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Flagship schemes: CAG to go public with audit reports

By Joe C Mathew and Akshat Kaushal
July 04, 2011 13:02 IST

MoneyPrime Minister Manmohan Singh may not be happy with the way the apex auditor of the country, Comptroller and Auditor General of India, goes public with its findings, but the office of the CAG is bracing up for more public interactions in the coming days.

CAG briefings, however, will not be on special audits such as 2G telecom spectrum allocation or Commonwealth Games expenditure, but on its observations on flagship social sector programmes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and National Rural Health Mission, which cumulatively account for over Rs 80,000 crore annual spend from the central exchequer.

CAG officials informed that for the first time in its 150-year history, it is preparing common man-friendly audit reports on social issues such as rural health, education, environment, rural asset creation, pollution and water-based issues, among others, with a clear ob-jective to sensitise the public.

Officials said the CAG mandate is not just book keeping, but 'to conduct an audit, prepare a report, and tell the public at large, not only to the people's representatives in Parliament and state assemblies, but also directly about issues that matters to them (the public)'.

"We have created small booklets which we distribute to the public, opinion leaders and the media as there are issues on which we want to sensitise people and create public opinion," said a senior CAG official.

According to him, historically CAG had been doing the same, but now they are trying to make the public at large conscious (about social issues) and also making them aware of their duties.

The apex auditor is in touch with grass-root level civil society groups across the country to help them in awareness building programmes.

"We call conferences for 15-20 NGOs to talk to them about social audit findings. For instance, water is a major issue. Water pollution, water source drying up, sources of water where sewage treatment plants were set up but not functional, local initiatives that are required to rejuvenate water bodies, streams that have been blocked or diverted, cases where the discharge of waste is more than what the water body can sustain. . . these are all issues that are revealed before the nation through our audits," said the official.

While a typical CAG document is known for its bulky nature, the new formats are in the form of leaflets and thin books with accompanying CDs for people who are interested in a 'deeper' understanding.

Officials say the civil society linkage and public interface has become essential in the context of social audit.

"We do 64,000 audits every year. How do we get that outreach? Suppose you know which district to audit. But, how will you know in which area a rural development programme is done very well?

So, unless we associate with social action groups, this outreach becomes difficult. This gives us a last mile reach.

And it gives those groups (grass root NGOs) a voice. They know that if they are making a noise about something, we will mention it in our report.

It will be a wake up call. So it gives you a credible voice that can be heard across the nation," the official explained.

However, CAG is yet to have the legal mandate to audit social sector projects that are undertaken by NGOs or through public-private partnerships.

An amendment to the existing rules is on the cards.

As an interim measure, Planning Commission inserts a clause in each and every social sector project sanctioned by it, which says that the project is subject to CAG audit.

On Wednesday, during his interaction with newspaper editors, the Prime Minister had criticised the CAG for holding a press conference on the telecom scam and going into policy issues that were not part of its mandate.

According to the Comptroller and Auditor-General's (Duties, Powers and Conditions of Service) Act, 1971, CAG is authorised to make regulations for carrying into effect the provisions of this Act in so far as they are related to the scope and extent of the audit, including laying down the guidance of the government departments the general principles of government accounting and the broad principles in regard to audit of receipts and expenditure.

While the government feels the Act restricts CAG's role to placing audit reports in Parliament, CAG feels its responsibility and mandate lies beyond.

Joe C Mathew and Akshat Kaushal in New Delhi
Source: source