Inaugural Address for HS at the Conference of the Chairpersons of Public Accounts Committees of Parliament and State/UT Legislatures, New Delhi, 8 September 2015.
Hon’ble Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, Prof. K.V. Thomas; Hon’ble Chairpersons of the Public Accounts Committees of State and Union Territory Legislatures; Secretary-General, Lok Sabha, Shri Anoop Mishra; and Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a matter of great pleasure for me to be here with you all today at the inauguration of the Conference of Chairpersons of the Public Accounts Committees of Parliament and State and UT Legislatures. I am sure that this Conference, which is taking place after a gap of 14 years, will give you all a unique opportunity to share your individual experiences that you have gathered during this interregnum and deliberate upon common issues.
India has seen significant economic growth in recent years. This progress is in no small measure supported by the presence of a sound institutional and oversight framework.
The oversight function of Parliament in a democracy like ours is a dynamic, challenging and continuous process based on the principle of accountability of the Government to the people through their elected representatives. Indeed, there can be no democratic system of government without transparency, accountability and public participation, which are at the heart of good governance. While the Executive keeps control over the public finance, the Parliament secures the accountability of the Executive through various mechanisms including, among others, the three Financial Committees namely the Estimates Committee, the Public Accounts Committee and the Committee on Public Undertakings. These Committees constitute a distinct group as they keep an unremitting vigil over the Government spending and performance. Thus, parliamentary control over public expenditure is not limited only to voting of moneys required for carrying on the administration of the country; but it also extends to ensuring that the expenditure is incurred in a prudent manner and that the objectives underlying the policies approved by the Parliament are achieved. The three ‘Es’, that is economy, efficiency and effectiveness, require spending less, spending well and spending wisely.
Friends, the Public Accounts Committee has traditionally occupied a very special status in the Legislature. One of the oldest Committees in Indian Legislature, the Public Accounts Committee in India was initially set up in 1921 as part of the recommendation of the Government of India Act of 1919. After independence, our Constitution provided that the Report of Comptroller and Auditor General of India shall be submitted to the President who shall cause them to be laid before each House of Parliament, and the Parliament would appoint Public Accounts Committee for scrutinising it in detail.
Till 1966-67, the Chairman belonged to a ruling party, in 1967 a convention was set to appoint a member of the opposition party nominated as the Chairman of Committee. Mr.M.R.Masani was the first oppostion member to adorn this office. This healthy convention of appointing a member of the opposition as the Chairman has been continuing. Thereafter, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee has been given to the opposition and it is a practise which is considered democratic. The Committee has been chaired by eminent leaders like Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Shri Jyotirmoy Basu, Shri H.N. Mukhjerjee, Shri P.V. Narsimha Rao and Shri R. Venkatraman.
How well a Parliament can perform its oversight functions effectively depends largely upon the efficacy and independence of the Audit. The reports of the PAC are a source of great empowerment for the citizens and provide valuable information and feedback to the various stakeholders including the policy makers. Citizens can use this report to question their representatives and hold the public servants to account.
As an effective watchdog on the Government spending and essentially working on the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, this Committee has been credited with the detection of many financial irregularities, procedural lapses, executive delays and even cases of lack of coordination between different Government departments. This Committee has also earned a reputation for impartiality, firmness and grasp for details.
During my long parliamentary career, I had the privilege of being a member of Public Accounts Committee in 1997. On this account, I have seen the working of the Committee from a very close quarter. Reports of this Committee contain vital lessons for the Executive and are one of the chief instruments of ensuring the Executive's accountability to the people through the Parliament.
The position of Chairperson of this Committee is indeed an enormously responsible one, and requires devotion of great deal of time and high degree of commitment. I am happy to learn that the present Committee has also dwelt into various subjects of contemporary relevance and submitted as many as 24 reports under experienced guidance of its Chairman, Prof. K.V. Thomas, who has had a long parliamentary career and a wide range of experience as an academician, writer and politician. In the same manner, I am sure, all of you are also putting your varied experiences and talents to optimum use as the Chairperson of your respective Public Accounts Committee.
More than two thousand years back, Kautilya had written and I quote:
कोशपूर्वाह सर्वारंभाह. तस्मात पूर्वाँ कोशमवेक्षते.
meaning thereby that 'all enterprises depend on finance. Hence utmost care should be bestowed on matters relating to treasury'.
In a democratic system of governance, the State affairs run on the tax-payers' money- the appropriation of funds and implementation of policies require proper monitoring and examination to ensure that money is being utilised in accordance with the sanctioned budget and schemes. In this context, I would also like to take this opportunity to commend the organisation of Comptroller and Auditor General for carrying out detailed audit of the Government agencies and departments and for the help and cooperation that they extend to the Public Accounts Committee.
Presenting the audit report in the parliament or legislature is not an end in itself. It is very important to ensure that the government takes suitable corrective action otherwise the audit exercise may be reduced to a ritual. We need to find effective means of persuading governments to take timely action on the findings of audit.
To encourage reform and innovation PAC should also highlight the best practices and notable achievements of an organisation. There is a need to adopt a balanced approach so that while highlighting non-compliance, innovations and initiative is not discouraged.
CAG and PAC together deal with three 'A's - Accounts, Audit and Accountability. They audit the Accounts of Govt. Departments to fix accountability. I would expect, if possible, another 'A' is added to this in the form of 'Appreciation' wherever due, so that innovative good practices and projects can be replicated elsewhere.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in order to retain their eminence and usefulness, PACs need to find innovative responses to newer emerging challenges in the current world scenario. They should scrutinise the growing volumes of information as available and give their recommendations in a judicious manner. Here, I want to point out that over the years, operations of Government have expanded and public monies are channelled into different entities. Under these circumstances, Committee Members need to acquire new skills to deal with changed circumstances.
Reiterating what I have already said, the Public Accounts Committee is indeed a pillar of parliamentary accountability and this pillar rests on your strong shoulders. It is heartening to note that through this Conference you get to discuss on a wide spectrum of subjects, while some are specifically related to the working of your Committee like 'Best Practice Standards for Public Accounts Committees', and Challenges faced by PAC, some other general issues like Expectation of Citizens from their Parliament, particularly PAC and so on.
Friends, I am sure that the conference will review and discuss all relevant issues and come out with recommendations to improve public administration in the country. I wish the Conference a grand success.