Auditing the auditors: how the media reports CAG


On Wednesday evening (July 12, 2006), the Goa office of the Comptroller and Auditor General released its annual report for the year-ended March 31, 2005. A hurried overview (while not claiming to be comprehensive) of what the report says is here on Goanet.

This morning (July 13), it was interesting to see the response this story got from the mainstream media in Goa. Given that papers and presspersons have been heavily politicised in recent years — they always were, but this activity took on a new high under the Parrikar regime — the slants were clearly showing.

Herald aka oHeraldo, struggling to maintain its role as a inconsistently critical paper (needing to be critical of the current Congress ruling establishment, but also someone as influential as ex-CM Manohar Parrikar, seen by many here as a CM-in-waiting), puts it about the most bluntly.

Its lead-item, that dominates three-fourths of the top-half of its front-page, says, IFFI’04: CAG nails Parrikar. Financial irregularities involving crores come to light. Another top-of-the-page single column notes that the CAG report raps cops.

Herald adds some background to say: “The expenditure by the Manohar Parrikar government has drawn a lot of controversy and opposition from the public, because of the huge expenditure involved. The CAG report confirms these wasteful expenditure in all areas and states that “huge expenditure was incurred in haste by-passing established tendering procedures, allowing inflated projections to be passed without adequate checks, passing exorbitant costs on consultants/contractors and architects though they lacked justification and transparency.”

It has specific highlights showing what the CAG says about wastage of money — large sums of it — on the obviously-questionable cine-multiplex Inox deal, raod works, road package works, consultants, the contractor and the restorations and upgraded of the Kala Academy.

The Navhind Times, for long Goa’s dominant newspaper player but seeing erosion in that postion coupled with fears of a Times of India. entry into the local market in Goa, had this story: IFFI-2004: CAG pulls skeletons out of government cupboard.

It’s an amazing 26-para report, with a lot of details, but which doesn’t once mention the name of Manohar Parrikar. This means forgetting the politician who staked his reputation in getting IFFI2004 adamantly done his way, and claimed credit for it too. In para 25, there’s just a reference to “the then chief minister of Goa”.

Gomantak Times, owned by the family of the Maratha strongman Nationalist Congress Party politician Sharadrao Pawar, carries the story as a smallish two-column on the bottom of Page 1, titled “IFFI-04: GSIDC plays ‘villain’ in CAG report. Rapped for wastage of funds.”

GT, as the paper is called, has been doing some interesting stories on some issues in recent times. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a website, and simply gave up trying to maintain its presence in cyberspace perhaps not long after the web-savvy former editor Ashwin Tombat ceased being at that slot.

Sunaparant, Goa’s lone Konkani daily paper (though not a widely-read one), plays down the story to a three-column item, with its headline just peeking above the ‘fold’. It talks about the wastages in creating infrastructure for IFFI2004, and leaves it to the reader to recall the politics behind this particular event. Interestingly, Sunaparant‘s main story for the day is about how every house in Goa will get hi-tech, with 10MB connections by March. Am I just too skeptical, or do we have an infinite capacity to buy hype?

Navprabha, the Marathi-language sister publication of The Navhind Times, carries CAG as the top-of-the-page 1 story, with a red-coloured headline, but in a smaller size. It reads: “04chya IFFImulay 13 kotichi fatka’.

Tarun Bharat, an earlier Belgaum-based paper now with a Porvorim office and considered the closest to the BJP (till recently, see more on this below), has two-thirds of its front-page still devoted to the Mumbai blasts, a couple of days after the event. The remaining one-third goes to a report on a pro-Marathi meet in Panjim on July 15, Rane’s talk of a law against communalism, and an attack in Porvorim. Poor CAG and all the work put it; it only makes it to Page 3, with a bland heading that IFFI2004 lead to “vaifal kharcha”.

Gomantak, the Marathi sister-publication of the Gomantak Times, with the Pawar link too, in contrast, makes this a Page 1 lead story, with a large-sized headline. It describes the IFFI2004 expenditure as “aanathiya kharcha”.

Recently-launched Gova Doot has been perceived as a front-publication for the BJP, a perspective it has strongly sought to deny, has space for the Mumbai blasts (with an Advani photo thrown-in) to dominate half its frontpage, Other stories promise a heavy anti-English protest on July 15, and other stories emerging out of the legislative assembly.

In an unsual policy on news-priorities, the paper gives ex-CM Parrikar a two-column space to refute the CAG report, even before details of the CAG story are to adequately reach their readers. Parrikar claims there is not a single allegation of corruption or misuse of office. Yeah? Who’s telling whom?

These are procedural lapses, says he. He also argues that his government was not in power for the full tenure which was being looked at by the CAG. By afternoon, 13:41:11 on July 13, 2006, Parrikar tells us through the SMS-based DigitalGoa.com service that the “CAG report is manipulated by Cong govt by not providing adequate information. Governor is also party to it during President’s Rule.” And you thought Goa’s former CM didn’t know how to build up stunning arguments whenever needed to get out of the hot water?

More than the CAG report itself, the responses to it are rather telling.

Now, here’s wishing that this organisation gets its Goa website up in the one-month promised period. Such issues, whether they expose the misdeeds of past rulers or present ones (and you can surely expect the Congress-NCP to leave a deep trail behind!) need a closer look.

One regret is that rulers in Goa become ex-rulers speedily, thanks to political instability. But should this fact allow them to get off the hook so easily?

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