Mumbai: The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) will not stop chasing the “big fish” despite the unhappiness within the government on the nation’s top audit body questioning serious irregularities in policies and dealings with public enterprises. Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently said that CAG had overstepped its mandate.
Making it emphatic that CAG has not gone beyond its mandate, comptroller Vinod Rai said that in one recent case, where CAG’s findings seem to suggest that oil and gas explorers were gold-plating costs, it was the government that sought an audit.
According to him, in June 2006, the then petroleum secretary wanted CAG to audit production-sharing pacts with gas explorers and producers over concerns these were advantageous to individual companies.
“We took our own time to assess whether we would be able to do that. But it took the government two-and-a-half years to get the documents from the private operators to make them available to us,” Rai said.
“What have we audited? The production-sharing contract, which has two signatories—the private operator and the government. They have their obligations and we just looked into whether both the parties fulfilled their obligations. There is no question of our exceeding any other mandate.”
While policy formulation is the entire prerogative of the government, once this is finalized “it is our automatic legal mandate to audit the implementation of the policy process and that’s what we have been doing”, Rai added.
Explaining the rationale behind chasing the big fish, Rai said CAG has 700 senior officers and 20,000 trained auditors to deal with 64,000 auditable entities. “My instructions to my auditors are clear: I am not interested in chasing a rupee and waste quality time. I would rather audit wastage of Rs50,000 crore. We are going for large budget items by prioritizing.”
“The public would certainly like to know how the taxes that are being collected from them and constitute revenue of the government are spent,” he said.
Rai also said CAG has the expertise to audit complex technical sectors and its auditors are among the best in the world. For instance, about 18 officers have been working in the energy business in Oman, Bahrain and Qatar and were part of the team that conducted the oil and gas audit.
Rai said CAG will continue to look into those areas where the government is spending big money—defence, rural development, health and agriculture. “It is incumbent upon us to ensure that we audit these ministries regularly and huge sums of money are spent wisely,” he said.
It has also started audit of public-private partnership projects, he added, and studied the National Highways Authority of India’s work and observed “irregularities”.