Government Audit is as old as organised governments and has fairly long pedigree even in developing countries. The concept, content and scope of government audit have developed in tune with the political, social and economic development of the countries. It has also responded to the needs of the administration. It aims to ensure accountability of the executive in respect of public revenue and expenditure. Primarily, the Parliament and in case of States, the State legislatures control all government expenditure through insistence upon demand for grants. The main idea underlying this control is that no expenditure can be incurred unless it has been voted upon the Parliament or State Legislatures and funds for every such expenditure must be provided from out of the Consolidated Fund of India or of the State. After the expenditure has been incurred and the accounts are closed, the Appropriation Accounts are prepared which are scrutinised the Public Accounts Committee. Thus Parliamentary or Legislative control is exercised before spending and after the expenditure actually incurred. Since independence there has been a tremendous spurt in governmental activities with the attendant increase in expenditure, revenue and capital, and in receipts and borrowings to match the expenditure. Government has entered the business field and government in business is not the same as government administering law and order and attending to regulatory functions. Independent India witnessed a steady growth of state commercial enterprise. The change in the character of government and the complex nature of its activities, including regulatory functions in an international environment, called for a change in the nature and scope of audit. Audit has evolved from accountancy and regularity check to evaluation of the end results of the operations of government.
Initially, government auditing in India as elsewhere was primarily expenditure-oriented. Gradually, audit of receipts-tax and non-tax was taken up. With the rapid growth of public enterprises, another major area of specialisation, i.e., commercial audit, came into being. There are also a large number of noncommercial autonomous bodies financed government in diverse fields of development and of academic study and scientific or social research which are also required to be audited from the viewpoint of public accountability. Government audit has not only adopted the basic essentials of auditing as known and practised in the profession to suit the requirements of governmental transactions but has also added new concepts, techniques and procedures to the audit profession. The U.N. Hand book on Government Auditing and Developing Countries define government auditing in a comprehensive manner which is as follows : Government auditing is the objective, systematic, professional and independent examination of financial, administrative and other operations of a public entity made subsequently to their execution for the purpose of evaluating and verifying them, presenting a report containing explanatory comments on audit findings together with conclusions and recommendations for future actions the responsible officials and in the case of examination of financial statements, expressing the appropriate professional opinion regarding the fairness of the presentation. Government audit serves as a mechanism or process for public accounting of government funds. It also provides public accounting of the operational, management, programme and policy aspects of public administration as well as accountability of the officials administering them. Audit observations based on factual data collection also serve to highlight the lapses of the lower hierarchy, thus helping supervisory level officers to take corrective measures.
Government audit is neither equipped nor intended to function as an investigating agency, to pursue every irregularity or misdemeanour to its logical end. The main objective of audit is a combination of ensuring accountability of administration to legislature and functioning as an aid to administration. However, criticism of administrative actions wherever warranted is inherent in auditorial function. This has to be understood and appreciated in a proper spirit, as the criticism is made in a constructive spirit. In India, the function of audit is discharged the independent statutory authority of the Comptroller and Auditor General through the agency of the Indian Audit and Accounts Department. Audit is a necessary function to ensure accountability of the executive to Parliament, and within the executive of the spending agencies to the sanctioning or controlling authorities. The purposes or objectives of audit need to been tested at the touchstone of public accountability. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C & AG), in the discharge of his functions, watches that the various authorities act in regard to financial matters in accordance with the Constitution and the laws made Parliament, and conform to the rules or orders made thereunder.