Transparency in governance

Aheli Moitra

This was a few years back. Two Primary Health Centres in Zunheboto district were constructed in a plinth area of 3240 sq. ft each as against 3566 sq. ft for which estimates were prepared and funds sanctioned. Physical verification of these two PHCs by the Comptroller Auditor General’s (CAG) office revealed that the in-patient capacity was not built to the capacity that funds were drawn for.

 

In the same period, the CAG reported that the State Health Society provided an “undue benefit” of Rs. 10.25 crore to a local contractor for setting up a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) facility at the Naga Hospital Authority, Kohima. To understand the details of how this was made possible, readers can take a look at the 2015 CAG report that has a curiously small chapter on Nagaland’s Revenue Sector compared to lengthy ones on Social and Economic sectors.

 

CAG reports are often released after the end of a financial year (March 31). The reports can become accessible only after a State tables it in the Legislative Assembly. While CAG reports offer just the tip of the iceberg in terms of financial leakage from State coffers, they are essential in providing leads to corruption watchdogs for further follow ups demanding accountability from stakeholders.

 

The Government of Nagaland has a slim record of taking action on CAG reports. Inspection Reports are often kept pending, and action taken on recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee are marginal. The Morung Express gives extensive coverage to the financial malpractices—excess and fraudulent payments, misutilisation of funds etc—highlighted in the CAG reports every year with bare corresponding action by the State. Except a few dedicated ones, corruption watchdogs swell and fall like the tide. The clique of contractors, bureaucrats and politicians continue to wring the system dry.

 

In 2015-16, Nagaland State gained the distinction of becoming the “neediest state” among 29 states and 7 union territories of the Indian Union, as per the Reserve Bank of India. Nagaland State received 92.5% of its financial resources from the centre in 2015-16, with the Government of Nagaland investing only 7.5% towards its total expenditure. This is a large dole out and should have resulted in corresponding change on the ground. However, due to financial malpractices and lack of accountability, among other reasons, budget deficit has only increased and infrastructural conditions in Nagaland remain despicable.

 

This year, the Government of Nagaland has not even bothered to table the CAG report in the Legislative Assembly till as late as September. However, it instituted a State Level Audit Advisory Board (SLAAB) consisted of experienced professionals from varied fields. Its objective, according to government, is to provide a “forum for professional discussion” between the senior management of audit office and the members. Whether the SLAAB has teeth or not, it is the duty of its members to push for more comprehensive and accurate CAG reports as well as action to be taken on financial malpractices highlighted in the CAG or other such reports. Time will be the only teller of the efficacy of this move towards transparency in governance but should become a step towards the Lokayukta that the ACAUT Nagaland has pushed for so long.

 

Comments can be shared on moitramail@gmail.com