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CAG aims sweeping powers

business Updated: Jul 19, 2010 01:46 IST

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has sought sweeping changes in its mandate, including free and unfettered access to official records within a specified time-frame, greater powers to look into the functioning of over a dozen regulators and empowerment to audit public-private-partnership (PPP) projects.

Audit police

The CAG has sought powers to audit regulators, most of whom are outside its purview.
A draft Bill to widen its scope empowers the CAG to summon government officers and others to seek information and clarification under oath.
The CAG has also sought a legal mandate to police public private partnerships (PPP), which are vulnerable to corruption, with Rs 222,000 crore expected to be invested in them over 5 years.

The government is examining a draft Bill to replace the CAG Act of 1971 aimed at significantly widening the scope of work of the government's statutory auditor, which is a constitutional body.

"Yes, I have submitted a draft repeal Act to the government seeking a larger, authoritative legal mandate," the CAG of India Vinod Rai told Hindustan Times.

CAG has also sought powers to audit regulators, most of whom are outside its purview. These include the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority, the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India (AERA) and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB).

"Regulators such as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and PNGRB have been kept fully or partially out of the audit mandate of CAG through their respective Acts," Rai said.

The draft makes it mandatory for the government to provide information within a specific time period to the CAG, on the lines of the Right to Information Act.

A senior finance ministry official, who did not wish to be identified, said the government is examining the Bill and might consider introducing it in the monsoon session of Parliament that begins on July 26.

"At present enforceability of CAG’s right to information is weaker than that of an ordinary citizen," Rai said.

While Rai refused to divulge details, sources, who did not wish to be identified, said the draft Bill has suggested strong punitive measures for delays in giving information to CAG, on the lines of the RTI law.

The Comptroller and Auditor General has also sought a legal mandate to PPP ventures to ensure probity, transparency and accountability in all public transactions.

Under the Companies Act, 1956, the CAG can audit the books of only those companies in which the government owns more than 50 per cent.

Rai said not having a CAG audit would mean staying out of the purview of the legislature — or the parliament.

"This is a serious impairment in the role of legislative oversight over government spending and needs to be revisited," he said.