The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has partnered with CA Institute to develop a set of online courses for building government accounting skills among rural youth and prepare a pool of certified accountants whose services can be utilised by local governments for maintaining complete accounts, GC Murmu, CAG of India, has said. The online courses are essentially targeted at students who have 12th standard and are keen to skill themselves in area of government accounting.  

The CAG, which is the Supreme Audit Institution of India (SAI), is also looking to harness the power of data analytics, artificial intelligence and digital platforms to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of its local government audit processes. “We have started in a limited way and now have data analytics centres. We have hired professionals from outside. We are now cleaning data. Till the data is cleaned and standardised, these emerging technologies cannot be implemented fully”, he said.

The data analytics approach will be easily extended to urban local bodies and it is also possible to do this at rural local government level (at Zila parishad), but may not be at village level, he said. 

Asked as to how quickly CAG would look to ramp up use of Analytics and AI, Murmu said as quickly as possible. “It all depends on how quickly we can prepare the accounts of rural local bodies. Analytics can be quickly run”, he said.

Tie-up with ICAI

On the recent tie-up with ICAI, Murmu said that as the youth get skilled in government accounting and get diplomas, they will get lot of job opportunities outside also. “In the GST regime, they can also help small business to fulfil the accounts. We will upgrade the courses in due course of time. This is parallel skill development and like an accounting skill mission”, Murmu said after inaugurating an international conference on strengthening of grassroots democracy here on Wednesday.

Over the last two years, CAG has been upping its focus on audits of local governments (including panchayats). India has large number of urban and rural local  bodies and there are 2,62,000 such bodies in rural India. India has three levels of government — Centre, States and Local Government (urban and rural local bodies). Union Finance Commissions are providing direct devolution of around 4.2 percent of the total divisible pool to the third tier of local governments.

Murmu said in his address at the international conference that SAI India is committed to strengthening the audit of local governments. Recognising that governance challenges at the grassroots may be unique to contiguous geographic areas, SAI India has embarked on audit of local governments focusing on districts — administrative decisions encompassing multiple villages and cities, Murmu said.

CAG has taken up audits of local government bodies at all States including West Bengal, Kerala and Karnataka (which had on its own given the mandate to CAG). Pilots are underway in all States other than these three States, where work has been already completed.

The objective of CAG’s local government audits is to assess how well local governments are discharging the functions which have been devolved as per the constitution and legislations. This paradigm of local audit is dynamic and evolving. The initial framework and guidance are being modified and updated through consultations with stakeholders and feedback from audit teams.

Meanwhile, Murmu at the international conference underscored the need to explore institutionalising international standards for local governance audits “within our respective national, legal and regulatory frameworks”. This can involve incorporating relevant provisions into legislations, regulations, and guidelines governing local governance and audit practices, he said.