has constantly sent shivers down the government's spine. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), through his reports, has brought the issue of government accountability into the public discourse as never before.
Every audit report by the CAG is anxiously awaited by both the government and the opposition, for contrasting reasons. From the 2G spectrum allocation to coal block allocation to the more recent farmers' debt relief scheme reports-to name a few-he seems to be the main crusader against sleaze. So, will the institution change after him? Will his successors be more pliant and do the government's bidding?
"Institutions define their own destiny, not individuals," said Vinod Rai on Friday, the first day of the 2013 India Today conclave. He addressed the gathering at a session entitled: 'Super Auditor: The role of accountability in a democracy'.
The government last year had thrown in the idea of converting the CAG into a multi-member body. This was ostensibly to clip the powers of the nation's auditor. However, Rai, in a nonchalant fashion, said that there was nothing wrong in that suggestion. But he opined that it should come with necessary "powers and responsibilities". He said that multi-member audit bodies have been successful in various countries. In France, for instance, he said that the audit body also sat as a court and punished defaulters. Other models such as commissions of audit had far-reaching powers too. "In terms of power, it is the poor CAG of India that has actually no powers," said Rai pointing that its only functions were to audit government accounts and place the reports in Parliament.
With accusations that the CAG reports often transgressed into the realm of policy, Rai clarified that the CAG never "questioned policy formulation
". He was answering a question related to the CAG reports on coal block and 2G spectrum allocations. He, however, conceded that the role of the CAG has not been the same as it was originally considered 65 years ago. It is not just about auditing but to "ensure that the executive/ government were held financially responsible", the nation's auditor said. He quoted Kautilya's Arthashastra: "When a fish swims, nobody knows when it drinks water." Therefore, every institution must have a vigilante put into them, said Rai.