Transparency

December 05, 2013

The Late-Twentieth-Century Revolution in Fiscal Transparency

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Posted by Tim Irwin 

The nineteenth century saw a revolution in the publication of fiscal information and other government data. As Ian Hacking has observed, “If there is a contrast in point of official statistics between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it is that the former feared to reveal, while the latter loved to publish” (p. 20). Yet some governments today make their nineteenth-century counterparts seem like shrinking violets—the new openness being symbolized by the remodeled German parliament shown above, whose glass cupola was designed to show that parliament was “transparent, its activities open to view” (see Alasdair Roberts, Blacked Out, p. xii).

The earlier revolution was discussed in two previous posts on this blog (here and here). This post investigates the changes of the late twentieth century.

The early years of this revolution are nicely illustrated in the episode “Open Government” of the British TV series Yes Minister,[1] which screened in 1980 when the UK government published its budget and accounts, but was not nearly as open as it is now. A new government has just been elected and the incoming Minister of Administrative Affairs meets the Permanent Secretary of his department. It transpires that they have met before when the Minister, in opposition, gave the PS “a grilling over the Estimates in the Public Accounts Committee.”

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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. 

Continue reading "Budgeting in the Real World - What Do We Know? What Should We Do?" »

November 13, 2013

How Long Does it Take to Achieve Fiscal Transparency?

Posted by Tim Irwin


In many developing and emerging economies today there are demands for more fiscal transparency, to stop the misuse of public funds. How long might it take for these demands to translate into the kind of transparency achieved in countries like France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom? (The Open Budget Survey has information on fiscal transparency in these three countries and many others.) This new working paper on the history of fiscal transparency in Western Europe (see earlier blog) doesn’t aim to answer questions about developing and emerging economies, but it may provoke some thoughts on the subject.

The evidence it presents can be read in two different ways. On the one hand, there were debates about fiscal transparency in Europe two hundred years ago, which suggests that the transition from secrecy to transparency could be a long one. To illustrate, it’s perhaps worth quoting three advocates of transparency who, for reasons of space, didn’t get discussed in the working paper.

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October 29, 2013

History of Fiscal Transparency and Fiscal Secrecy

Posted by Tim Irwin

Working paper logo
What encourages governments to publish information about their finances? A new IMF working paper, “Revealing the Mysteries of State: The Origins of Fiscal Transparency in Western Europe” aims to shed light on this question by examining the history of European fiscal transparency. It was inspired by the Fund’s work on promoting fiscal transparency (see this policy paper and the new draft Fiscal Transparency Code).

The working paper looks back as far as Athens in the fifth-century BC and notes a few of the developments of the last two decades, but it concentrates on the fiscal secrecy of the age of absolutism, in which governments used spies to uncover the accounts of other states, and on the efforts of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century reformers to get the accounts published.

One factor encouraging transparency identified by the paper is the strength of governments’ need to raise money from skeptical lenders and taxpayers. Its influence can be seen at work on many occasions, including medieval Spain and seventeenth-century England, but it was particularly evident during the French Revolution.

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October 10, 2013

Annual Meetings Kicks Off with Talks on Fiscal Transparency

Posted by Rachel F. Wang

Many of the key players committed to promoting greater fiscal transparency met on Tuesday for one of the first events of the 2013 IMF-World Bank Annual Meetings.

The Joint IMF-World Bank Seminar entitled “Strengthening Fiscal Transparency and Government Accounting” brought together representatives from international organizations, national governments, think tanks, professional organizations, and civil society to discuss how to promote greater fiscal openness and improve the information base for fiscal decision-making.

The event was kicked off with a welcome address from Bertrand Badré, Managing Director and World Bank Group Chief Financial Officer, and included two panel discussions on

  • Strengthening fiscal transparency standards and practices chaired by Richard Hughes, Division Chief in the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department), and
  • Improving government accounting chaired by Chuck McDonough, Vice President and Controller at the World Bank). 

Panelists included Moritz Kramer from Standard & Poor’s, Phil Sinnett from the PEFA Secretariat, Vivek Ramkumar from the International Budget Partnership, Jo Marie Griesgraber from New Rules for Global Finance Coalition, Devantri Kaur Santa Sigh from the Malaysian Ministry of Finance, Gerhard Steger from the Austrian Ministry of Finance, Fayez Choudhury from IFAC, and Ron Salole from IPSAS board.

Discussions ranged over a variety of areas, including the revision of the IMF’s fiscal transparency code and new fiscal transparency assessment; how fiscal transparency feeds into credit ratings and vice versa; the harmonization of different transparency-related norms and standards; the role that civil society has played in promoting greater fiscal openness by governments; and the opportunities and challenges in moving from cash to accrual accounting.

The keynote address, given by Gerd Schwartz, Deputy Director of the IMF Fiscal Affairs Department set the tone for the morning’s discussion.  The text of his speech is provided below:

I would like to use this opportunity to talk about the importance of fiscal transparency for fiscal sustainability and discuss the work underway to improve both standards and practices.  More specifically, there are four issues I would like to cover:

  • First, I would like to highlight the progress made in promoting greater fiscal transparency over the past decade, thanks to collective efforts of many of the organizations represented in this room.
  • Second, I would like to discuss some of the lessons of the economic crisis regarding the adequacy of existing fiscal transparency standards and practices.
  • Third,  I would like to provide you with an update of the IMF’s ongoing work on strengthening its evaluation tools in the fiscal transparency area; and
  • Finally, I would like to review the broader agenda on fiscal transparency and government financial disclosure.

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July 01, 2013

IMF Strengthens Fiscal Transparency Code

Previously published on IMF Survey online

Following an initial consultation early in 2013, the IMF has released a draft of its revised Fiscal Transparency Code for further public consultation. The revised Code will be the basis for a renewed push for greater fiscal transparency.

Information on public finances is sometimes reported by governments in ways that do not provide a full and reliable picture of their financial position, outlook, and risks. Greater fiscal transparency helps to ensure governments make informed economic decisions and allows legislatures and citizens to hold governments accountable for their use of public resources.

The revised Code aims to strengthen fiscal reporting standards to reflect the lessons of the recent economic crisis, identify and eliminate gaps in published fiscal information, and promote greater fiscal transparency in countries at all income levels. The changes are designed to ensure that policymakers, legislators, citizens, and markets have a more complete picture of the state of public finances.

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April 23, 2013

Revitalizing the Fiscal Transparency Agenda

Posted by Min Zhu, Deputy Managing Director, IMF

The first public event of this year’s IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings was a seminar organized by the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department on the morning of Monday April 15th which brought together experts from governments, academia, civil society, and international organizations to discuss how to work together to revitalize the fiscal transparency agenda in the wake of the recent crisis.

The timing of last Monday’s Fiscal Transparency Seminar at the start of a week of seminars, panels, roundtables, and other events underscores the importance that the IMF attaches to the issue of fiscal transparency. The number of people who turned up to listen to and participate in the discussion highlighted the breadth and depth of public interest in this topic. The need to improve government financial disclosure was a recurring theme in many of the discussions which I attended during the past very busy week. 

For those of you who could not join us at last week’s seminar, I would like to use this article to share with you the IMF’s latest thinking on fiscal transparency and present our work program in this critical area. In particular, I want to focus on three issues:

  • first, I want to highlight the progress that has been made in promoting greater fiscal transparency over the past decade, thanks to the collective efforts of governments, civil society, academics, think tanks, international organizations, and others;
  • second, I want to review some of the lessons that the recent crisis has taught us about the adequacy of existing fiscal transparency standards and practices; and
  • finally, I’d like to outline the key elements of a revitalized fiscal transparency agenda, and how the Fund plans to support that agenda.

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March 05, 2013

Can Arab Countries Improve Fiscal Transparency?

Posted by Manal Fouad

When people took to the streets in several Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries in early 2011, it was not only about social justice, but also to demand accountability from their governments. This means more information about how public resources are allocated, spent, and audited. Unfortunately, according to a recent publication by the International Budget Partnership, the MENA region records by far the lowest scores on transparency in the Open Budget Index, and most countries are still classified among those with scantest information about their budgets (only Jordan had a relatively good score of 57 in 2012, while Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Yemen are all in the bottom range of 0-20). Even more troublesome, Egypt has seen a significant worsening in its rating from 49 in 2010 to only 13 in 2012.

Yet, many of the demands from the youth who led the Arab revolutions were for increased fiscal transparency. These demands range from disclosure of very simple figures to more complicated issues. Such disclosures would answer many questions that are vibrantly present in the public debate. How much does the debt contracted by previous regimes cost in the budget? Are these levels of debt more or less than the government’s spending on health and education? Are the high levels of public subsidy provided on commodities such as food and fuel appropriate? Do these subsidies reach their intended beneficiaries? How much is the military apparatus spending on its wages, pensions and equipment? How much do loss-making public enterprises cost the budget? Is the government paying its salaries and bills to public and private suppliers on time? And more fundamentally: what is the government’s medium-term vision and objectives for the country? Does the budget reflect the country’s and society’s priorities? Is the budget constructed on the basis of realistic assumptions on the availability of resources and costs of programs, and does it include contingencies for unexpected economic conditions or uncertain events? Is public debt sustainable?

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January 18, 2013

Chinese Social Media Support Fiscal Transparency

Posted by Qi Zhang and James L Chan[i]

In the past four years, the Chinese government has made unprecedented efforts to implement public access to government financial information. This new policy of fiscal transparency is part of a larger project of public disclosure of government information. The policy basically revoked the long-standing state secret status of government financial information contained in annual government budgets and year-end financial reports.

Under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and with the encouragement of the National People’s Congress (NPC, the Chinese parliament), the State Council (the cabinet) took a major step in 2007 to lift the veil of secrecy over a wide range of government information. The release of financial information is the center-piece of this new policy initiative. Under the leadership of outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao, the pace of implementation has accelerated in the past two to three years through a series of administrative directives. It is noteworthy that in addition to releasing official government finance statistics, the spotlight is on the so-called san gong jingfei (literally ‘three public expenditures’), expenditures for official cars, receptions and travel.

These hotbeds of waste and abuse, as well as outright fraud, have been the targets for public outcries against official corruption. They are also the usual subjects of investigations by the National Audit Office, whose reports over the past dozen years have kicked up annual ‘audit storms’. Since virtually all of this information is usually communicated in the Chinese language only, these ‘dirty linens’ are effectively shielded from the outside world. Similarly, the new fiscal transparency policy has also drawn little international attention.

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January 17, 2013

How Can the Pace of Budget Transparency Be Increased? Examining the Results of the Open Budget Survey 2012

Posted by Vivek Ramkumar

IBP WB medium


The International Budget Partnership (IBP) and the World Bank Institute (WBI) are pleased to invite you to join practitioners in the fields of development and fiscal management in a discussion on how to increase budget transparency and participation around the world. The discussion will include a presentation of the results of the IBP’s latest round of the Open Budget Survey and then focus on indentifying innovative and practical suggestions for rapidly improving country performance on the Survey.

Date: 5 February 2013
Time: 9.30-11 am (Breakfast will be served from 9 am)
Venue: IFC Auditorium, 2121 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D.C.

There is growing interest in the role of open budgeting systems in development. An increasing body of evidence shows that the best way to manage public funds efficiently and equitably is through budget systems that are transparent, inclusive, and monitored through independent oversight institutions. Recent research studies also show that transparency can help to attract easier and cheaper international credit and thereby increase public revenues. On the other hand, lack of fiscal transparency can undermine fiscal discipline,increase borrowing costs, and promote opportunities for corruption and other leakages.

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December 27, 2012

ICGFM 2012 Winter Conference

Logo ICGFM
Posted by Sailendra Pattanayak

The International Consortium on Governmental Financial Management (ICGFM) held its Winter Conference on Good Public Financial Management Practices in a Period of Global Adjustment in Washington, DC during December 10–12, 2012. This was co-hosted by the Fiscal Affairs Department (FAD) of the IMF. The Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) also partnered with the ICGFM for this conference.

The conference was attended by high-level officials from ministries of finance, state audit institutions and other government ministries/agencies, and members of parliament of more than 25 countries, as well as representatives from international organizations, rating agencies, think tanks, the donor community, civil society groups, and academia. The welcome address was delivered by Ms. Linda Fealing, President, ICGFM, followed by opening remarks from Mr. Sanjeev Gupta, FAD Deputy Director. (Download ICGFM conference agenda Dec 2012.)

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November 28, 2012

Two Richards Talk Fiscal Transparency

Posted by Rachel F. Wang

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On November 1, 2012, the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department (FAD) published a policy paper entitled, “
Fiscal Transparency, Accountability, and Risk”. The paper reviews the progress made in improving fiscal reporting since the late 1990s; considers what the global financial crisis has taught us about the adequacy of prevailing fiscal transparency standards, practices, and monitoring; and makes a series of recommendations for revitalizing the global fiscal transparency effort in the wake of the crisis. Richard Allen, a seasoned advisor on public financial management issues and former deputy division chief in FAD, sat down with Richard Hughes, the new head of FAD’s Public Financial Management Division I and co-author of the paper, to talk about its key insights and implications.

Richard Allen (RA): Can you tell me why it was decided to prepare a new IMF policy paper on fiscal transparency?

Richard Hughes (RH): There were really two motivations.

The first motivation was that the IMF has been in the fiscal transparency business for about 15 years. We started work in earnest in the wake of the Asian Financial Crisis with the development of the Fiscal Transparency Code (Code of Good Practices on Fiscal Transparency) and Manual (Manual on Fiscal Transparency) and the Fiscal ROSC (Reports on the Observance of Standards and Codes). So, 15 years on, we wanted to take stock of how much progress we have made in promoting greater fiscal transparency, review how these fiscal transparency instruments were performing, and look at how much work was left to be done.

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November 01, 2012

Seeing Our Way Through The Crisis: Why We Need Fiscal Transparency

Posted by Carlo Cottarelli and previously published on iMFdirect

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Without good fiscal information, governments can’t understand the fiscal risks they face or make good budget decisions. And unless that information is made public, citizens and their legislatures can’t hold governments accountable for those decisions.

Fiscal transparency—the public availability of timely, reliable, and relevant data on the past, present, and future state of the public finances—is thus to the foundation of effective fiscal management.

A new paper from the IMF on fiscal transparency, accountability, and risk considers the progress we have made in opening up the “black box” of fiscal policymaking over the past decade, the lessons of the recent crisis for current fiscal reporting standards and practices, and the steps we need to take to revitalize the global fiscal transparency effort.

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April 16, 2012

Is Fiscal Transparency at Risk? Ten Questions for FAD’s Tim Irwin

Posted by Marco Cangiano

Tim_marco
Tim Irwin is headquarter-based consultant in the Public Financial Management 1 Division of the Fiscal Affairs Department, headed by Marco Cangiano. He’s recently published a Staff Discussion Note on accounting devices and fiscal illusions and has several papers on fiscal transparency under development, including one on the history of the subject. Tim has worked on issues such as fiscal reporting, fiscal risks, and the governance of state-owned enterprises and public-private partnerships, in Iceland, Jordan, Mexico, and Portugal. Before joining the Fund, he worked at the World Bank, the New Zealand Treasury, and an economic consultancy.

Is fiscal transparency at risk now that fiscal consolidation and monetary stimulus are the primary policy tools being used to resuscitate European economies? Are countries less interested in fiscal transparency in the aftermath of the financial crisis, i.e. more motivated to hide the real goings on in the kitchen of government?

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October 18, 2007

Shedding light on fiscal transparency

Ft_cover All the do’s and don’ts for governments keen to let in the light on their management of the nation’s books. That's the motivation for the revised edition of the Fiscal Transparency Manual, published in hard print on October 18 by the Fiscal Affairs Department. It's more than just a guidebook for countries undertaking a voluntary assessment of fiscal transparency by the IMF under the Reports on Standards and Codes initiative. Inside the revised Manual are detailed explanations and country examples for all 44 good practices of the revised Fiscal Transparency Code. Like its predecessor, published in 2001, the Manual is set to be a major source book for PFM practitioners, academics, parliamentarians and civil society.

Four guiding principles of fiscal transparency shape both the Code and Manual: clarity of roles and responsibilities; open budget processes; public availability of information; and assurances of integrity. In delving into these requirements, the Manual also reveals many crucial aspects of good financial stewardship including public financial management, classification of the public sector, accounting issues, poverty impact assessments, approaches to freedom of information, and ethical standards. The Manual is published on (www.imf.org).

A factsheet: how does the IMF encourage greater fiscal transparency?

Posted by Jon Shields

October 12, 2007

Sweden’s New Fiscal Council – helping assure credible fiscal policy

Swedenflag_3 A lively debate about the government’s fiscal policies and the state of public finances puts pressure on transparency and the credibility of budget documents. On August 1, 2007, the Swedish Government set up a Fiscal Council (Finanspolitiska rådet) to provide an independent scrutiny of fiscal policy, promote active public debate, and strengthen the credibility of fiscal policy. The case for strengthening independent review of economic forecasts and fiscal policy has received increasing attention in the past years, and the Swedish initiative may with time provide valuable insight to the effectiveness of such institutions.

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September 27, 2007

Anti-corruption: you know Bono and U2….What about U4?

Well, U4 is not a rock  band, but it nevertheless rocks.

It is actually an "Anti-Corruption Resource Centre [that] assists  donor practitioners to more effectively address corruption challenges through  their development support."

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