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More than just accounting

More than just accounting
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First Published: Sun, Feb 13 2011. 08 38 PM IST
Updated: Sun, Feb 13 2011. 08 38 PM IST
By most accounts, government accountants are hair-splitting curmudgeons who don’t understand official work. Their nature of “losses” is often academic and based on methodologies that have few, if any, links with transaction of business in real life.
That is how the audits of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) have been perceived for long. But, of late, the CAG’s accounting of government deals has gone beyond mere monetary losses to the government and has exposed governance failures. These failures, unimaginable even a decade earlier, have been exposed not because of the government’s internal investigations or even those of other constitutional authorities, but because of accounting nitpicking by the CAG.
The 2G-spectrum case was the first instance where losses due to malfeasance on the part of a minister transcended mere abuse of discretion. Instead, it exposed the acquiescence of the highest political authorities in the land to twisting of policy and savage abuse of ministerial discretion. The second case is that of an alleged loss-making deal on the part of senior officials of Antrix Corporation, the commercial wing of Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). The deal, involving the launch of two satellites—GSAT6 and GSAT6A—that were meant primarily for the use of a private company, exposed governance failures in an even more accentuated form. Isro officials failed to inform the Union cabinet on this aspect of the deal while seeking permission for their launch. As has been exposed by recent reports, this had national security implications in more than one way—from the nature foreign investments in a sensitive sector to the actual use of scarce S-band resources that had more important military and other uses.
In both cases, what actually began as mere accounting of putative losses took a different hue during and after the accounting investigation. In case of the deal by Antrix Corporation, which is now said to be in the process of annulment, many details are yet to be fully cleared. But purely from a governance perspective, it shows a frightening lack of control or oversight of a department tasked with strategic goals by the minister, in this case the Prime Minister himself.
In both cases, the CAG deserves more than a word of praise. Cynicism is but natural in these times. But even a cursory reading of the CAG reports should convince citizens at large that accounting of the government’s actions has not come to an end. Other institutions can then take up the task of bringing the guilty to book.
Would the 2G spectrum and Antrix deals have come to light without the CAG? Tell us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, Feb 13 2011. 08 38 PM IST