Ensuring accountability – II

Findings like the one about a RCC T-Beam Girder Bridge over River Dishakapu near ARTC, Dimapur with no roads attached to it abound in CAG reports. However officials have expressed concern that the State Government has been lackadaisical in taking action on such reports. (Photo Courtesy: CAG Report 2018)

Findings like the one about a RCC T-Beam Girder Bridge over River Dishakapu near ARTC, Dimapur with no roads attached to it abound in CAG reports. However officials have expressed concern that the State Government has been lackadaisical in taking action on such reports. (Photo Courtesy: CAG Report 2018)

Lack of action on CAG reports a big concern

Atono Tsükrü Kense 
Kohima | November 12

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report provides a factual analytical review of the finances of the government arising from the performance audits and test audit of transactions of various departments of the state. 

The prepared report is then laid in the house through the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) by the Accountant General Office. It is the committee who goes through the report and recommends for necessary actions to be followed.

The CAG highlights the factual position of numerous anomalies in the management of funds in various departments caused by misappropriation, fraudulent drawals/payment against non-existing works and non completion of works etc.

However, it has been noted that there is barely any action or penalty being initiated against defaulting officers or departments, as requisite to deter such actions in the future. The primary role of the PAC is to keep a check on where and how public money is being spent; discuss on the report and propose or recommend actions to be taken.

Former Accountant General (AG) Kohima, Sword Vashum, who went on to retire as Additional Deputy Comptroller said “PAC plays a very vital role because they do it for, and on behalf of the state government.” “Of all the committees, PAC plays a crucial role to enforce accountability and also financial discipline and recommend that  they deserve definitive action” he added.

Enforcement a concern
Enforcement against erring departments and officers though is an issue of concern. Principal Accountant General, A Pihoto Chophy said “our duty is to ensure that our report is accurate, timely and actionable. Our role ends with reporting, we cannot do anything beyond that, the action part is the committee.” 

While the committee is fully competent to take the call and the follow-up, he stated there has been a wide gap between the ‘action taken and reporting the Action Taken Notes’ (ATN) which typically doesn’t reach its office. 

“We are supposed to get a copy of ATN, but we don’t get it and the long gap of what has happened after the recommendation by the committee is something very disappointing” remarked Chophy. “It is the prerogative of the committee. Now, if there is no action from their side, it’s purely up to them” he added.

“It is (for) the PAC to take the call to recommend the course of action at the government level on each para of the audit report. It is for the PAC to recommend further course of action” said Vashum. He also pointed out that the PAC has to bring serious cases of corruption to the notice of the State Government. They can take suo motto action even without being pressured by the PAC. 

“That generally doesn’t happen,” Vashum however stated. “If they want to be lenient and magnanimous and let them off then, we can’t say anything. But it has to be pursued and take action,” he added.

Stricter penalties as a deterrent
Citing instances where erring officials are only made to return/deposit back the money, both the officers have pointed out stricter penalties should be taken to act as a deterrent.

“Simply depositing back the money doesn’t meet the end. There should be some kind of penalty that money is paid back with interest along with imposing of other penalties. Strong deterrent should be in place” stated Chophy. He informed that this suggestion has been made to the State Government as well.

“When the case is established and the irregularity is proven, then somewhere some action has to be taken, so that it acts as a deterrent for others. If that kind of action is taken and made known to everybody, I am sure it will put a check. But, there is a missing link in the follow up” added Chophy.

He further remarked that “corruption here is a matter of concern.” “If we see the overall functioning and reports, lots of corruption is embedded and very rampant. We should be more concerned about how our money is utilised which is being borrowed.”

Asserting that “fraudulent cases are nothing short of criminal penalties,” Vashum meanwhile opined that concerned officers should be charged as per the rules. He maintained that the State Government should be happy when such lapses and irregularities are being pointed and take appropriate action. He further suggested that the government calculate the interest against the money to be refunded.

Public participation
Meanwhile, observing the lack of public participation in these cases, Chophy said every citizen must show concern about how the government is functioning as it involves governance. “Public should show more interest. It’s their money, and the government is for everybody and it is the responsibility of every educated citizen to display seriousness on such issues,” he stated.

Vashum concurred that every citizen of a democratic society should be concerned by such serious matters as it serves everybody’s interest and all will benefit along the way.

During a recent programme, an academician, Kekhrie Yhome stated “poor financial administration is responsible for systematic corruption and creation of financial liabilities while poor understanding of financial management, rules and policies is responsible for wide public-government trust deficit.”

In an age where electronic governance and public accountability is central to any economic activity, he maintained that “the paramount task ahead is to democratize financial knowledge through public debates and open access.”

This is the last of a two-part series.