“I am very happy to participate in this inaugural function of the 150th year celebrations of the institution of Comptroller & Auditor General of India. This institution has served our country very well as an independent, competent and credible audit institution. I congratulate all those who have been associated with this institution for their solid achievements.
These are times of rapid change. In our country, a sustained period of high growth has brought about transformations as never before. It has also resulted in rising aspirations of our people. The additional resources that have become available because of higher growth have enabled our government to fund massive programmes in the social sectors in pursuit of our goal of inclusive growth. In Education, in Health, in Rural Development, outlays have been increased enormously in the last five years. All these factors place tremendous demands on our systems of governance and service delivery, which must need to change quickly to meet the new requirements of the situation. Traditional, time tested ways of doing things which lend credibility to an institution in the public eye, may prove inadequate in the face of rising aspirations and mounting pressure for quick and efficient delivery of public services. While those in government grapple with different and better ways of doing things, audit, with its vast experience and deep insight, can contribute significantly to revamping systems and procedures in government to meet the challenges of this 21st century. We look forward to the institution of the Comptroller and Auditor General for such advice and guidance in the years that lie ahead.
The importance of credible and effective accountability and oversight institutions cannot be over-emphasized. The global economic crisis that erupted in 2008 has served as a reminder to all of us of the need for such institutions. Let me take this opportunity to re-affirm our government’s commitment to strengthen the institution of Comptroller & Auditor General of India, as part of our broader efforts to improve transparency and accountability in the work of our Government. I am aware of the concerns regarding the inadequate and delayed response to the reports of the Comptroller & Auditor General. The Ministry of Finance has taken a number of initiatives which I hope will lead to an improvement in this area.
As I said earlier, in the last few years our government has allocated huge resources to bring about improvements in the delivery of basic services to our citizens, particularly those who are disadvantaged and underprivileged. But, merely expanding the outreach of programmes for employment generation, for education and for health is not enough. We must do better than in the past in implementing our schemes if we are to make a real dent in the problems of persistent poverty, ignorance and disease that still afflict millions of our countrymen. To be effective, the new or expanded schemes that are being implemented need to be carefully designed, monitored and evaluated. We therefore need a shift away from the emphasis on allocation and utilization of financial resources, which our processes of budgeting and accounting have come to reflect over the years. In the last few years we have made efforts to measure outcomes to judge the effectiveness of our development schemes. But we need to do much more in this area. The emphasis on outcomes need to become pervasive in our system. I am sure this would be receiving adequate attention in the institution of Comptroller & Auditor General.
Over the years, there has also been a feeling that we might benefit more if the focus of audit is not so much on minute, individual transactions but on big ticket items on which large sums of public money are expended. While the benefits of detailed, propriety audit cannot be under-estimated, 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 spent. It might also be time to re-orient our approach so that auditors do not rest with pointing out deficiencies. Suggesting methods of doing things better and differently should be an integral part of the evolving process of audit. Audit being a continuous process, such suggestions would become, over time, an important and continuous source of effecting improvements.
I would also like to mention two developments which have altered the patterns of spending public money phenomena. The first is the progressive devolution of powers and resources to the Panchayati Raj Institutions. Though progress in this area can not be said to be satisfactory, we hope that in the years ahead the Panchayati Raj Institutions will be empowered much more with finances, functions and functionaries. The institutions of accountability therefore will have to realign their processes to reflect this new emerging reality. The other development is the increasing number of Public Private Partnership projects both in the Centre and in the States. The Central as well as many State governments have used this route successfully for impressive investments in the infrastructure projects. With time, Public Private Partnership will be increasingly used in diverse areas. There is, therefore, a need to improve the structure of Public Private Partnership arrangements to ensure that they are transparent, ensure adequate competitiveness and adequately safeguard the public interest. I expect that the Comptroller & Auditor General will play a leading role in ensuring that these new initiatives deliver as intended.
I believe that the Comptroller & Auditor General is an active member of the international community of public auditors and also the auditor of several United Nations agencies. These roles give the institution access to global best practices in governance, delivery of public services and accountability. Since the jurisdiction of the Comptroller & Auditor General extends to all the States of our Union, the institution also has an opportunity to get an insight into the reasons which make a programme more successful in some States than in others. Therefore, the organization is well positioned to act as an exchange house of solid good practices. I would urge that a system be developed so that this wealth of information and experience is shared on an institutionalized basis.
The reports of the Comptroller & Auditor General are taken very seriously by the media, by the public, by the government and by our Parliament. This casts a huge responsibility on the institution to ensure that its reports are accurate, balanced and fair. Very often, there is a very thin line between fair criticism and fault finding, between hazarding a guess and making a reasonable estimate, between a bonafide genuine error and a deliberate mistake. As an important watchdog in our democracy, it falls upon this institution to sift the wheat from the chaff, to distinguish between wrong-doing and genuine errors, to appreciate the context and circumstances of decision making processes. This requires a very high degree of professional skill and competence. The institution of Comptroller & Auditor General has acquitted itself very credibly in the past 150 years. However, times are changing and so are our needs. The institution will have therefore to further enhance its capabilities and its skills and re-orient itself to deliver results that our nation expects of it in the years that lie ahead.
In conclusion, I would once again like to acknowledge the immense contribution made by the institution of Comptroller & Auditor General and the Indian Audit & Accounts Service in ensuring accountability in the processes of government. I have great faith in this institution and I expect it to pay its rightful role in our efforts towards a prosperous and equitable future for our people. With these words, I wish the institution of Comptroller & Auditor General and its staff all the very best in the years to come. You have served our country with great distinction but I venture to suggest that the best is yet to come. With these words, I thank you all for listening to me patiently.”