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. 

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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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March 14, 2012

How Much Butter Are Those Guns Costing?

Posted by Benoit Taiclet and Greg Horman

We have read—and appreciated—a recent publication under the program, “The Transparency of National Defense Budgets,” by Mariya Gorbanova and Leah Wawro, on budget transparency around defense expenditures.

Defense and security establishments have traditionally been among the organizations least open to public or intra-governmental scrutiny. The secrecy that veils some defense activities often extends far beyond what is justified on security grounds, making the sector particularly vulnerable to corruption, anti-competitive behavior, and other illegal practices. Facilitated by excessively secretive budgets, corruption reduces the operational effectiveness of the armed forces and security services and reduces public trust in them. Corruption in defense and security establishments also wastes scarce resources that could be spent on other public services. International companies are less inclined to invest in countries where government or private-sector corruption is significant, impeding economic development. Thus, corruption not only harms defense institutions themselves, but also hinders a country’s economic and social development, undermines the integrity of the government, and reduces public trust in the authorities.

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February 22, 2012

Accrual Accounting Essential for Government Transparency and Accountability!

Posted by Ian Ball [1]

In this post Ian Ball, CEO, International Federation of Accountants, argues that it is time for governments to take their accounting responsibilities seriously and to modernise their financial management practices. The eurozone debt crisis has highlighted widespread financial reporting failures and must lead to extensive reform, including adoption of accrual accounting and budgeting practices. Politicians and Ministries of Finance must be pressured to implement these reforms before the next crisis hits.  

The sovereign debt crisis has emphasised the seriousness of the results of poor financial management and financial reporting. Obviously, government actions to limit the impact of the global crisis have exacerbated their financial positions, as many governments acquired significant assets and liabilities, gave guarantees of various kinds, and engaged in massive fiscal stimulus programmes. But the situation now would not be as dire if so many governments had not already made commitments that they did not account for properly, and may not be able to meet.

Governments in general are clearly accounting very poorly for their financial performance and position. This could, and should, lead to significant reform. We saw how financial reporting failure in the private sector a decade or so earlier led to dramatic action, including the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act 2002 in the United States, and the creation of regulatory bodies for private sector audits in most major countries.

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October 12, 2011

Transparency and Participation in Public Financial Management: What Do Budget Laws Say?

Posted by Paolo de Renzio, International Budget Partnership, and Verena Kroth, London School of Economics

An increasing number of governments, as well as international and civil society organizations, are promoting the public disclosure of budgetary information, and calling for greater citizen involvement in budget processes. Most agree that fiscal transparency generates significant benefits, as it is an important precondition for better governance, improved economic performance and prudent fiscal policy, resulting in lower deficits and debt accumulation. Moreover, transparency functions as a political expression of democratic governance, giving citizens and taxpayers information that they are entitled to, and that they can use to hold their governments accountable.

Given its increasing importance, how can transparency and participation in public financial management be promoted or improved? As a possible avenue, it is interesting to look at the role of legislation in promoting both disclosure of budgetary information and opportunities for citizen engagement in the budget process. Key questions then are: (a) to what extent does budget legislation in different countries cover issues related to budget transparency and participation, and in what level of detail? and (b) does the degree to which legislation covers issues related to public disclosure of budget information seem to affect the actual level of budget transparency in different countries?

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August 01, 2011

Rwanda: A Decade of Difficult but Sustained Public Financial Management Reforms

Posted by Lewis Kabayiza Murara

Only a decade ago Rwanda did not possess a properly articulated public financial management system, and there were few qualified staff to run the system, especially public accountants. Since then the government has put in place many of the elements required for a sound system of public financial management. Some weaknesses remain, in particular in relation to local accounting capacity, but the government of Rwanda appears firmly committed to establishing a modern, efficient, transparent and accountable PFM system. In 2006, the government put in place a Public Financial Management Action Plan aimed at strengthening several aspects of the existing public financial management system. In particular, the government sought to strengthen accounting capacity, improve the audit function, and put in place more robust financial controls and reporting procedures, new rules on fiscal and financial decentralization, and procurement reforms. Subsequently, and following the first-ever PEFA assessment on Rwanda in 2007, a comprehensive and ambitious five-year Public Financial Management strategy was prepared in 2008 and is now being implemented, with some degree of success as evidenced by a repeat PEFA assessment concluded in December 2010.

This blog post attempts to summarize salient features of Rwanda’s public financial management landscape, including a short paragraph on public procurement (which tends to be forgotten by IMF and other PFM specialists as a key area in public financial management and tends to be treated separately).

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May 09, 2011

Transparency Versus Effectiveness in Public Financial Management

Posted by Sailendra Pattanayak

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of initiatives to promote transparency in fiscal policy decision making and implementation. Openness and clarity about the government’s policy intentions, policy formulation and implementation have been recognized as key elements of good governance. Comprehensive disclosure in a timely and systematic manner of all relevant information on management of public resources—their collection and use through a country’s public financial management (PFM) system to pursue policy goals—are seen as key to ensuring accountability.

Alongside transparency, the effectiveness of PFM systems and processes, including budget management methodologies and tools, is also important to manage public finances in a cost-effective manner. Budget reforms such as MTEF, program/performance budgeting, activity-based budgeting, cost accounting, etc. are primarily motivated to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of allocating and managing public resources.

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April 04, 2011

Global Aid Transparency Movement: A Call for Action?

Posted by Florence Kuteesa, former budget director of Uganda

A global aid transparency movement, bringing together several initiatives with a shared vision[1], has received increasing interest and attention since the 2005 Paris Declaration for Aid Effectiveness. The main thrust of the movement is to make information about aid spending easier to access and understand by promoting public disclosure of regular, detailed, and timely reports on volume, allocations, and, where available, results of aid spending.

The movement is premised on the understanding that joint commitment from both donors and recipient governments is required to enforce global aid transparency. The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) advocates for one gateway to access information from different sources by setting up an online registry that records the location of information. Publish What You Fundconducted an assessment of donor transparency levels whose findings were published in the 2010 Aid Transparency Assessment Report and discussed below. A joint initiative[2] is underway to formulate common standards to determine what information participating donors will publish and formats in which it will be presented.

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September 29, 2010

Fiscal Transparency in Cameroon: a Top Concern for the Government

Posted by Manal Fouad and Edouard Martin (IMF's Fiscal Affairs Department)

Cameroon's dialogue with the Fund on fiscal transparency issues goes far back. Hence, Cameroon was one of the two pilot countries to experiment with the fiscal module of Reports on the Observance of Standards and Codes (ROSC), when the Fund launched the initiative in 1999.

Eleven years later, a ROSC reassessment shows that Cameroon has made important strides to comply with the principles of the IMF Code of Good Practices on Fiscal Transparency. Such progress is the result of an active government engagement towards improving public financial management and transparency, which is now set as one of the objectives of the budgetary process. Consistent with this engagement, numerous reforms have been implemented to improve transparency, some with the help of development partners and with technical assistance from the IMF. For instance, Cameroon joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in March 2005, creating in the process a platform for dialogue on public finance involving representatives of government, donors and lenders, and civil society. Also, a new budget system law, encompassing modern PFM techniques and generally in line with international good practices was promulgated in 2007; its provisions are expected to be fully in place by 2012. During its discussions in Yaoundé, the authors of the report met with the community of NGOs, journalists, and other stakeholders, who were outspoken and keenly interested in transparency issues and in working toward high standards for their country.

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September 13, 2010

With 17 “gold medals” Brazil beats Norway on the PEFA assessment!

Posted by Mario Pessoa

Gold medals are the objective reference for success in the world of sports. In PFM, you may measure success by the number of “A”s scored on the PEFA assessment. A recent World Bank PEFA report gives Brazil the lead with 17 A's! Even better than solid, dependable Norway! Is the PEFA representation accurate? Is Brazil world leader on PFM, or is reality a bit more complex?

Brazil has been reforming its public financial management systems since the 1980s. The implementation of the fiscal responsibility law (FRL) in 2000 can be considered the major landmark that put the country in the forefront of PFM good practices. The FRL improved substantially the coverage of the budget and fiscal reports, imposed macrofiscal safeguards on debt management and public expenditure, provided for the preparation of a fiscal risk analysis to support the budget process, and pushed for timely and reliable fiscal reports. The impact of the FRL is clearly perceptible in three of the six pillars of the PEFA assessment (credibility of the budget; comprehensiveness and transparency; and accounting; recording; and reporting). From 14 indicators in theses three dimensions Brazil scored “A” in 11.

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August 04, 2010

Sustainability Reporting: Can the Triple Bottom Line Thrive in the Public Sector?

Posted by Dimitar Vlahov

It’s common knowledge that today’s global economy is facing multiple challenges and imbalances. From the recent financial crisis, to concerns about distribution of wealth, to the ever-more-dangerous clashes between economy and environment, there are many reasons to pause and examine the whole system. Some experts have suggested that a large chunk of this ill condition can be attributed to the same cause – the problem of bad performance measurement. Businesses and governments alike, the argument goes, have been employing short-sighted measures of success that do not account for all medium- and long-term consequences of their organizations’ activities. Therefore, they need to expand their reporting to include social and environmental indicators of performance, and not just financial ones. With a better warning system, many of the present-day issues could be mitigated or avoided altogether. This post serves as a basic introduction to this approach and its main applications to date.

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July 21, 2010

Social Control and Transparency in Brazil

Posted by Helio Tollini 

The requirements of the Fiscal Responsibility Law (LRF), of May 2000, helped improve transparency of the public accounts at all levels of governments in Brazil. The advances in this area were testified by the International Budget Partnership (IBP), whose 2008 Open Budget Initiative ranked Brazil 8th in terms of the budget process transparency,[1] and by the Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA) Initiative, whose report on Brazil, currently under finalization, places the country first among approximately 90 finalized assessments.

The LRF had never been changed until the recent approval of Complementary Law nº 131, of May 2009. The new law requires all federative units (which includes the municipalities) to make available “detailed information” on the Internet, in real time, of their budget and financial execution. According to the law, since May 28, 2010, the federal government, the states and the municipalities with more than 100,000 inhabitants are obliged to provide the required information on their own websites. The deadline is extended by one more year for municipalities whose number of inhabitants ranges from 50,000 to 100,000, while the municipalities with less than 50,000 inhabitants have three extra years to adjust, until May 2013. The law foresees sanctions for non-compliance, like the withholding of voluntary transfers from the federal government, which are very important for smaller states and municipalities.

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July 05, 2010

Full Disclosure of Government Debt, and How it Can Go Wrong

Posted by Yang-Hyun Jin 

The more the issue of fiscal adjustment comes to the attention of the public, the more important is the full disclosure of the government or public debt. Just in follow up to the previous post, government or public debt should not be confused with public sector debt which includes the debt of publicly-owned corporations. Government or public debt to GDP ratios are often used as targets of government fiscal policy or even part of fiscal rules that are  enshrined in law, Constitution or International Treaty. The Maastricht Treaty of course famously limits in principle government debt to GDP of eurozone members to a maximum of 60 percent. 

To have sufficient information on the exact amount of government or public debt is not only a starting point for fiscal adjustment but also a criterion for measuring the success of consolidation efforts. In some countries, the authorities adhere to the accepted standards of disclosure as fully as possible. In other countries, however, the authorities’ attitude toward full disclosure of public debt information is more evasive. This is especially the case when full disclosure has political or market consequences.

This blog argues that it is important to respect the criteria and definitions of government/public debt, and not evade full disclosure, but that evasion can and does take place. It examines the definition of public debt and how that information should be reported.

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June 28, 2010

Interactive Financial Data and XBRL: the Way Forward?

Posted by Dimitar Vlahov 

Today’s means of exchanging financial data have entered a process of global synchronization and standardization. Intuitively, this makes sense given the interconnected and interdependent nature of economic and business entities around the world, coupled with advances in computing power. In practice, the trend is evidenced by the rapid spread of XBRL, a novel set of programming rules for recording and reporting financial data electronically. Over the last several years this new freely-available open standard has been employed by more than 550 major companies, organizations and governments, including many central banks, finance ministries, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the Tokyo Stock Exchange. A Forbes report estimates that XBRL encoding is used by companies representing more than 75% of the world's market capitalization. So popular has XBRL become that one can now even buy “XBRL for Dummies” on Amazon. This note provides a quick account of what XBRL is and why it is relevant for public financial management.

Continue reading "Interactive Financial Data and XBRL: the Way Forward?" »

June 23, 2010

The Role of Independent Fiscal Institutions in Fiscal Management: The Perspective from an International Conference in Hungary

Posted by Dávid Mihályi[1] 

On March 18-19, 2010, the Fiscal Council of the Republic of Hungary hosted a conference on independent fiscal institutions at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, in Budapest. Speakers included heads of sister institutions, senior government officials, and academics from more than 20 countries. The principal objective of the conference was to examine the experience of independent fiscal institutions in promoting the transparency and sustainability in public finances.

In the wake of the global financial crisis, with public debt reaching historical heights, policymakers are exploring solutions to unprecedented problems with sovereign debt sustainability. As minor adjustments appear insufficient to ensure medium-term consolidation, many advanced and emerging-market economies have introduced, or are about to introduce, a comprehensive fiscal policy framework to strengthen their commitment to fiscal responsibility. This often includes setting permanent fiscal policy and procedural rules. In addition, as part of the framework, an increasing number of governments have established independent fiscal institutions to ensure the reliability of government accounts and projections, and to monitor compliance with fiscal rules. The conference provided a forum for discussing accumulated experience and emerging best practices in this area.

Continue reading "The Role of Independent Fiscal Institutions in Fiscal Management: The Perspective from an International Conference in Hungary" »

May 28, 2010

Webpage Provides Country Profile Based on Financial Codes and Standards

Posted by Mario Pessoa 

Finding well-focused analytical information on countries’ finances in one single place has been a permanent challenge. To address this weakness the Financial Standards Foundation (FSF) created the eStandardsForum webpage. On this webpage you can access a well-organized country profile encompassing country-specific standard compliance index on twelve relevant international financial standards and codes (see list below). Each country page provides not only a summary of the assessments but also a standardized assessment index summarizing the results. [1]

Despite the potential shortcomings resulting from the conversion of qualitative assessments to quantitative ones, the FSF’s efforts to extract key information and to summarize it in a reader-friendly and appealing presentation, particularly for the user not well familiarized with public financial and banking jargon, are commendable.

According to the FSF composite index, the countries with better financial systems would be: The Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Australia, UK, France, Norway, Portugal, Estonia, and Germany. Some of these countries are often recognized as leaders in these areas, but others may come as a surprise to our readers. A closer look at the profiles shows that higher ranking countries are the ones that embarked on a wide range of reforms over the last decade.

Continue reading "Webpage Provides Country Profile Based on Financial Codes and Standards" »

April 23, 2010

Gender Budgeting and Equity Issues in Fiscal Federalism Arrangements: Some Lessons from India

Posted by Davina F. Jacobs 

Despite the growing recognition of gender factors in budget planning and execution, there have been relatively few attempts to translate them to the intergovernmental sphere. An interesting working paper by Lekha Chakraborty (attached below), drawing on her own analysis and that of an earlier study of the Indian National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), discusses this up to now often neglected area. The question discussed is basically can gender issues be incorporated into financial devolution approaches. She discusses these issues in the context of the policy agenda of the Thirteenth (and latest constituted) Finance Commission of India.

India has and continues to be a pioneer in institutionalizing gender budgeting within its Ministry of Finance. The process of gender budgeting in India gathered momentum with a NIPFP study in 2003. To provide the analytical framework for gender budgeting, this study constructed an econometric model to link spending on public education and health to the Gender Development Index (GDI), showing the positive effect of such spending on this indicator of gender inequality—see the development of the GDI as set out in Box 1, page 8, of Chakraborty’s paper. This approach did not refute the widely explored link between economic growth and (gender-sensitive) human development; rather it confirms this link through higher public expenditure, particularly through healthcare and education.

Continue reading "Gender Budgeting and Equity Issues in Fiscal Federalism Arrangements: Some Lessons from India" »

March 12, 2010

Petroleum Product Subsidies: Costly, Inequitable, and Rising

Posted by Justin Tyson 

Petroleum product subsidies around the world have again started to rise with the rebound in international commodity prices. A recent Staff Position Note reviews the latest developments in subsidy levels and argues that it is necessary to reform the policy framework for setting petroleum product prices in order to reduce the fiscal burden of these subsidies and to address climate change.

In 2003, global consumer subsidies for petroleum products, measured as the difference between domestic retail prices and international prices adjusted for transport and distribution costs, totaled nearly $60 billion. They are projected to reach almost $250 billion in 2010. Including tax subsidies (the difference between “optimal” taxes to raise revenue and corrected for externalities and actual taxes), such subsidies are substantially higher. Taking an optimal tax in the range $0.30-$0.40 per liter, projected subsidies are estimated at between $740-$970 billion (or 1.0–1.3 percent of global GDP). Including producer subsidies for other fuels, such as subsidized coal for power plants, would drive these estimates even higher. G-20 countries account for over 70 percent of projected tax-inclusive subsidies, with emerging G-20 countries accounting for a sizable part of that. Halving tax-inclusive subsidies could reduce projected fiscal deficits by one sixth in subsidizing countries and could reduce greenhouse emissions by around 15 percent over the long run.

Continue reading "Petroleum Product Subsidies: Costly, Inequitable, and Rising" »

January 31, 2008

President Bush: "The People's Trust in their Government is Undermined by Congressional Earmarks" (2008 State of the Union Address)

Posted by Michel Lazare and Bill Dorotinsky

Here is a YouTube video on an excerpt from President Bush State of the Union Address (January 28, 2008). In this part of his speech, the President asks Congress to make further efforts at cutting earmarks.

Continue reading "President Bush: "The People's Trust in their Government is Undermined by Congressional Earmarks" (2008 State of the Union Address)" »

January 29, 2008

David Walker (GAO head): The USA is Living beyond its Means -- Difference between Accrual and Cash

Posted by Michel Lazare

The YouTube video below is a presentation on long-term fiscal issues in the US made by David M. Walker, the US Comptroller General and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)

Continue reading "David Walker (GAO head): The USA is Living beyond its Means -- Difference between Accrual and Cash" »

January 07, 2008

Eyes wide shut? Understanding the politics of government auditing

He who lives outside the budget lives in error.
            Carlos Fuentes, La Silla del Águila, 2003.

Posted by Carlos Santiso (AfDB)

In the second generation PFM reform, strengthening transparency and accountability in public finances is a defining challenge for emerging economies seeking to foster fiscal responsibility and curb corruption. There is thus renewed interest in those oversight agencies tasked with scrutinizing public spending and enforcing horizontal accountability within the state.

Recent research by Carlos Santiso, titled Eyes Wide Shut? The Politics of Autonomous Audit Agencies in Emerging Economies, explores the external oversight of public finances. It models and measures the effectiveness of autonomous audit agencies, developing an index to evaluate their performance, and assesses their reform over time. It examines the institutional trajectory of the AAAs of Argentina, Brazil and Chile, which illustrate the three models for organizing the external audit function in modern states and three distinct trajectories of reform (or lack thereof).

Continue reading "Eyes wide shut? Understanding the politics of government auditing" »

December 19, 2007

IFAC World Accountancy Forum:

Government, the Accountancy Profession and the Public Trust: Current Initiatives and Future Challenges

Posted by Richard Allen

Snap2 The International Federation of Accountants’ (IFAC) held its 30th Anniversary World Accountancy Forum on December 4, 2007, in New York. The forums theme covered the accountacny prfoessional and the public and private sectors as well as civil socity. Three forum sessions covered Imperatives for Strengthening Government Accountability; Convergence of Accounting and Audit Standards; and Finding the Right Balance between Corporate Governance, Oversight and Business Growth. The second and third topics were primarily focused on private sector accounting and oversight practices; the first, however, tackled issues of enormous importance for public finance.

Continue reading "IFAC World Accountancy Forum:" »

December 07, 2007

African Parliamentarians Discuss Ways to Promote Good Governance in the Management of Public Finance

2535901 Posted by Lubin Doe

The training center known as the Joint Africa Institute (JAI), created by the World Bank, the IMF and the African Development Bank (ADB), organized a five-day seminar in Tunis on the “Role of Parliamentarians in Promoting Good Public Financial Management (PFM) and Accountability.”

The seminar regrouped 26 legislators and officials from 8 English-speaking African countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda). The team of presenters included Messrs Mitchell O’Brien (World Bank), Lubin Doe (IMF), Per Eldar Sovik (ADB), Augustine Ruzindana (African Parliamentarians Network Against Corruption), Adams Fusheni (Canada Parliamentary Center) and Niall Johnston (parliamentary consultant).

Continue reading "African Parliamentarians Discuss Ways to Promote Good Governance in the Management of Public Finance" »

December 04, 2007

OECD Celebrates 10th Anniversary of its Anti-Bribery Convention

Posted by Luc Leruth

On November 21, 2007 in Rome, the OECD celebrated the 10th anniversary of its "Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions."

The meeting was chaired by Secretary General Angel Gurria and opened by Mr. Romano Prodi, the Italian Prime Minister. It ended with the unanimous adoption by all 37 states party to the convention of a statement reaffirming their commitment to fight bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions.  Download Statement.pdf

For details on the 10th Anniversary Convention, please click here.

Continue reading "OECD Celebrates 10th Anniversary of its Anti-Bribery Convention" »

December 02, 2007

Motherhood, Apple Pie, and Good Governance

Posted by Michel Lazare

Like motherhood and apple pie, we all love good governance. Right?

Indeed, finding somebody --or an institution-- who does not claim to support good governance might be challenging. But defining good governance is equally challenging.

An illustration of this difficulty was given in a December 3, 2007 PFM Blog post, where our colleague Ian Lienert wrote:

A framework for relating the stages of PFM reform with governance categories, ranging from States that are “failing or collapsed” through to “institutionalized and competitive”, was presented. However, it was difficult to pin down the links between PFM reform frameworks and governance, in part because the concepts of “governance” and “political economy” are multi-dimensional and ill-defined.

Continue reading "Motherhood, Apple Pie, and Good Governance" »

November 26, 2007

PFM Reforms and Public Expenditure Efficiency: Key PFM Reforms Playing a Role in Effectively Controlling Public Expenditure

Posted by Michel Lazare

There are seven key institutional arrangements for budgeting that play a key role in effectively controlling public expenditures in OECD countries.

This is at least the view presented in 2005 by Jon Blondal (the then Acting Head of the Budgeting and Management Division of the OECD) on the occasion of the 7th Banca d'Italia Workshop on Public Finance. In Jon Blöndal's view, there are three major determinants of the fiscal outcomes of OECD member countries: (1) the general performance of the economy (which is the main driver), (2) the political commitment to fiscal discipline, and (3) the institutional arrangements for budgeting. The presence of the two first factors being insufficient to experience a successful fiscal outcome.

Continue reading "PFM Reforms and Public Expenditure Efficiency: Key PFM Reforms Playing a Role in Effectively Controlling Public Expenditure" »

November 21, 2007

From Line-item to Program Budgeting - Opening the 'black-box' of spending

Posted by Bill Dorotinsky

Lineitem2_3 A perennial question of annual public budgeting for Ministries of Finance and legislatures, and the general public, is "What are we getting for the money?" It is the proverbial "black box" of annual spending, where funds are allocated by traditional line-item budgets to agencies, but there is no sense of what the money actually achieves. While under line-item budgeting, budget offices know what inputs are being purchased, there is no clear indication of what activities, purposes, or objectives -- or ultimately outputs or outcomes -- are being purchased, or how government policies translate into spending. A common first step for many countries towards opening the black box of spending is to adopt a program classification of spending, and introduce program budgeting. A program classification is often thought of as a first step in introducing a performance orientation into the budget process.

While sounding like a very dry, technical exercise, the reality of successful introduction of program budgeting is more complex, involving elements of change management across government. Various governments across the globe have been introducing program budgets over many decades, including within the past decade in Russia, Brazil, and more recently, the Republic of Korea (RoK). A recent book by the Korean Institute of Public Finance and the World Bank, From Line-item to Program Budgeting (John Kim, Editor; Seoul, 2007), summarizes some key lessons from the global experience, and offers practical advice to countries embarking on this journey.

Continue reading "From Line-item to Program Budgeting - Opening the 'black-box' of spending" »

November 05, 2007

France's National Audit Office ("Cour des Comptes"): 200 years and counting!

Posted by Michel Lazare and Dominique Bouley

300pxcour_des_comptes_paris_entrc3a

On November 5, 2007, the French National Audit Office (La Cour des Comptes) celebrates its 200th anniversary with a re-enactment of its 1807 inaugural session. The current Cour des Comptes was created by Emperor Napoleon I (in a September 16, 1807 law).

Its historical roots are even much older: a royal ordinance in 1256 prescribed that mayors in Normandy had to report their financial accounts to a royal commission once a year; and an institution called chambre des comptes was created in 1303.

Continue reading "France's National Audit Office ("Cour des Comptes"): 200 years and counting!" »

November 02, 2007

Increasing Fiscal Transparency -- Brazil's Budgetary Fiscal Risk Report

Posted by Mario Pessoa

Brazil As public financial management (PFM) systems develop and become more complex, the need to identify, quantify, and manage various public finance risks expands. As the need expands, the capacity and instruments to do so expand as well. Brazil's PFM system advanced considerably with the adoption of its Fiscal Responsibility Law (FRL) in 2000, and it has further advanced transparency by publishing a "Budgetary Fiscal Risk" report (BFR) as one of many annexes to its annual budget.

Continue reading "Increasing Fiscal Transparency -- Brazil's Budgetary Fiscal Risk Report" »

October 25, 2007

Transitioning to accrual -- IFAC resource

Posted by Bill Dorotinsky

As a follow-up to our October 15 blog "Transition to Accrual Accounting," a reader suggested we also highlight the International Federation of Accountants(IFAC) International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) research paper Study 14 "Transition to the Accrual Basis of Accounting: Guidance for Governments and Government Entities (second edition)" (December 2003). This authoritative, 268-page guide covers issues of managing the process of change, skills assessment and training, financial reporting issues, as well as coverage of specific topics such as treatment of cash and intangible assets. This guide is available for free electronic download at the IFAC web bookstore link above.

October 24, 2007

World Freedom Atlas: A Nice-Looking Tool to Visualize Good Governance Indexes

Posted by Michel Lazare

Snap1_2 The time-series dataset (1990-2006) put together by the Quality of Government Institute of the Göteborg University (Sweden) is now available as an interactive mapping application in the World Freedom Atlas.

This data set is a very rich one. It contains dozens of data series and over 300 variables originating from a large variety of sources: World Bank, UNDP, NGOs, academia, etc. These data series cover not only good governance issues but also freedom, human rights, and democracy. Some of them relate to issues faced when reforming PFM systems (e.g., bureaucratic compensation) or could show, over time, the impact of PFM reforms (e.g., government effectiveness).

Continue reading "World Freedom Atlas: A Nice-Looking Tool to Visualize Good Governance Indexes" »

October 23, 2007

Budget practices and procedures — everything you'd want to know about OECD countries

Posted by Bill Dorotinsky

Ever lay sleepless at night, wondering how far in advance of the new fiscal year OECD country legislatures receive the budget from the executive? Or if ministers in OECD countries are allowed to reallocate/vire funds between line items within their responsibility? For PFM specialists and country PFM officials, these can be important guideposts for reform directions.

Well, wonder no more, and sleep peacefully. The OECD just released publicly their Budget Process and Procedures database for 2007, featuring 30 OECD and 8 non-OECD countries. As the OECD web page itself says: "The purpose ... is to provide budget practitioners and academics the opportunity to compare and contrast national budgeting and financial management practices with a view to share experiences and best practices. It is a unique, comprehensive and free resource that covers the entire budget cycle: preparation, approval, execution, accounting and audit, and performance information."

October 22, 2007

Transparency Guides -- links on how to access publications

Posted by Bill Dorotinsky

For those interested in ordering the IMF FAD Guide on Resource Revenue Transparency (2007) (see October 19 blog post), please click here. Note that the full text is available for free on-line.

For those interested in ordering the IMF FAD Manual on Fiscal Transparency (2007) (see October 18 blog post), please click here. The full text of this publication is also available for free on-line.

October 19, 2007

Illuminating Resource Revenue Transparency - A New Guide

Posted by Jon Shields

Rrt_cover_2 Available today (October 19) for the first time in hard print, the revised IMF Guide on Resource Revenue Transparency is a comprehensive handbook on good transparency practices for countries with substantial revenues from extractive industries. For governments, it provides detailed advice on  the information they need to make good decisions about the collection and use of these revenues - from the design of tax regimes to the management of resource funds. For citizens and other stakeholders, the Guide gives examples of good practice around the world and what can realistically be expected to be shared with them.

The Guide supplements the revised IMF Manual on Fiscal Transparency (see yesterday's Oct 18 blog). It applies the principles of the revised IMF Code of Good Practices on Fiscal Transparency to the unique set of transparency problems faced by countries that derive a significant share of their revenues from natural resources. The Guide has been revised to reflect the new Code and to provide more recent examples of good practice by individual countries. It provides a framework for assessing resource-specific issues within broader fiscal transparency assessments (including so-called ‘fiscal ROSCs’). Since its initial release in 2005, the Guide has been used by the governments and legislatures of resource rich countries, civil societies, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), providers of technical support and interested academics and observers.

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.

Continue reading "Sweden’s New Fiscal Council – helping assure credible fiscal policy" »

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."

Continue reading "Anti-corruption: you know Bono and U2….What about U4?" »

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