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Shillong Chamber Choir faces the music
CAG raps Arts & Culture Department for irregularities
SHILLONG: The Shillong Chamber Choir has come under the scanner of Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) for a trip carried out by the group to take part in World Choir Games 2012, held at Cincinnati, USA from July 4 to 14 in 2012, without however promoting Meghalaya in the foreign country which was a pre-condition set by the Chief Minister for availing the sponsorship from Arts and Culture department.
Moreover, the department has failed to seek boarding passes and did not regulate the airfare with five members of Choir travelling in business class with ticket ranging from Rs 2.88 lakh to Rs 2.92 lakh and the remaining seventeen members travelling in economy class.
As per the report of CAG year ended March 31, 2015 placed before the State Assembly on Wednesday, the audit of the Directorate of Arts & Culture Shillong for the period from August 2011 to December 2014 conducted during January-February 2015 on the basis of test checks indicated weak internal controls in its operations especially on the foreign trip carried out by the Choir at the cost of Rs 39.22 lakh.
“Based on the request for sponsorship received from the private entity Shillong Chamber Choir (SCC), the Chief Minister directed (June 2012) that travel expenses of SCC to participate in the closing ceremony of the World Choir Games 2012, held at Cincinnati, USA from 04 to 14 July 2012 be borne by the Government of Meghalaya on the condition that SCC promotes Meghalaya through the event”, the CAG said.
Accordingly, the members of SCC participated in the World Choir Games 2012 as part of the International Stage Choir, and performed at the closing ceremony.
An expenditure of Rs 39.22 lakh was incurred by Arts and Culture Department on the airfare of the participants. Even though the Chief Minister had directed the SCC to use the opportunity to promote Meghalaya through the event, “there was nothing on record to indicate that the Arts and Culture department prescribed any modalities to SCC for promoting the State”.
According to the report, the department did not also have any record or report of action taken by the SCC to promote Meghalaya at the World Choir Games 2012.
” Thus, incurring expenses of Rs 39.22 lakh by Arts and Culture department simply as a grant without prescribing controls to ascertain whether the objective of promoting Meghalaya was duly fulfilled had rendered the expenditure unfruitful” the CAG observed.
Further, the Ministry of Culture, Government of India under the ‘Scheme for Promoting International Cultural Relations’ provides financial assistance by way of reimbursement of expenditure on such travel abroad for economy class air ticket only subject to a ceiling of Rs 0.75 lakh or actual air fare whichever is less.
The Arts & Culture Department had however, not categorized artists eligible to avail financial assistance from the State Government for attending festivals, exhibitions, etc. abroad”, the report said, while adding that that audit team also noticed that though under the provisions of Meghalaya Travelling Allowance Rules, 1985 and orders issued there under, it is the duty of the controlling officer to scrutinize and satisfy himself/herself that the TA claims are admissible and are in order in all respects and that the claims are supported by boarding passes along with the tickets.
The CAG said that the Arts and Culture department, however, failed to regulate the air fare claim of the SCC, as five members of SCC travelled in business class with the cost of each ticket ranging between Rs 2.88 lakh and Rs 2.92 lakh while the remaining seventeen members travelled in economy class with the cost of each ticket ranging from Rs 1.03 lakh to Rs 1.86 lakh.
” Had the Arts and Culture department regulated the travel claim even upto the highest economy class fare, it could have avoided extra expenditure of Rs 5.22 lakh
The Arts and Culture department also failed to seek boarding passes in support of the journey performed. On being pointed out, the Government stated in December 2015 that participation in an event of international repute by state based artists is itself promotion of the state. It also stated that the difference in class of travel and fare is due to the fact that only these seats were available. The Government also enclosed a self-certificate issued by Shillong Chamber Choir stating that boarding passes for all sectors have been misplaced.
“The reply was not tenable as the Chief Minister had agreed to sponsor the travel under the condition that the Shillong Chamber Choir also promotes the state’s image and that there was nothing on record to indicate that the Arts and Culture department prescribed any modalities to SCC for promoting the State. Further, payments being made without the boarding passes was violation of the order issued under the Meghalaya Travelling Allowance Rules, 1985”, the CAG added.