Political Economy

January 16, 2014

Politics Matter…But PFM Reforms Do Too.

Posted by Carlos Scartascini*

Politics
The recent CAPE 2013 conference organized by ODI provided a forum for discussing where PFM is and where it is going. While many interesting issues arose from the discussions, one theme was ever present: namely, the importance of considering PFM as much more than a purely technocratic process. Politics matter, and they tend to determine the way reforms are implemented, and their probability of success. In this note, I highlight the reasons why politics matter for the budget process and how this issue can be dealt with.

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November 21, 2013

Budgeting in the Real World - What Do We Know? What Should We Do?

This is the keynote speech given last week, November 13th, by Antoinette Sayeh, Director of the IMF’s African Department at the UK’s Overseas Development Institute’s annual CAPE Conference in London on why PFM matters, why reforms are difficult, and what we know to make them successful…..

Sayeh

I am delighted to have the opportunity to deliver this keynote address and would like to thank Messrs. Ed Hedger, Kevin Watkins, and Philip Krause for inviting me to this important conference and for that generous introduction.

Let me start by saying that from the IMF’s perspective, good governance is important for countries at all stages of development. Transparent government accounts and effective public resource management are preconditions for sustained economic growth and prosperity. Indeed, budget formulation, implementation, and oversight lie at the core of good economic governance. Strong budget institutions are essential for countries to achieve sound fiscal policies and effective expenditure programs. Budgets can only be spent once. Getting the priorities right all the way from formulation to execution, and being efficient at it, is all the more important. Transparency and fairness are most important in ensuring that expenditures are aligned with broadly agreed priorities, and in securing society’s buy-in. While most can agree to the underlying principles, the hard part is to have systems and capacity in place that actually ensure that they are respected all along the process chain. As so often, the devil is in the detail. 

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August 30, 2012

Fiscal Rules and Councils: Most Effective When Used Together

Posted by Elif C. Arbatli [1]

Adopting numerical fiscal rules has been an integral part of the policy response to the medium-term fiscal consolidation challenge posed by the global financial crisis. According to Schaechter et. al. (2012), since 2009, at least 16 countries have adopted new national fiscal rules and many others are in the pipeline. The crisis has also revealed the need for reforming supranational rules, such as the Stability and Growth Pact of the EU and as a result new structural budget balance rules will be adopted in almost all of the EU member states as part of the “fiscal compact.” A recent paper by Charles Wyplosz titled “Fiscal Rules: Theoretical Issues and Historical Experiences,” is a timely review of the theoretical underpinnings of fiscal indiscipline and how numerical fiscal rules can help. Wyplosz argues that fiscal rules are neither necessary nor sufficient to achieve fiscal discipline; but that thoughtfully designed fiscal rules can be effective when supplemented with fiscal institutions (and in particular fiscal councils) that are tailored to the political institutions of the country.[2]

The paper first looks at the theoretical underpinnings of fiscal indiscipline, known as the “common pool problem”. The common pool problem arises when the beneficiaries of public spending or tax policies do not take into account the externalities that these policies impose on other groups (within a population, across different generations, among different levels of government or different states within a monetary union). Fiscal rules can in principle reduce these externalities by imposing explicit principles for fiscal behavior and thereby lowering the scope for deficit bias. According to Wyplosz, there are two key challenges: 1) fiscal rules cannot be fully contingent and hence they are subject to the “time-inconsistency problem” and 2) fiscal rules cannot be fully binding since they can be manipulated, changed or simply ignored. He argues that fiscal institutions (in particular, fiscal councils or other arrangements that give authority to an independent body to interpret rules) can help overcome these challenges.

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