Gaps in accountability in flagship schemes a concern: Speaker

Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar on Monday said there were "serious gaps" in accountability framework for government`s flagship programmes implemented through private agencies.

New Delhi: Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar on Monday said there were "serious gaps" in accountability framework for government`s flagship programmes implemented
through private agencies, which was a major concern of the new Audit Bill proposed by Comptroller and Auditor General.

Inaugurating a national seminar on `Legislature-Audit Interface`, Kumar said transparency and accountability were the driving forces of good governance.

"There are serious gaps in the accountability framework of these implementing agencies and the CAG`s present mandate for audit of these agencies is also limited," she said here.

"One of the major concern of the (Audit) bill is about the instrumentalities through which expenditure is being increasingly channelled by government," she said.

Kumar noted that public spending on flagship programmes for improving health care, universal elementary education, sanitation and employment had increased by leaps and bounds.

"Most of these programmes are being implemented by panchayats and municipal bodies or under the society mode by direct transfer of funds from central ministries to registered
government societies at state, district, block and panchayat levels," she said.

Referring to the public-private partnership (PPP) model used more intensively by central and state government to help meet gaps in provision of basic services in infrastructure sector, she said it was essential for the government to ensure that services being delivered through such arrangements to the users met the agreed time, cost and quality standards.

"Apart from ensuring transparency and competitiveness in the process of award of contracts, it is equally important to protect the public exchequer from unintended misuse of claims from concessionaires," she said, recommending that such programmes should receive adequate attention of oversight bodies like CAG, Committee on Public Undertakings (CPU) and Public Accounts Committee (PAC)

This, she said, would protect the user interest and the need to secure value for public money.

Noting that audit was frequently faced with situations where auditees did not comply with CAG`s request for records and information, Kumar said it not only delayed the audit
process, but also seriously impacted the quality of audit examination and thwarted possible disclosure of serious irregularities, frauds and embezzlements.

Referring to the functioning of the PAC and CPU, the Speaker said it was not just self-assessment, but also public perceptions about effectiveness that needed to be taken into
account by these committees.

"Effective parliamentary oversight is the cornerstone of good governance. Prompt response of the executive in taking corrective measures on the objections raised by CAG in inspection crucial," she added.

Kumar said a recent report of PAC submitted to Parliament showed that the response of ministries in taking action on the CAG`s reports had "not been very encouraging" and that of the state government executives was "equally sluggish".

"Some very effective and concrete measures need to be taken by both the government and the legislatures to address this situation," she said.

The Speaker said the basic objective of the cycle of parliamentary financial control was to ensure that taxes were assessed in accordance with the laws governing them and public
funds were spent prudently and economically within the authorisations made by Parliament.

She said while department-related committees examined demand for grants of ministries, the rest of the budget was not examined at present by any committee of the legislature at
the budget proposal state.

"We need to consider if these matters should continue to be left to the general debate in the House or whether a strategy paper could be circulated by Finance Ministry about a
fortnight before the budge session, which could be examined by the Estimates Committee with technical support by CAG," she said.

The committee, she added, could report its concerns and findings to the House before a better informed general debate on the budget was taken up.

For that to happen, the capacity of the Estimates Committee and its secretariat staff to undertake technical support would naturally have to be built up, she noted.

PAC Chairman and BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi said with government schemes releasing funds directly to beneficiaries through intermediaries including non-state agencies often outside normal budgetary mechanism, the government`s capacity to keep track of fund flows was shrinking.

"This development poses a dilemma, which is to keep intact the structure of accountability in regard to public money without losing the operational flexibilities expected from these new approaches in delivery of services to the citizens of this country," he said, calling for readjustments and refocusing strategies to meet the new situation.

However, while ensuring accountability, care needed to be taken not to discourage private sector involvement, investment and innovative managerial techniques, he added.

Joshi also pointed to the regulatory bodies set up by the government for financial markets, telecom and power, and said though enormous responsibility and discretionary powers were bestowed upon such bodies, regrettably no parliamentary oversight over their functioning was thought of.

"This is an anomalous situation, which needs to be remedied at the earliest," he underscored.

CAG Vinod Rai, in his opening remarks, highlighted the new challenges in government`s programmes that were outside the purview of parliamentary oversight and called for remedies to make them more accountable to Parliament.


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