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May 23, 2022

Disclosing Fiscal Information during COVID-19 - Country Experiences

May 23

iStock.com/marimo

 

Posted by Aura Martinez and Juan Pablo Guerrero[1]

 

COVID-19 has triggered extraordinary fiscal-policy crisis response measures. Throughout the world, established public finance regulations were often by-passed, at the expense of transparency and reporting timeliness. This hampered efforts to track the design and implementation of response measures and analyze policy trade-offs. Evidence indicates that fiscal transparency can enable better intra-agency coordination and informed public participation, improving response efficiency and effectiveness. But such mutually reinforcing conditions have been in short supply during the pandemic.

Building on its Fiscal Data in Emergency Response: Guide for COVID-19, and experiences from the international cooperation community, the GIFT network joined forces with the World Bank and the Europe Foundation to identify fiscal transparency responses that have helped governments move towards a more open, accountable, and inclusive recovery. Some of these good country examples are summarized below.

North Macedonia, the Philippines, and the USA: Dedicated COVID-19 websites

North Macedonia’s COVID-19 website contains key variables from more than 6,000 pandemic-related contracts, with downloadable Excel files, linking information to the e-procurement portal. This portal allows users to access additional information including tendered lots, the number of bidders, the highest and lowest bids, and award criteria.

The Department of Budget Management in the Philippines established a website for proactively disclosing information on funds for priority COVID-19 programs, activities, and projects, and published regular summaries by funding source and agency/recipient unit.

The United States of America created a “profile” on its USAspending.gov website detailing the Federal Government’s COVID-19 spending. This website contains downloadable open and disaggregated data by administrative, functional and economic budget classification. Progress charts and maps allow users to analyze the geographical distribution of the emergency funding. These features are facilitated by the platform’s DATA Act Information Model Schema, which integrates information from several government institutions.

 France and Peru: Disclosing COVID-19 budget and spending information

France published COVID-19 spending in the state budget by program, including new programs created by supplementary budget legislation. Data, updated daily, are available in XLSX and CSV formats, and include the number and value of grants awarded, as well as the sector, legal category, and type of beneficiary company.

Peru’s Open Data Portal includes a COVID-19 section containing spending, procurement, and donation datasets, as well as relevant metadata such as update frequency, the data source, and license information. The spending dataset (available in CSV and XLSX formats) has administrative, economic, and functional program classification identifiers and labels, using the same variables as the regular budget dataset, enabling the linking of information and the identification of budget reallocations.

 Mexico and the United Kingdom: Identifying trade-offs and using citizens’ feedback

Mexico’s Ministry of Finance regularly reports on progress in achieving the non-financial indicators of its budget program in its open data Budget Transparency Portal, with accompanying visualizations. Agencies must provide explanations when indicators are not met and/or changed. The functional classification and programmatic structures allow programs to be filtered by specified goals, which enables the analysis of the trade-offs resulting from policy changes.

The United Kingdom Parliament's Public Accounts Committee has established a program to hold the government to account for its COVID-19 pandemic responses. Its website provides information on relevant programs and invites citizens to submit comments by specified deadlines. This feedback, together with the government’s responses, transcripts of oral evidence, and written evidence is then available for download.

These cases illustrate several ways in which governments, particularly public finance authorities, can provide timely, complete and useful information during times of emergency, without compromising the need to act swiftly. This balancing act has been achieved by leveraging existing technological structures and standardization frameworks, as in the USA, the Philippines, and Peru; by using ongoing reporting processes, as in Mexico; or by adapting existing reporting schemes, as in France, North Macedonia and the UK.

These cases demonstrate how information can be published in a form that is significantly more useful than that typically provided by static pdfs or press releases. The countries have been able to provide good quality, open-format data that are easily disseminated and accessible, facilitating actionable analyses for decision making and monitoring by a wide range of stakeholders.

From the GIFT network’s experience, peer learning and knowledge exchange have supported the development of a wide range of policies, and the enhancement of legal frameworks. They have also helped advance the standardized, proactive, and open format publication of data that are responsive to user needs, thus facilitating accountability, and improving the potential impact of fiscal policy responses.

 

[1] Aura Martinez is the Manager for Knowledge and Technical Collaboration at the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT); Juan Pablo Guerrero is GIFT’s Director. 

 

Note: The posts on the IMF PFM Blog should not be reported as representing the views of the IMF. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the IMF or IMF policy.

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