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Perennial delay

Submission of utilization certificates (UCs) against any public expenditure is an effective mechanism

Perennial delay

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  1 Oct 2020 3:00 AM GMT

Submission of utilization certificates (UCs) against any public expenditure is an effective mechanism to ensure accountability of the utilization of disbursed grants for the intended purpose. A report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) reveals that the Assam has failed to account for expenditure to the tune of Rs 19,672 crore released to 49 departments during 2001-02 to 2017-18. The audit report on state finance for the year ending March 31, 2019 states that these departments are yet to submit altogether 9,455 UCs against the grants given to them. Over 67 per cent of the outstanding UCs for grants amounting to Rs 13,210 crore pertains to three financial years- 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18. The financial year 2017-18 accounts for the highest amount of Rs 8,224 crore and 1,673 pending UCs. The present Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)-led coalition government came to power in 2016 while the Congress ruled the state for three consecutive terms from 2001 till May 2016. Non-submission of UCs during the Congress regime was a major poll plank in 2016 Assembly polls. The State finance still grappling with the problem of non-submission of UCs shows how important issues such as accountability in public expenditures often get lost in high-pitch campaigns articulated for electoral popularity. The CAG report points out that as the departments have not yet explained how the amount of Rs 1972 crore was spent over the years the possibility of misappropriation of these funds provided as far back as 2001-02 cannot be ruled out. "In the absence of the UCs, it could not be ascertained whether the recipients had utilized the grants for the purposes for which those were given. This assumes greater importance as about 50 per cent of capital expenditure is being incurred out of Grants-in-Aid. Huge pendency in submission of UCs is fraught with the risk of fraud and misappropriation of funds," it adds. Among ten major departments, the Secretariat Administration department has UCs pending for the highest amount of Rs 2849 crore followed by the Welfare of Plain Tribes and Backward Classes department for Rs 2457 crore, Education department for Rs 2125 crore, Health department for Rs 1886 crore, Mines and Mineral, Power department for Rs 1661 crore and Social Welfare department for Rs 1415 crore. In 2015, the CAG brought the issue to the public domain when its audit report for the year ending on March 31, 2014 revealed that the State government had not submitted 19671 UCs pertaining to grants amounting Rs 11,834 crore released during 2001-02 to 2013-14. The CAG report mentions the Assam Financial Rules which provides that every grant made for a specified object shall be spent for the intended purpose, and within a reasonable time if no time-limit has been fixed by the sanctioning authority, and any portion of the amount which is ultimately not required for expenditure for the purpose, shall be duly surrendered to the Government. State Government authorities who have received conditional grants are required to furnish formal UCs about the proper utilization of the grants, to the Accountant General within 12 months of the closure of the financial year in which the grants have been released, unless specified otherwise, the report states. The CAG has been flagging the issue of piling up of pending UCs in audit report for every year, but the State government has not yet evolved an effective mechanism to address it. Delay in submission of UCs delays release of subsequent instalment of fund and long delays often make the expenditures already made with the released amount of the grants infructuous and render the projects and schemes unimplementable. The CAG has been recommending to the State government to put in place a strong monitoring mechanism to ensure timely submission of UCs. Delay on the part of the State government to build up an efficient monitoring mechanism leaves room for shaping the public perception that a nexus of corrupt government officials, contractors and other unscrupulous elements might have already misappropriated the fund for which the submission of UCs has been kept pending as suspected by CAG. Such perception, if ignored, has the potential to snowball into a larger public campaign or a political campaign. The State government must set a deadline for the departments to submit the pending UCs and seek an explanation why these have not been submitted. Institution of probe against those officials involved in utilization of particular grant for which the UCs are not submitted within the deadline will help the government ascertain if the amount was utilized for the specific scheme or misappropriated. Transparency in the mechanism for monitoring utilization of the fund released to various departments will be critical to building up confidence among the general public that the State government's zero-tolerance policy against corruption is not a mere slogan.

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