s treasury, could have been better utilised for public good.

Constitutionally, the CAG is duty bound to communicate its major findings and observations in its audit reports every year. These reports and certified finance and appropriation accounts are submitted to the President of India or state governors for being laid before Parliament or state legislatures. Audit reports on public sector undertakings and autonomous bodies are sent to the concerned ministries or departments for being laid out before Parliament or the state legislatures. By recording its ‘major findings and observations’ with regard to those questionable government deals in its latest reports, the CAG has only tried to meet its constitutional obligation. On the contrary, the CAG could have been accused of being under the influence of the government for ignoring its constitutional mandate, had it failed to note those ‘major finding and observations.’

Narayanswamy is wrong. Before shooting his mouth, the minister could have studied the aspects of the CAG’s powers and functions and his rights and obligations and also the practices followed in other democracies such as the US and UK, on which the Indian act is modeled. Like all statutory auditors, the CAG’s primary responsibility and obligations is to the nation, the ultimate stakeholder, and not just the government. Parliament, which is above every other institution in democracy, represents the people or the nation. The minister may not be aware that the institution was set up by the erstwhile British rulers in 1860 to bring about transparency, accountability and probity in public life. The British government realised the importance of such an institution after it assumed power from the East India Company in 1858. The government of India acts of 1919 and 1935 enhanced its position as Auditor General of India and in 1950, the Indian Constitution further improved its status by re-designating it as the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

The CAG and the Indian Audit and Accounts Department [IAAD] functioning together constitute the Supreme Audit Institution of India [SAI]. Senior functionaries of the SAI, representing the CAG in the states, are called Accountants General. The Constitution of India has mandated the institution as the auditor to the nation. Articles 148 to 151 of the Constitution prescribe a unique role for the Comptroller and Auditor General of India in assisting the Parliament to enforce the said accountability of government departments. The CAG audits all receipts and expenditure of both central and state governments, including those of bodies and authorities substantially financed by the government. The CAG is also the external auditor of government-owned companies. The reports of the CAG are taken into consideration by the Public Accounts Committees [PAC] of Parliament and the state legislatures.

In the US, the Comptroller General is also known as the country’s super-auditor. He heads the General Accounting Office [GAO], The comptroller general is appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate for 15-year term and is subject to removal only by joint resolution of Congress for specified causes or by impeachment. The comptroller general directs an independent agency in the legislative branch that was formed to assist Congress in providing legislative control over the receipt, disbursement, and application of public funds through. post-audit function. The comptroller general’s power has sometimes been controversial with regard to the function of ‘settling’ accounts. In practice, this amounts to passing upon the legality of expenditures by governmental agencies; if such expendituresare not in accordance with the law as interpreted by the comptroller general, they may be disallowed. The GAO, which now stands for government accountability office, also evaluates the overall efficiency of government programs and aids Congress in legislative oversight.

The government, it would appear, is the supreme power centre in India. No CAG report, PAC report or. court judgement on. government misconduct has ever led to the fall of this supreme power. It has way to survive those external challenges with the help of its own investigative agencies and legislative committees, which are not known for speedy disposal of cases. With Indian democracy yet to evolve into a more honest and tolerant institution, the fight between the CAG and corrupt and inefficient government officials will continue. The CAG must not give up under any pressure, criticism and frustration. It is the only hope for an efficient and corruption-free government in future.
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