Nefarious designs

There is a need to strengthen the CAG.

It is difficult to believe the minister of state in the prime minister’s office V Narayana Swamy’s statement that he was wrongly quoted on his remark about the government considering to make the office of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) a multi-member body. The news agency which put out the report has shown that he had actually made the remark. It was probably the strong reaction that came from the Opposition parties and others that made the minister dissociate himself from the view that he had expressed. He may have been testing the public reaction to the proposal. It is highly unlikely that he would have made the remark if there was no thinking in the government on those lines. The government had reasons to feel uncomfortable with the CAG because its reports pertaining to the Commonwealth Games, 2G spectrum allotment and coal block allocations, among others, had exposed large-scale corruption. Ministers and Congress leaders have criticised the CAG  in various ways in the recent past. The government was probably thinking of weakening the office as the term of the present incumbent is to expire only in 2014.

There is no valid reason to change the structure of the CAG. The government might have hoped that the differences of opinion that might come up in a multi-member body might weaken it.  Its role and functioning are different from those of the Election Commission, and it has not been constrained by its composition. It is true that a former CAG had suggested that the office could be made a three-member body. If at all the proposal is to be considered  there should be a national debate on it and it has to be endorsed by a wide-ranging consensus. The CAG is a constitutional body and any change in its structure can be made only through a constitutional amendment.

Despite strong criticism, the government does not appear to have given up the proposal. The need actually is to further strengthen the CAG. It should get greater autonomy and powers.  There is some confusion about whether the CAG has the power to scrutinise certain areas. This ambiguity should be removed and the scope of the office should be clearly expanded to cover all sectors where government money is directly or indirectly involved. The appointment of the CAG also should not be the government’s sole prerogative. An independent and non-partisan mechanism should be evolved for this.

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