PEOPLE are today on the streets against corruption all over the country. They want an effective mechanism, which can truly arrest corruption and punish the corrupt. The two major institutions which exposed corruption in the government and also exhorted people to take such a revolutionary step today are the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). Both these watchdogs, which keep a strong vigil on the finance and expenditure of the government, exposed the deep-rooted corruption in the Congress-led UPA government. But both these institutions are in the hit list of the corrupt Congress leaders and they miss no opportunity to undermine them.
The whole country knows what happened to the PAC report on 2G scam on April 29 and subsequently its rejection by the Lok Sabha Speaker because it had questioned the role of Prime Minister Office and the former Finance Minister P Chidambaram in 2G spectrum allocation. Now the Congress leaders are questioning the very institutions of the CAG and the PAC. Congress MP and party spokesperson Manish Tiwari while launching an offensive against the CAG on August 10 said ‘it is overstepping its jurisdiction’. “It is beyond any doubt that the Congress-led UPA Government wants to shield the corrupt ministers and officers. Therefore, anything, which highlights or brings out the corrupt practices or the lapses which resulted in corruption, is strongly opposed by them,” says PAC Chairman Dr Murli Manohar Joshi while talking to Organiser in New Delhi.
The two basic principles of a democratic government are accountability and transparency. The common man gives taxes, which form the major part of the consolidated fund the government spends. Therefore, the common man has every right to know what is happening to the money he has given. In a democracy, the government is accountable to the people through the Parliament and its various constitutional wings. One of the systems to make the government accountable is the right to ask questions by Members of Parliament. That is why the Parliament begins with question hour. Whatever an MP asks, the government has to answer. This is one system. The another system is examining the government budgets and other activities through Standing Committees. If the government has the power to spend so much money, the people too have the right to know what happens to that money. A former Prime Minister had once said that only 15 paisa out of one rupee reaches the real beneficiary. Then what happened to the remaining 85 paisa? Who are accountable for that? So comes the CAG, which examines how the government is spending? Its report is further examined by the PAC, which basically came into existence in 1921 and till the year 1967 its chairperson was from the ruling party. But to ensure more transparency and accountability this post is since then given to the main Opposition party.
“The PAC and the CAG are two watchdogs to smell the rat. It is because we can smell the rat, they want to suppress us, eliminate us and attack us. Both the CAG and the PAC are frequently being attacked by the ruling establishment. In order to deny the right to know the expenditure, the government is behaving like this. Basically to deny this right today they are questioning the very existence of the CAG and the PAC by terming their reports bogus. If this trend continues, tomorrow they may say this particular law is bogus, we will not accept it. The law might have been enacted by the Parliament, they will not accept it. The question is whether it should be allowed to continue,” asked Dr Joshi who is Chairperson of the PAC fourth time.
The CAG audits government expenditure in three ways—financial audit, compliance audit and performance audit. It does not go into the question of policy—who made the policy, how it is made, etc—it only checks the implementation of the policy. The audited report then comes to the Parliament via President of India. As soon as it comes to the Parliament, it is transmitted to the PAC. Therefore, the CAG report is not directly discussed in the Parliament. It is the PAC’s findings which are transmitted to the Parliament. “In fact, the position of the PAC is to chase the rupee, from where it has come and where it goes and under what authority,” explains Dr Joshi while discussing the constitutional position of the PAC.
The PAC, like other Standing Committees of the Parliament, is a multi-party committee and it works on a non-partisan basis. “A PAC member works as a Parliament of India’s representative and not the representative of any political party. This has been my experience over the several years both in the PAC and the Standing Committees. While examining the CAG report on 2G scam also, we functioned in similar non-partisan way. The examination of documents and the evidences by witnesses revealed lapses not only on the part of Minister of Communication, Ministry of Finance, the Prime Minister Office, but also the then Solicitor General who is now Attorney General. The atmosphere of the Committee was disturbed by the leaders of certain political parties. Till March end, everything was fine. I was very good, very honest, very learned, very systematic and very professional. But the situation changed in April. When they were found deeply involved in this scam, they started questioning our functioning,” added Dr Joshi.
Now the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) is also investigating into the corruption charges against some Congress and UPA ministers in 2G scam. Though, the PAC discussed the matter in totality, the JPC, instead of focusing on its real task, is repeatedly trying to confuse people by focusing on the NDA period. But an important fact which needs to be kept in mind is that the PAC is a permanent body and the JPC is an ad hoc one. JPC is formed only for a particular issue and a particular duration.
Apart from Opposition parties, the civil society too is on the streets against corruption. But everybody who is fighting against corruption appears in the hit list of Congress. The brutalities perpetrated on Baba Ramdev and his supporters at the midnight of June 4 at Ramlila Grounds in Delhi are still fresh in the memory of the people. “If you are denying the right to know or to establish the accountability of the government, you are ultimately denying the very existence of the Constitution and you have become a dictator. Whatever and in whatever manner I spend, you have no business to ask me. This is what has happened today. But I want to make it clear that so long I am Chairperson of the PAC, I will continue to do my job sincerely. When I am not Chairperson of PAC and just an ordinary MP, then too I will not sit silent. Even if I am not an MP, I will continue to fight against corruption as a citizen,” Dr Joshi added.
Dr Joshi, however, did not make it clear whether he will summon the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram before the PAC following their involvement in the 2G scam. “It depends upon the committee members. The matter will be discussed in the meeting. It is too early to say anything about it,” he said.
When asked whether the Prime Minister should be under the Lokpal, as is being demanded by Anna Hazare, Dr Joshi stressed the need to wait till the recommendations of the Standing Committee on this issue come. But he added that during the NDA regime the Bill that had been drafted had the provision to bring Prime Minister under Lokpal but with some restrictions. “The basic question is whether the institution of the Lokpal will surely eliminate corruption? What happens if the Lokpal itself becomes corrupt? Even the Chief Justices of Supreme Court are alleged to have been corrupt. Similarly, if the Lokpal himself becomes suspect what will happen then? These are some of the questions which also have to be attended right now. The challenge is how to create a social, political and economic system, which itself does not promote corruption. Whether it is possible under the present economic model is also the fundamental question,” Dr Joshi added.
“The fight against corruption is not an easy one because one has to fight with oneself also. You have to make sure that I would not indulge in corruption. The country needs zero tolerance on corruption at all levels. Political parties too have to decide that just making allegations will not produce positive results. All will have to agree on zero tolerance,” Dr Joshi added.