Posted by Tim Irwin
Public-private partnerships create a practical problem for public financial management, because their fiscal costs are deferred. Instead of paying for a project during its construction, the government starts to pay only when construction is complete, which may be four or five years after any deal is signed. That means that the main tool of public financial management—budget scrutiny—can’t be used to ensure that PPPs are affordable and a better use of public money than the alternatives. For PPPs with long construction periods, even the analysis of medium-term spending plans doesn’t help.
So what can be done to ensure that the budgetary implications of PPPs are properly considered?
The World Bank Group has just published an Operational Note on managing fiscal commitments from PPPs that helps answer this question. It looks at how these fiscal commitments can be assessed and monitored, whether they are commitments to pay for the availability of a service or to protect a PPP company from certain risks. The Note gives examples of the tasks that can be carried out by different government agencies, such as budget departments, debt-management offices, and PPP units. And it considers the kinds of rules that can be put in legislation to help ensure that the right assessment and monitoring occurs.
However, the Operational Note does not take a position on whether or not PPPs should be put on the government’s balance sheet. Budgeting and Reporting for Public-Private Partnerships by Katja Funke, Isabel Rial, and me argues that they typically should be.