A crack in the line

The Auditor-General (AG) has submitted the annual Audit Report, 2063 BS, to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, departing from the past practice of submitting it to the King. The Prime Minister has assured AG Gehendra Nath Adhikari that he will present the report before Parliament soon and take immediate action on the problem areas identified and the suggestions thereof. The report puts the magnitude of berujoo (the account heads or transactions showing non-compliance with rules and regulations) of 2062 BS at Rs.29.9 billion. Of this, government advances alone amount to Rs.8.11billion, which is separate from the Rs.1.77 billion in unsettled advances of committees and other organisations, which also account for a whopping Rs.24.46 billion in the yet-to-be-settled accounts. Overdue revenue, too, has shown a rising curve from Rs.28 billion the year before to the present Rs.29 billion.

The pattern of the audit report has been more or less the same year in and year out over the past four decades, with the berujoo amount tracing an upward curve. Those in seats of power promise to implement the report, as Koirala is doing now, as in the past with no follow-up action, letting the report gather dust on the shelves of some government offices. This cycle starts all over again the next year, as the size of the berujoo continues to swell. This fruitless annual charade has shaken the faith even of optimists in the bona fides of those who are supposed to act on the report and ensure good governance. The AG has also recommended the formation of a high-level commission to investigate the losses of public enterprises (PEs) which continue to soar with the danger of their spiralling out of control. Haven’t they already? Moreover, mere addition of commissions will not serve any useful purpose, as the fate of myriad commission reports, including recent ones, testifies.

The problem is, rather, one of intention, of political will, of the creation of effective mechanisms, and of ending the state of impunity. Crackdown on corruption and illegal acts should not be made dependent on the pleasure of the Prime Minister, ministers, or any other authority. There needs to be a system under which even those who are supposed to don this mantle may be held accountable for their failure to act. Selective punishment of wrongdoers will hardly contribute to good governance. The urgency of corrective measures is also reflected in 21 PEs’ accumulated losses of Rs.45 billion, which works out to 400 per cent of their capital. There is no need to identify the problems, as these are already well known. The time now is for action. The AG sees in the negligence and impunity of government servants the main cause of the rise in berujoo, overdue revenue, and advances. And worrying is the financial administration of the government, he adds. To the optimists, however, a ray of hope lies in the upcoming Maoist-included interim government. There is no alternative for the public but to give the coming administration the benefit of the doubt.