Financial indiscipline by officers, posted in urban local bodies (ULBs), bleeding the State exchequer dry, the Odisha Information Commission (OIC) has asked the State Government to pull its socks up and take immediate measures to stem the rot.
In a recent order, the commission has criticised the fact that no administrative or departmental action was taken over the audit reports which pointed out loss of revenue or financial irregularities. It took serious note of how the Government has managed the ULBs by deputing officers from other departments instead of creating a dedicated cadre.
According to information collected by RTI activist Radha Krishna Ram, the State exchequer has lost over a whopping ` 26 crore in the last five years as audit surcharges have not been paid by the executive officers (EOs) of 103 ULBs. The Finance Department has empowered the Local Fund Auditors (LFA) to collect surcharges in case of financial impropriety. The power to collect surcharges depends on ranks of auditors and officials coming under it. The levy ranges between ` 50,000 to ` 1.5 lakh.
Since the EOs are sourced from different administrative departments, they return to their parent cadre and escape the financial scrutiny. Besides, poor administration leads to non-recovery of the surcharges. The information, gathered by Ram, shows that a staggering ` 6.74 crore is pending from EOs of Cuttack Municipal Corporation alone since 1990s.
During audits, the auditors collect the present address of the delinquent officers, as available with the local bodies, and furnish the same in the audit report. Since job of most of the employees of the ULBs is transferable, the addresses change. All showcause notices and surcharge orders are served through the collectors since local fund audit organisation has no agency to do it.
With the ULB officers escaping the financial scanner, Ram had drawn notice of the OIC which, in its recent judgment, directed the Secretary, Housing and Urban Development Department, to fast-track the exercise of creating a dedicated cadre of officials responsible for management of urban affairs.
Information Commissioner Jagadananda, in the order, observed that Director, Municipal Administration, has been conspicuously silent on monitoring and follow-up on the compliance of the audit reports while the responsibility is left with collectors.
The judgment noted that audit reports are also conveniently destroyed at the ULB level to save the delinquent EOs leading to loss of crores of rupees to the State exchequer. The Information Commissioner also directed that responsible officers at focal points be designated and a robust mechanism put in place to document and reconcile the discrepancy, monitor and follow it up. The Chief Secretary too has been suggested to examine feasibility of setting up an appropriate mechanism for coordination between Finance and Housing and Urban Development departments.