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The Great Audit Festival

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If there is a will, there is a way to sweep irregularities under the carpet

Winston Wolfe. The problem-solver. Remember that guy who came and fixed everything every time Jules and Vincent screwed things up in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.? The guy with magic. The guy with solutions.

Been in a government office for some time now, often coming across dumbhead Jules and Vincents, and often wondering who’ll play Winston for them. Well, the wait ended this past week. Witnessed a team of Winstons here. Three of them, the problem-solvers, the Winston wolves.

Cutting to it, let me walk you through the audit process in a government office.

Headed by a certain smug-face, the trio scanned papers as good as they scanned minds and fears. For seven days, they were the guys in town. A minor twitch of the brow, a subtle dilation of the pupil, a yawn, a sneeze, bowel sounds, everything about them was noted and dealt with. If I ever thought I worked hard to impress a certain girl in college, five minutes in that room would put me to shame. This was competitive pleasing of al- most Olympic standards.

Free accommodation

So the wolves were put up at the nearby rest house. The stay was of course free, but that’s never enough when you are dealing with parasites. Purported bills of a hotel, to be charged by their majesties for the duration of the exercise, were also provided, evidently for purposes of reimbursement claims. The rest house, located at a distant 150 metres from the office, was traversed repeatedly to carry their lordships to their chambers, where in between rounds of tea, snacks and nervous laughter, the audit festivities were celebrated.

Finding irregularities in government financial papers is as difficult as locating a nose on a face. And when you have people as clean as Delhi air and as knowledgeable as Delhi politicians, the nose is running with irregularities.

With their jobs made easy, and the brain nourished by the previous night’s meat-fest, ‘memorandums’ of irregularities start piling up. The irregularities seem either real or plausible.

The administration seems either absent or assumed. It is here that the collective wisdom of the staff comes to the fore. Driven by a common cause, they come out with ‘pressing reasons’ behind irregularities. In a span of hours one feels that the memorandums need to be replaced promptly by commendations.

It’s just that this shifting of weight, this war for righteousness, is all farce. It’s all a game. A game where the struggle seems real but the outcome is fixed. A game interlaced with sumptuous refreshment and drink breaks, the most lavish of which are spread every day at dinner.

The problems pointed out in an audit and the explanations provided thereby stand carved in time, only to be disturbed infrequently by an honest auditor or officer.

Barring these undesirable acts of honesty, that usually spell doom for them, the procedure and the result are pretty much as old and as fixed as history itself. Remember how they teach you about the barter system as the earliest form of trade. Well, that’s also the earliest form of audit. And pretty much the present form as well, someone like Vinod Rai notwithstanding.

So the team does what it does. Points out discrepancies that are so glaring they can only be extinguished by the ‘rich’ experience of staffers. A final discussion on what ought to be done is then initiated.

Finally, what ought to be done is done. Some discrepancies are washed down with paneer pakoras, some with kaju katli. The more distasteful ones are shot down by the sheer force of Gandhian portraits in the wallet. Finally, what is left are an innocuous bunch of audit queries, useful for auditors and harmless for staff members.

So that’s how this audit game ends, mostly. In a win-win. And that’s how the Jules and Vincents are let loose again. To be saved a few years later by their Winstons.

kunal.angrish@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 10:08:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-great-audit-festival/article21822997.ece

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