New Delhi: India’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Vinod Rai, whose reports have highlighted corrupt practices by government officials, said the agency has been examining whether its role is limited to presenting audits.
“What we have been introspecting is whether our constitutionally mandated responsibility ends the moment we have placed our reports in Parliament or is it in any way beyond this mechanical function that we perform,” Rai said in a speech on Thursday to the Harvard Kennedy School in the US.
“To get an answer to this query repeatedly arising in our minds, we also looked at the constitutional position of Supreme Audit Institutions in certain other parliamentary democracies,” he said. “This was at the time when we were being advised by the highest in the land not to exceed our mandate, which they believe to be mere accountants and to conduct mechanical audit of government’s expenditure. We were being advised not to get into the realm of auditing policy formulation.”
Under Rai, the goverment’s auditing body has taken centre-stage after exposing alleged scams in the government’s allocation of the second generation telecom spectrum, the 2010 Commonwealth Games and coal field allocations in recent years.
His reports, though disputed by the government, have put India’s ruling United Progressive Alliance coalition under intense pressure. A. Raja quit as telecom minister in November 2010 in the wake of allegations that he had favoured some companies over others and gave spectrum away cheaply, thereby causing substantial loss to the excehequer. CAG pegged the loss at Rs1.76 trillion.
Rai said civil society in India was undergoing a churn with the citizen coming to the centre-stage and wanting to hold government accountable for its decisions.
“This voice is seeking to be heard. This voice was never taken seriously by political parties as it was the voice of people who merely engaged in living room debates and never came out to vote. 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.
“There is thus a distinct paradigm shift in civil society in India. This demands a distinct paradigm shift in the model of governance,” he said.
Stating that his audit body had responded to the changes demanded by citizens, Rai said they it introduced several changes that includes “the firm belief that we are as much engaged in the business of upgrading governance as any other agency in the administration.”
Another was the concept of a social audit, Rai said.
Since Indian democracy “is maturing and the urban India middle class is becoming more involved in citizen’s affairs, we continue to tread the new path in the belief that the final stakeholder is the public at large,” he said.