LAW AND JUDICIARY
The problem is not that the total amount received in the ‘
’ has not been disclosed. It is also not that despite being public money administered by public authorities, the fund will not be audited by the national auditor, the Comptroller Auditor General, a constitutional authority no less. The PM Cares website says that it will be audited by an ‘independent’ auditor appointed by the trustees of the fund itself.
It is noteworthy that the real national auditor, while appointed by the Prime Minister can only be removed in the same manner as a Supreme Court judge is removed. His compensation and other perks cannot be changed to his detriment. He cannot hold any office after his term expires. These are the measures to ensure that the CAG remains a truly ‘independent’ auditor. The PM Cares website says nothing about the terms of appointment or compensation or removal of the other ‘independent’ auditor.
The problem is also not that the money may never be used or directed towards the crisis caused by the
at all – whether in terms of public health or the economy, which has crashed. If you don’t believe me, read the Frequently Asked Questions section on the website of the PM Cares Fund. It clearly says: “Keeping in mind the need for having a dedicated national fund with the primary objective of dealing with any kind of emergency or distress situation, like posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to provide relief to the affected, a public charitable trust under the name of ‘Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund)’ has been set up.”
You don’t need to read it twice to notice that it says “ANY KIND” of emergency “LIKE” the one posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Is it the problem then that multiple High Courts (Patna, Jharkhand) are imposing deposit of money into this secretive fund as a pre-condition for bail? As opposed to say deposit to a public charitable hospital, or towards food and fare for migrant workers or even for protection equipment for medical workers? No.
Is it that the Supreme Court has refused to question this secrecy or the absence of oversight by the country’s auditor and, in fact, dismissed a petition raising questions about the same? No.
I suspect that by now you’re certain that the problem is that Prime Minister
’s office has, in all seriousness, rejected a Right to Information application saying that the fund is not a public authority. (The current trustees of the fund are the Prime Minister, Union Defence Minister, Union Home Minister, Union Finance Minister. The Prime Minister has the authority to appoint three more trustees who shall be eminent members. They have not been appointed yet.) This refusal has been challenged in a petition before the Delhi High Court. The petitioner seems to have this bizarre idea that if not the donors, the victims of Covid-19 have a right to know how this money is being spent.
I’m afraid my dear reader you’re wrong again. But before I come off it and clear the mystery, let us summarise. We don’t know and may never find out: why there was a need for a new fund; how much money has been collected in this fund; whether it is being used and how it is being used or will be used. We do know that the CAG is not going to audit the accounts and none of this is the problem.
has recently issued notice to the Central government in a petition seeking, inter-alia, the declaration of the amount received under the PM Cares fund. It is disquieting isn’t it, that one would have to litigate for transparent information sharing even of funds donated by people and companies (foreign and domestic)? What could possibly be the justification for this opaqueness?
But the real problem is none of the above. Democracy demands a lot of hard work. Not just from elected officials and institutions but even, and especially, from citizens. This work has to be done not just on the day of voting but every day. Even during a crisis. What would have been a scandal in another time is being ignored today. Nearly all institutions, including the courts and media, take cues from public opinion. If something wrong is being done and the public is angry and demanding accountability, the job of these institutions becomes easier.
The real problem perhaps is that most of us no longer ‘care’. Or do we?
Tell us about you
Find us at the office
Czerniakowski- Abodeely street no. 60, 49490 Hamilton, Bermuda
Give us a ring
+11 189 505 54
Mon - Fri, 11:00-22:00