Vinod Rai takes on govt: Governance too vital to be left to govt; democracy without accountability is a body without soul; helicopter scam audit to be out soon
Geetanjali Minhas | February 15, 2013
“In the present age, governance has assumed critical importance and appears too important to be left only to the government.”
Thus spake Vinod Rai, the comptroller and auditor general of India (CAG), the government’s chief auditor, and many would say the chief critic on matters of integrity — and more often the lack of it.
For much of his 30-odd-minute speech on 'Accountability of the government is the key to a vibrant democracy' in Mumbai on Friday evening, it would not be stretching the point too far to say Rai baited, critiqued and often tore into the UPA-II government — without, of course, naming anyone in power. But if the idea was to point out the shortcomings of the government, many Indians would say it’s an idea whose time has come — as almost all present in the packed hall at Shivaji Park in central Mumbai’s Dadar appeared to be saying.
The event was organised by Money Life Foundation.
Taking the attack to the government, the CAG chief said, "People who have the mandate are typical bullies. They bark at you, you recoil, and they succeed. If you bark back and tell them you can also succeed, that’s when you succeed.”
“The premise of good governance is that democratically elected governments will conduct public affairs with probity and accountability,” Rai said. “The public seem to feel recent actions of the government that have come into public domain indicate that elements of ethics and integrity seem to be lacking.”
“The era of a new class of discerning and demanding citizens is here to stay,” he said. “Citizens calling government to account and seeking transparency in political formation is emergence of a voice which hitherto was considered to be that of a silent majority.”
That group, Rai said, now seeks to develop a new moral and ethical framework that should be put in place to guide citizens and their elected representatives — to ensure the latter’s accountability to the former.
Rai said the vast majority of urban citizenry feels it is time conventional architecture is tampered with, and there is participation of the informed public in governance. The year 2012, Rai said, has debunked the age-old myth about the “silent majority”, referring to the recent protests against corruption and crimes against women.
“This portends (well for) maturing Indian democratic forces,” the CAG said. “Corruption at every government office is uniting and aggregating disparate white collar urban citizenry, not unwilling to take to the streets to pursue their cause. It is widely believed that this churning of the educated middle class has taken the administration by surprise.”
But it is too early to predict how much the political class and administration has “realised this, and is willing to come to terms with”, he said.
Explaining that the concept of accountability has gained iconic status today, Rai said it is not the sole responsibility of the government but also of the corporate sector, the civil societies, government organisations and citizen’s groups — in short, those who have elected the government. The ultimate weapon of democracy, he stressed, lies with the people. Since governments collect taxes from people and spend on behalf of the public, an element of “higher accountability” lies with governments.
Thus, it is essential that actions and decisions of public officials are transparent and are capable of withstanding scrutiny, he said. “Democracy without accountability is a body without soul,” he said.
Rai also tore into the “oft-repeated statement” of public officials following accusations of misdemeanor or irregularities against them — that the “law would be allowed to take its own course”. “Unfortunately, this is exactly what does not happen,” he said. “Impediments are put up before law taking its own course.”
He added that vibrant democracies have been successful and popular only because the rule of law was allowed to prevail.
On recent protests by youths this winter following the gangrape of a 23-year-old in a bus in south Delhi, Rai said the public uprising shook up the government. “Having spent four decades in administration, I can say they (people in power) were neither prepared for not attuned to such an awakening,” the CAG said. “They (politicians) cannot conceive of (or deal with) spontaneous crowds; they are only accustomed to paid crowds being mobilised for political violence.”
He said cases like the appointment of vigilance commissioner, the reopening of Jessica Lal murder case, misdemeanors of retired Haryana DGP, unwarranted parole of Manu Sharma are some other outstanding examples of a new order asserting itself.
Warning against the culture of ‘end justifying the means’, the auditor-general said it is increasingly becoming a cover for individuals, groups and government bodies, and has far-reaching implications. “Economic empowerment can be possible only if growth is found on ethical good governance,” he noted. “India’s story will say that governance was the solution, and not a problem, wherein the state was facilitator and not predator.
“History is witness to fact that any dilution of morality has eventually led to degeneration of values of society, pushing the country into quagmire from which it takes ages to emerge,” he observed.
On the helicopter scam that is being unraveled, asked whether his office is mandated to audit the defence ministry, Rai said the CAG does audit of defence purchases. In fact, the audit, he said, has been done and would be released soon.
On another question, when asked why most CAG reports mention that findings of exit conference were shared with secretary of the department concerned and response is awaited, Rai said, “We are now ensuring the department concerned attends the exit conferences. Henceforth, barely any report will say that reply to exit conference is awaited.
Answering another question on how long the citizen’s groups will continue with crusades in the absence of the common man’s support for good governance, as those who are part of governance say the masses gave them the mandate, Rai said, “The majority was always silent because the minority (those in power) felt they had the mandate. That they were exercising it (the public mandate), and were far more articulate and aggressive than the majority. But all that has changed now — you have to be tenacious, and that is the only way to succeed."
For those in governance, the applause at the end of the speech said it all.
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