A strange exit interview

R. Sundaram | Updated on June 03, 2013

Vinod Rai…Unconvincing answers

The outgoing CAG could have said that scams were due to corporate misconduct.

It is a moot point whether the Constitution mandates that an outgoing CAG should explain the performance of his office during his tenure to the public at large through interviews, newspaper articles and so on. Then every Chief Justice of India should explain the rationale behind pronouncements made during his/her tenure so that the public can fathom his or her state of mind while writing judgments. Neither the CAG nor CJI is elected and so they cannot be voted out for holding unpopular views.

On the contrary, from their safe perch, without the threat of coming to harm themselves, they can ride the wave of a nascent movement to rattle a popularly elected government.

They are the highest constitutional functionaries and are not answerable to anyone except Parliament and their own conscience. Parliament is an amorphous entity and conscience can be explained away as one’s own personal value system.

Public performance

The other day, it was interesting to listen to the outgoing CAG, Vinod Rai, on a TV news channel explaining his performance as the supreme auditor of the country.

It is too soon to forget that his “presumptive loss” theory in the telecom issue eroded the credibility of the elected government and his report of “loss” in the coal block allocation process dented the Prime Minister’s reputation. Both losses running to incredible numbers of rupees were calculated by the outgoing CAG.

During the interview, ironically though, he repeatedly sought to underplay his role by emphasising that his job as an auditor was merely to place his report in Parliament. In that case, he did not explain, even when asked, how people came to know of the contents of the audit reports long before they were presented to Parliament.

It was somewhat droll to hear him use the “majestic plural” or say “we in the auditing community” whenever he referred to the office he had held.

Credit should go to Karan Thapar of CNN-IBN for asking incisive questions both on the telecom loss and the loss in coal allocation. The CAG was at pains to concede that he did not audit policy and that policy-making was the prerogative of the executive although he did not exactly sound convincing.

Not convincing

He was least persuasive in his response to repeated questioning on whether it was right to estimate the cost of the delay in laying down a new procedure for coal block allocation instead of auditing the implementation of the extant procedure.

He pooh-poohed the idea of financial projections that could be made to show that there was, in fact, net benefit to the public, by foregoing revenue maximisation in spectrum allocation. He also summarily rejected using net present value calculus in calculating losses in the coal block case.

When he was asked if he believed that the auditing under his watch had been carried out satisfactorily, he flaunted a certificate issued by an Australian-led international audit team.

What did they certify?

That the auditing framework was sound. Did they say the estimated figures of loss trotted out by the CAG were reasonable? This we could not glean from him.

Although he may have been right in picking up the cases of telecom and coal as pointers to imprudent management of public finance, it cannot be refuted that he reported astounding figures.

It is a pity that never once did he point out, during the interview, that the losses were largely also due to the venalities of the unscrupulous Indian corporations who collude sometimes, and cut each other’s throats at other times.

The author is former Member, Ordnance Factories Board

Published on June 03, 2013

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