As he completes a four-year term (2019-2023) in the position, Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) Girish Chandra Murmu has been re-elected as the External Auditor of the World Health Organization (WHO) for a renewed term from 2024 to 2027. He was confirmed on Monday, May 29, at the 76th World Health Assembly in Geneva, where he won the re-election with an overwhelming majority (114 out of 156 member state votes) in the very first round of voting.
This is not the only United Nations body of which Mr. Murmu is the external auditor, at the helm of carrying out financial, compliance and value for money audits. This is his second major international audit assignment after his selection for a 2024 to 2027 term as external auditor at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva. Besides being a popular auditor pick among international organisations, the 63-year-old career bureaucrat has held a long list of important positions in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, both when the latter was leading Gujarat as Chief Minister and now, as Prime Minister since 2014.
Trusted bureaucrat with a controversial past
The roles held by Mr. Murmu testify to his stature as the go-to bureaucrat for Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah; long before he was tapped to be the first Lieutenant Governor of the newly created Union Territory of Jammu Kashmir post the abrogation of its special status in 2019.
As one of Mr. Murmu’s coworkers from his Gujarat days said in a 2018 interview with the Business Standard, he has been a reliable choice for crucial posts due to his ability to “get things done”.
Mr. Murmu, a retired Indian Administrative Service officer of the Gujarat cadre, hails from Betnoti in Odisha’s tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj district— also the home district of President Droupadi Murmu. Before joining the 1985-IAS batch, Mr. Murmu got his Master’s Degree from Utkal University in Bhubaneshwar and an MBA from the University of Birmingham in Britain.
During Mr. Modi’s Chief Ministerial tenures in Gujarat, Mr. Murmu served as an Officer on Special Duty and as the Principal Secretary for the Chief Minister’s Office. He was called upon by the Prime Minister to head the Union government starting 2014. Mr. Murmu joined the Union Finance Ministry as a joint secretary in the strategic Expenditure Department, also becoming a part of the tight-knit group consulted by the prime minister for crucial decisions.
Mr. Murmu faced some allegations during his time in the Gujarat government. The present CAG’s name cropped up in probes into the 2002 communal riots in the State and the contentious killings of Ishrat Jahan and three others accused of involvement in a “plot to assassinate” the Chief Minister Modi.
R.B. Sreekumar, former Director General of Gujarat Police, who headed the State Intelligence Bureau (SIB) for a period in 2002 alleged (the allegation was later recorded in a Supreme Court affidavit) that Mr. Murmu was “deputed to tutor the witnesses who were to depose before Nanavati Commission in 2004” and that he tried to “coerce” Mr. Sreekumar to “suppress facts”. The Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigative Team (SIT) believed that Mr. Sreekumar was “motivated”; but the Supreme Court while admitting its findings, observed that calling Sreekumar “motivated” could not be justified. In an interview with The Wire in 2015, Mr. Murmu dismissed Mr. Sreekumar’s allegations as it being the latter’s “pass-time” to write against “everybody”.
In 2013, the CBI questioned Mr. Murmu in connection with the Ishrat Jahan case, about his alleged presence at a closed-door meeting where he and others reportedly sought to influence police officials investigating the encounter.
Mr. Murmu was also considered one of the frontrunners to head the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in 2015.He was supposed to retire in November 2019, but was tapped by the Centre to handle the volatile situation in the post-Article 370 Jammu and Kashmir.
In August 2020, after he was replaced by Manoj Sinha as the L-G of J&K, he took charge as the CAG, replacing Rajiv Mehrishi. He was entrusted with CAG duties to audit the accounts of the Centre and the State governments. CAG reports are laid before Parliament and State legislatures and are examined by the Public Accounts Committee.
Popular among international bodies
In the recent past, Mr. Murmu seems to have become a favourite to conduct external financial audits of United Nations-affiliated and other international organisations. For bodies such as the WHO, external auditors go over annual audited financial statements and issue an annual report, pointing out irregularities (if any), flagging excess or misplaced spending, and providing objective credibility to their financial operations.
Presently, besides the the WHO, Mr. Murmu is the External Auditor of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (2020-2025), International Atomic Energy Agency (2022-2027), Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (2021-2023) and Inter Parliamentary Union (2020-2022).
The CAG is a member of the United Nations Panel of External Auditors, and of the governing boards of the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions and ASOSAI. The CAG chairs the INTOSAI Knowledge Sharing Committee, its Working Group on IT Audit, and its Compliance Audit Sub-Committee as well.
Views and approaches
Mr. Murmu has been vocal on hotly debated issues and an advocate to drive policy and technology-driven changes in auditing. Recently, he joined the freebies debate where political parties were called out for making electoral promises to deliver civic amenities free of cost, saying that States must take measures to maintain proper accounting of subsidies, reduce fiscal deficits, remove revenue deficits and keep outstanding debts at an acceptable level.
Mr. Murmu said States should meet their capital expenditure, including loans and advances, from their own sources of revenue, or at least confine their net debt to their capital expenditure. “While we understand the importance of subsidies to help the underprivileged, it is essential to transparently account for such subsidies and we require to distinguish between justifiable subsidies from freebies, which are not fiscally responsible,” he said last year.
Interestingly, one instance of Mr. Murmu’s difference of opinion with the Centre was when he was the L-G of Jammu and Kashmir, when he supported the resumption of 4G internet services in the valley post the abrogation of Article 370, saying in an interview that he was “not afraid” about how the people of Kashmir would use the Internet. l
He has also actively promoted the use of digitisation and responsible artificial intelligence in the functioning of government departments. Earlier this year, he called for initiatives to develop auditing frameworks and granular checklists on the emerging AI sector.
Here at home, the CAG released a first-ever nationwide Compendium of Asset Accounts on Mineral and Energy Resources in States, which attempts to create an account of the stocks of mineral resources, mapping their geographical spread.