Saturday, December 18, 2010

Is walking along the straight path so difficult?

It was with great fanfare that on the morning after the Commonwealth games ended the Central government announced the setting up of a committee under the former Comptroller and Auditor-General V.K. Shunglu to look into all aspects of organising and conducting the games at Delhi. The committee was given wide terms of reference and three months to submit its inquiry report to the government. It got going in the last week of October, working quietly, and should be tendering its report by the end of January next. But a recent decision of its has drawn public attention.

The committee has hired the services of Dinesh Mehta & Co., a firm of Chartered accountants, to scrutinise the expenses of the Commonwealth games which are believed to have been fudged and bloated by the games' organising committee chaired by Suresh Kalmadi. What has raised the hackles of the press and public alike is the fact that the same Dinesh Mehta & Co. have been auditing the books of the Indian Olympic Association, a pocket borough of Kalmadi. When this obvious conflict of interest was pointed out to V.K. Shunglu he is reported to have refused to see it as such, saying that the auditors engaged from this firm would make only 5-6 per cent of the Shunglu committee's total staff strength. His logic, to say the least, is faulty; why should even 5-6 per cent of the inquiry committee's staff face a conflict of interest? Where was the compulsion for the committee to hire auditors from Dinesh Mehta & Co. when it could have had its pick from scores of well-reputed audit firms in the country? The Shunglu committee ought to answer these questions to the satisfaction of the Indian people who, of late, have discovered that they can see as well as speak.

Going by the dictum that those in authority should be fair and seen to be fair, most appropriate for a committee inquiring into alleged malfeasance of massive proportions by public functionaries, the Shunglu committee must admit publicly its serious error in judgment in hiring auditors from Dinesh Mehta & Co. and immediately cancel the arrangement. The CAG can be asked to suggest replacement for the auditing firm the committee would be letting go.

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