Even as the CAG report on the controversy over 2G spectrum allocation was laid in Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh advised the audit watchdog to distinguish between “wrongdoing” and “genuine errors.” The government auditor should appreciate the context and circumstances of official decisions and it had a heavy responsibility to ensure that its reports were accurate, balanced and fair.

Dr. Singh was speaking at the celebrations of 150 years of the Comptroller and Auditor-General here.

Pointing out that the reports of the CAG were taken very seriously by the media, the public, the government and Parliament, he said: “This casts a huge responsibility on the institution to ensure that its reports are accurate, balanced and fair. Very often, there is a very thin line between fair criticism and fault finding, between hazarding a guess and making a reasonable estimate, between a bona fide genuine error and a deliberate mistake.”

As an important watchdog in the Indian democracy, it fell upon this institution to separate the wheat from the chaff, “to distinguish between wrongdoing and genuine errors, to appreciate the context and circumstances of decision making processes. This requires a very high degree of professional skill and competence,” the Prime Minister said, while noting that the CAG had acquitted itself very credibly in the past 150 years.

Time to shift focus

While the benefits of detailed propriety audit could not be underestimated, it was perhaps time to shift focus. “Over the years, there has also been a feeling that we might benefit more if the focus of audit is not so much on minute, individual transactions as on big ticket items on which large sums of public money are expended…There is a case for allocating limited time and resources in a manner that big and systemic issues get due attention and we get much greater value for money.”

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