Finance minister P.Chidambaram told journalists on Friday (Aug 24) that the figure of loss that the Comptroller and Auditor General (C & AG) arrived at was "regrettable" and "flawed". Coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal was less subtle. He said that the coal ministry officials explained to the C&AG that the loss figure of Rs.1.86 lakh crore was not right, and even told the C&AG not to use that figure, and asked them to check with the ministry. It was not done, Jaiswal said.
Chidambaram also held himself back from saying anything directly about the flawed calculations of the C&AG, but referred to the many articles in sections of media which very accurately pointed to the flawed methods of the C&AG. He did give a hint that there is a need to look at the whole approach of the C&AG but he did not seem to want to go there.
If there is a public seminar or even an official meeting of the accountants generals of the states and the C&AG, Chidambaram would argue his case quite sharply about all that is wrong and outdated in the manner that the C&AG was turning out its reports.
It can be nobody's case that C&AG is infallible or that it has to update its auditing methods. But here it is not a case of an objective analysis of improving the quality of public audit. The main purpose is to prove that the critical observations about the government's working made in the C&AG reports were simply wrong and even unaccpetable because it hurts the pride of the government to accept that it has been less than judicious in the manner it implemented or did not implement, spend, did not spend or misspend moneys collected from the people through taxes. Here it is an attempt to rubbish the C&AG because it said that the government did not do things properly.
The BJP-led NDA too did not like the C&AG. It responded to the C&AG report on the ministry of defence's procurement of alluminium coffins for the soldiers immediately after the Kargil skirmish of 1999 -- it has been nick-named "Coffingate" -- with the same hurt pride that the Congress-led UPA is displaying today. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had even told a conference of the C&AG that the national auditor was nitpicking a little too much and that it should look at things in a broader framework.
It would be better if governments refrained from rubbishing the C&AG reports and the opposition refrained from using the C&AG's shoulder to fire at the government. The ruling and opposition parties only end dragging the national auditor into the mudpit of politics.
Neither Chidambaram nor Jaiswal had the courtesy to acknowledge that the C&AG does an honest job and that there are parts of the reports with which the government does not agree and that there are parts of the reports which serve as salutary warnings.
The press conference held by Chidambaram and Jaiswal was solely intended to show that the C&AG was wrong, in the same way that BJP's Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jailtey used the C&AG report on coal blocks allotments to show that prime minister Manmohan SIngh and the government were corrupt. There was no room for this kind of a crude generalisation and inference based on the C&AG report.