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'CAG's right to information weak'
July, 20th 2010

Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has sought sweeping changes in its mandate, including free and unfettered access to official records within a specified timeframe on lines of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The government is presently examining a draft Bill to replace the CAG (Duties, Powers and Conditions of Service) Act 1971 aimed to significantly widen the  government's statutory auditors powers and scope of work. Vinod Rai who assumed charge as the CAG of India in 2008, spoke to Media on a range of issues. Excerpts:

You have been advocating the cause for a new public audit law and have sought expansion of your jurisdiction. Why?

The drafting of the current act commenced in 1967. A paradigm shift has taken place in the last 60 years in the manner in which public funds are generated, expended and managed.The law on audit and accounting of public money has remained practically static in the last 40 years and there have only been four minor amendments so far. Audit-related statutes in the UK, France, Australia, Canada and South Africa have undergone review and substantive changes. We have submitted a draft repeal Act to the government detailing the changes required in the present context.

Why are CAG reports so outdated?

At present enforceability of CAGs right to information is weaker than that of an ordinary citizen under the RTI Act. If we seek a certain record from the government or an agency, it should be provided to us as soon as possible. The RTI Act specifically says information should be provided within 30 days. We are seeking to adapt a time frame in the new Act to make the audit process concurrent and real time.

What are the major factors in the present legislative structure that have prevented a more comprehensive audit of government programmes from being carried out?

The models of governance and administration have changed. One example is the public private partnership (PPP) projects. In 1971, PPP was unheard of. Another example is the government deploying large amount of funds through non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other societies for implementation of major social sector programmes.

It is, therefore, important to readjust the mandate of CAG with the changing pattern of outflows from public exchequer to local bodies, NGOs, societies and other non-government entities in keeping with the requirements of transparency, accountability and probity in use of public funds.

So, have the new models of public service delivery and regulation diluted oversight?

The draft repeal Act seeks a larger, authoritative legal mandate to audit regulators and agencies through now funds are being deployed. A large number of Acts have been approved by the legislature, especially in the case of regulators keeping them outside the purview of CAG audit. Similarly, a large number of schemes are being approved for implementation through agencies, which are beyond CAGs mandate. This is a serious impairment in the role of legislative oversight over government spending and needs to be revisited.

Another issue is of delayed placement of CAG's audit reports in Parliament and the state legislatures and poor follow up on these reports by the executive. What measures are being taken to address these?

We have suggested to make it incumbent on the governments to ensure expeditious processing of CAG's audit reports after these are submitted to the President or the Governor as the case may be. We have also proposed changes so that such reports can be placed within seven days of the ongoing sessions of Parliament or state legislature. We have also proposed to submit reports on finance and appropriation accounts by December 31 every year to make it relevant for the budget making exercise.

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