The Army has been having a series of close encounters of the adverse kind with the Comptroller and Auditor General. Latest in this long list is CAG’s castigation of “illegal use of defence assets in Pune”. Recently the CAG overcame strong objections by the Army and got its way in a long standing demand of auditing Unit Run Canteens (URCs), alleging widespread mismanagement of its funds. A related case, though an audit report by Controller of Defence Accounts (CDA) and not CAG, alleged ‘mismanagement’ of funds by Army Commanders while exercising their financial powers for purchase of emergently required stores.
Coming at a time when the image of public servants is at the lowest, any suggestion of deviation from or non-adherence to rules automatically implies corruption. And the conduct of Army officers at the senior most level has proven that they are no different from any other bureaucrat or politician when it comes to succumbing to greed. So for the public these are yet more instances of someone lining their pockets. While there may be some instances of that happening, the main issue here is more of ‘ignorance with arrogance’ on the part of the decision makers within the Army.
The actual problem is the ‘CO Sahib ka hukum hai’ syndrome that we all seem to suffer from. Within our own little empires, we all are ultimate monarchs. Minor rules can be twisted and turned around to suit circumstances. Need sofa for the ops room – tell the stationery contractor to buy it and bill it against expendables. Similarly, if equipment or stores are required, and the commander desires that they be bought, then buy them pronto, even if rules and procedures have to be twisted or ignored completely in the process. If an Army School cannot run from a government building, show the building as a recreational centre for troops in the papers. The underlying belief being that as long as we are ‘doing it for the organization’ its kosher. And that if we close our eyes and pretend, everyone else will believe in our fantasy world. Unfortunately, the blind and willing obedience of subordinates does not mean others outside our charmed circle will be willing to buy the stories as well.
Admittedly, the rules and procedures for doing things by the book are tedious and time consuming to say the least. Problem is that most commanders have neither the patience and sagacity to learn, nor the moral courage to admit lack of knowledge. Therefore they pass on the buck to others. Since most of us are not familiar with the tiresome procedures, and unwilling to invest in doing the required diligence, these shortcut subterfuges are indulged in. Also, since they are time consuming, results for procedurally correct actions would be visible much after the initiator’s short tenure would be over, denying him the credit. In an intensely competitive environment, where an incumbent has a very short time to show results, taking shortcuts by bending the rules is therefore a more attractive action.
Having grown up in this atmosphere people start believing that rules can be bent to cater for exigencies of service. We believe that rules are for fools, and as a commander at every level, we know what’s best for our command, and how to best spend the money that is ours to spend. We feel that our job is pass orders, and the job of our staff officers to find ways of doing it. So what if some rules have to be bent in the process. And no staff officer who is looking at moving up the professional ladder is going to turn around and tell his commander the possible adverse implications of bending such rules. In fact, they will run around behind LAOs and IFAs, curry favours with them and make them into demi gods, just so that the ‘hukum’ of their ‘akas’ can be carried out.
But who is to define where organizational interest end and personal interests start? Is the sofa in the ops room really in ‘organization’s’ interest? Or is it more for ‘projection’ of the CO before important visitors along his ACR channel who visit the ops room? Allied peril of this is that once you start financial creativity for the ‘organization’, you are just a step away from doing the same for your own self. Even if people who do that are one in ten, that is enough to vitiate the whole process.
Besides, irrespective of the beneficiary, flouting of rules leaves the organization open to scrutiny and questioning, and the resultant vicious circle of cover ups, appeasements and more improprieties. This ranges from the petty bribery of the Local Auditors for overlooking minor transgressions like running vehicles for tasks not listed in the officially allowed duties, to the major embarrassment of the CAG pointing out irregularities in purchases authorized by Army Commanders.
In this era of increasing transparency and accountability, there needs to be a change in this attitude. Instead of taking shortcuts around inconvenient procedures, commanders time would be better spent trying to get them simplified. Simultaneously, take up cases adhering to procedures, and push them through vigorously, raising hue and cry on delays along the line. More importantly, successive commanders must continue where their predecessors left off rather than scrapping old projects to initiate newer ones with their personal stamp. This would be ‘organizational interest’ in the true sense.
Else we will continue to face indignities of being caught on the wrong foot even while pursuing worth causes.