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The super-auditor gets a reform agenda

P Vaidyanathan Iyer | August 04, 2003

A colleague of Comptroller and Auditor General Vijayendra N Kaul says, decision-making in India has become a casualty of 3Cs: CVC, CBI and CAG.

Kaul perhaps knows this only too well, having been in the bureaucracy for close to four decades. Even so, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's caustic remarks at a national conference of accountants general last week came as a rude shock for the 60-year old Madhya Pradesh cadre IAS officer.

Vajpayee had said that the fear of audit had made the executive a prisoner of procedure.

Obviously, Kaul could not have taken those remarks lightly, though he insists that too much is being read into the prime minister's statement.

But given the fact that Vajpayee launched a frontal attack on the CAG, only to be seconded the next day by his deputy L K Advani, the CAG had to take note. Yes, Kaul said later, if officials exceed their brief, it merits serious attention.

Kaul, who has just completed 16 months as CAG, has a six-year tenure. The political signals from the government's top echelons will prompt him to undertake a review of his 50,000-strong office.

In fact, he has already said that his department will try to fulfil the wishes of the prime minister, including becoming more responsive to the problems that the executive faces.

He has, in the past, held various assignments in Madhya Pradesh including that of secretary in the department of commerce and industry and principal secretary in the home department. His last assignment in the state was that of principal secretary, finance.

Before he took over as CAG on March 15 last year, he was petroleum secretary for a brief while. It was during his tenure that the administered price mechanism in the petroleum sector was dismantled. Those who have worked with him in the past vouch for his pro-reform attitude.

The mandate given to the CAG by Parliament in clearly defined terms definitely comes as a handicap in re-defining the scope and work of the CAG's office. Nevertheless, as a first corrective measure, Kaul has asked his officials to focus on performance audit.

He will also examine where they have impeded decision-making and rectify that. More opportunity will be given to the departments being audited to reply before finalising audit paras. His effort, in effect, will be to remove the fear of audit.

Kaul, his friends say, is an avid golfer and loves tennis and bridge too. His area of expertise is international finance and trade. In 1991, he was seconded to the United Nations as advisor, trade policy, for the Asia-Pacific region, US-ESCAP, Bangkok.

Leveraging on its audit and accounting skills, the CAG was examining the possibility of increasing the number of officers who were certified fraud auditors. This will give his officers an opportunity to join the Serious Fraud Investigation Office being set up by the finance ministry.

To keep the morale of his officers high, Kaul assured them that neither Vajpayee nor Advani had made any derogatory comments on the working of the audit department.

The CAG's office has to keep pace with the new liberalised regime and facilitate quick decision making by public sector companies. By striving for performance audit instead of transaction audit, which the accountant general has done so far, the CAG will add considerable value, he feels.

Though he's making all the right noises, Kaul's six-year stint certainly isn't going to be a cushy post-retirement job.


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