Tuesday, November 16, 2010

CAG must ensure reports are fair: PM

New Delhi:  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) reports are taken very seriously and that places greater responsibility on the auditor to ensure that the reports are balanced and fair. 

The PM said this at a CAG conference and only a little after the CAG report on the 2G scam and former Telecom Minister A Raja's role was tabled in Parliament. 

The government auditor, the Prime Minister said, needed to distinguish between bonafide errors and deliberate mistakes and ensure that its reports are "accurate, balanced and fair."

Very often, he said, "there is a very thin line between fair criticism and fault finding, between hazarding a guess and making a reasonable estimate, between a bonafide error and a deliberate mistake.

"As an important watchdog in our democracy, it falls upon this institution to sift the wheat from chaff, to distinguish between wrong-doing and genuine efforts, to appreciate the context and circumstances of decisions", he added.

The CAG, Manmohan Singh said, was an important watchdog and its reports were taken seriously by the media, the Parliament and the government.  He also said he was "aware of concerns regarding the inadequate and delayed response to the reports of the CAG," and added that the Finance Ministry had taken a number of steps to improve matters.

Importance of credible accountability

The CAG report tabled today holds Raja responsible on many fronts for violating guidelines, indulging in favouritism and costing the government Rs. 1.76 lakh crore by mishandling the allocation of 2G spectrum in 2008.

The Prime Minister asked the CAG not to invest too much time into minute and individual transactions but focus on "big ticket items on which large sums of money are expended."

While the benefits of detailed, propriety audit cannot be under-estimated, Singh said, "perhaps, there is a case for allocating limited time and resources in a manner that big and systemic issues get due attention and we get much greater value for money."

The CAG should also suggest methods of doing things better and differently, he said.

The Prime Minister said the institution should become "an exchange house of good practices" so that states can also benefit from its expertise and improve implementation of welfare programmes.

Singh said that the global financial crisis,the worst since the Great Depression of 1930s, has brought to fore the importance of such institutions.

Pointing out that the importance of credible and effective accountability and oversight institutions cannot be overemphasised, Singh said, "the global economic crisis that erupted in 2008 has served as a reminder to all of us of the need for such institutions".

The CAG, he added, could play a significant role in revamping "systems and procedures in government to meet the needs of the 21st century."

The Prime Minister said merely expanding the outreach of programmes for employment generation, education and health is not enough.

"We must do better than the past in implementing our schemes if we are to make a dent in the problems of persistent poverty, hunger and disease that still afflict millions of our countrymen...The emphasis in outcome needs to be pervasive in our system", Singh said.

Opposition demands JPC probe

Raja was forced to resign on Sunday night under considerable pressure from the Congress, which has been attacked in Parliament by a united Opposition for corruption within its ranks.

The Opposition is on the offensive, demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) inquiry into the 2G scam. There were angry scenes in Parliament once again today and the Lok Sabha has been adjourned till Thursday, since tomorrow is a national holiday for Eid.

Parliament has not functioned at all this Winter Session - the Opposition says it won't let the House get to work till a JPC is announced.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is meeting senior BJP leader LK Advani in the latter's office to discuss a possible end to the stand-off in Parliament. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal is at the meeting too. 

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