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Saturday, February 9, 2013

At Harvard, CAG slams government, netas 02-10

At Harvard, CAG slams government, netas

At Harvard, CAG slams government, politicians

At Harvard, CAG slams government, politicians
NEW DELHI: Harvard's prestigious Kennedy School on Thursday provided the setting forComptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Vinod Rai to hit out at the Manmohan Singhgovernment for attempting to reduce the federal auditor to a mere accountant with no real role in auditing policy. 

Speaking at the school of public affairs, Rai made an indirect but unmistakable reference to the government's criticism of the CAG's 2G report, saying, "We were advised by the highest in the land not to exceed our mandate, which they believe is to be mere accountants and to conduct mechanical audit of government's expenditure." 

Rai said the CAG was charting a "new path in the belief that the final stakeholder is the public at large". 

Talking about the role of public auditors and their social obligation, Rai said, "We were being advised not to get into the realm of auditing policy formulation. The question that continues to repeatedly arise in our minds is whether Parliament, and in fact, the public at large, expect us to be mere accountants and do arithmetic over government expenditure." 

The stage for these feisty remarks will hardly endear the CAG to the government as it came before an influential audience and at an institution where Indian officials are regularly deputed to improve their administrative skills. 

Rai has earlier been criticized for stretching his mandate with even the PM telling Parliament in the context of Coalgate that "in a democracy, it is difficult to accept the notion that a decision of the government to seek legislative amendment to implement a change in policy should come for adverse audit scrutiny". 

On CAG slamming the government for allocating coal blocks without bidding, the PM had told Parliament that "the issue was contentious and the proposed change to competitive bidding required consensus building among various stakeholders with divergent views, which is inherent in the legislative process." 

Rai's tenure has seen the CAG's relations with the government dip to an all-time low; it was the auditor who first said that the loss in the 2G scam could be as high as Rs 1.76 lakh crore and then came out with the coal report that computed a Rs 1.86 lakh crore loss, causing a huge political furore. 

Defending the CAG's right to examine policy formulations in terms of whether the choices resulted in a loss, Rai asked why auditors general every where are given high constitutional posts and a robust independence from the executive if they are expected to be mere accountants. 

Rai said good governance is possible when authority and institutions are accountable, effective and efficient, transparent, responsive, equitable and inclusive and follow the rule of law. "In the present age, governance has assumed such critical proportions that it appears too important to be left only to the government," the CAG said. 

In his recent comments at a conference in Gurgaon, Rai had referred to what he felt was a brazenness in the government in dealing with matters of financial integrity. 

At Harvard, he went a step further, blasting the political class for ignoring the "silent majority" — the voice that was never taken seriously by political parties as it was the voice of people who merely engaged in living-room debates. 

"The administration ignored them as they did not have a history of mobilizing themselves into a potent pressure group. Hence, the spontaneous outpouring of people as witnessed recently has taken the administration and political parties by surprise," Rai said in a reference to protests such as the one that paralysed Delhi after the Nirbhaya gang rape. 

Rai said given this paradigm shift in civil society, the auditor has decided to shift its focus from merely limiting its role to placing reports in Parliament to going beyond that and seeking to sensitize public opinion on audit observations, especially so in social sector audits.

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