Is Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar doing the right thing? On Thursday, Parrikar made public his irritation with the chief electoral officer, the State unit of the Election Commission of India when he alleged that absolute authority leads to corruption. Parrikar’s observations came at a public meeting and after his government had raised queries about the Rs 12 crore transport bill raised by the chief electoral officer for the Assembly elections. Exact details of the expenditure on transport are still not available but it appears that 720 vehicles were hired for a period of one month of which 418 were given to the police, 156 to staff of South Goa collectorate and 146 to the north. Parrikar feels the quoted figure is too high and has suggested that all bills raised by the electoral officer ought to be audited by a team of chartered accountants.
In the normal course the budget of the Election Commission of India is accepted by the Union Finance Ministry and approved. Same is the case with States which bear the expense for holding an Assembly election. Till date, no government has challenged the accounts presented by the ECI or the state electoral officer and by raising a query, Parrikar has not only cast doubt on the integrity of the chief electoral officer, but in a round-about way, also undermined it. The question is, are his intentions above board?
On one hand, just like every other department, the accounts of the chief electoral officer ought to be audited so that this constitutional office is above board, is able to maintain its independence and enjoys the support and confidence of the general public. The question is should this exercise be held at the behest of the executive branch? Should it be referred to the Election Commission of India or the Comptroller and Auditor General of India?
This is a matter of great importance because for the first time a chief minister has openly castigated the chief electoral officer and charged it with corrupt practices. And in doing so the State government has also undermined a constitutional body. It is important to note here that during the campaign period for the recent Assembly elections the CEO had pulled up Parrikar for openly telling voters to accept money in exchange for votes. Is the Chief Minister indulging in a tit-for-tat game or does he have serious doubts about the transport bills raised by the CEO?
On the other hand, the CEO cannot perpetuate a situation where it remains unchallenged. It must openly subject its accounting practices to scrutiny by an appropriate body (not the government) so that all doubts are removed. Transparency is the hallmark of good governance and only a probe will establish if the CEO followed good accounting practices.