Back Matter

Back Matter

George Kopits, and J. Craig
Published Date:
February 1998
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      Wagner, Richard E.,1976, “Revenue Structure, Fiscal Illusion, and Budgetary Choice,” Public Choice, Vol.25 (Spring), pp.4561.

      World Bank, 1994, Governance: The World Bank’s Experience (Washington).

    See the examples cited in Gore (1993, p. 76).

    See, for example, Gansler (1995) on U.S. defense expenditures.

    Sometimes, the boundaries between the activities of the state and those of its political leaders are by no means transparent. For example, in some countries, the differences between public resources and the personal finances of the ruling family are often not explicitly articulated.

    The earliest legislation governing the opening of government records to the public dates back to 1776 in Sweden. The present law is unique in that it is one of the four laws that together make up Sweden’s Constitution. Similar, but less rigorous, systems were introduced in the 1970s in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and the United States. Since then, legislation on open records has spread to most industrial countries; see Pope (1996).

    In France, for example, Morin and Dupuy (1993) have argued that both the extent of subsidization and the degree of state involvement in public enterprises lack transparency.

    For example, in the United States, until 1992, the rescue of failed savings and loan institutions was treated off-budget.

    Other examples where transparency prevailed in certain aspects of privatization include mass distribution of state-owned enterprises (Czech Republic); earmarking of the bulk of proceeds for debt reduction (Hungary); and rapid and open marketing of assets held (former German Democratic Republic).

    In practice, such uncompensated quasi-fiscal operations tend to go hand in hand with tax exemptions, deferments of tax payments, and other tax concessions.

    See the discussion of such practices in former centrally planned economies in Kopits (1991) and Tanzi (1993).

    Examples of well-functioning funds are the U.S. Highway Trust Fund; Chile’s Copper Compensatory Fund; and the U.S. Old-Age, Survivors’, and Disability Insurance trust funds. See also Potter (1997).

    Examples are Australia’s Auditor General, the United Kingdom’s National Audit Office, the United States General Accounting Office, and Hungary’s Office of State Audit. In France, reviewing and monitoring are carried out under the authority of the Interministerial Evaluation Committee. However, in a number of Latin American countries, the comptroller general is responsible only for legal and financial audits.

    The innovations introduced in New Zealand (Appendix IV) instructing the government to declare fiscal targets consistent with a set of prudent principles, enshrined in the Fiscal Responsibility Act, is an example of a high level of transparency. Recently, Australia adopted the Charter of Budget Honesty, requiring, among other things, clear announcement of fiscal targets and intergenerational analysis of fiscal policies. Although all member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and a number of other countries have adopted fiscal targets in one form or another, many are poorly specified and lack policy relevance in that they cannot be easily related to general economic goals (such as debt stabilization and desired national savings levels). See Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (1995a) for a critique.

    Although performance reviews (including quantitative performance indicators) of specific agency programs may also be published, for many governments this is largely an internal matter that feeds into the preparation of the subsequent budget. Thus, the review reports may be attached to the budget documents and can justify the proposed expansion or reduction in specific allocations.

    For an overview of multiyear budgets and targets in OECD countries, see Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (1995a) and Appendix III.

    Although progress is being achieved in a number of African countries, where budgets are required to be openly debated in national assemblies.

    In countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, these practices are highly visible. Recently, EU members have been required to adopt uniform procurement standards. The development of open-tender practices across country borders has been stimulated by standards set by the World Trade Organization. The OECD has also played an important role in propagating such practices.

    The World Bank and other multilateral agencies have actively promoted improvements in these areas. One potentially promising initiative in the procurement area is the “Islands of Integrity” approach pursued by Transparency International, a nonprofit organization. Under this scheme, endorsed by the World Bank, Transparency International monitors the bidding for public contracts; if either party—the national authorities or a bidder—is found to engage in corrupt practices, that party is excluded from any subsequent bidding.

    As an exception, effective in 1996, Hungary began applying procurement standards compatible with those adopted by the EU.

    In Austria, Belgium, France, Portugal, Spain, and the United States, the government is legally obliged to prepare an annual tax expenditure report, whereas in Australia and Germany, reports are prepared twice a year; see Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (1996c).

    See, for example, Kyrouz (1975) and King and Fullerton (1984) on company income taxation. Whereas realized (average) rates are calculated from actual tax revenue as a proportion of actual income or transaction flows, effective (marginal) tax rates are estimated on an economically meaningful base (e.g., user cost of capital or required rate of return).

    In China, for example, the consolidated budget deficit for 1995 is to be adjusted upward by about 5 percent of GDP when policy lending by public financial institutions is included.

    According to Hopkins (1996), in the United States, the direct costs of federal regulation since 1992 have been estimated at about 9 percent of GDP, equivalent to nearly one-half of federal budget outlays.

    See Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (1992) and Koedjik and Kremers (1996). Within the EU there has been considerable progress toward harmonizing regulations, but not always toward achieving greater transparency.

    Such data are published in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (1996b) for 14 countries for the most recent year, for 3 countries with a one-year lag, and for 4 countries with a lag of two or more years.

    See International Monetary Fund (1995). Incomplete coverage of general government is a major impediment to timely reporting under the IMF’s Special Data Dissemination Standard. Of the 42 members that intend to participate in the Special Data Dissemination Standard, most have indicated that they will meet the request for up-to-date summary data on central government operations and debt, but about one-half may not be able to supply timely data on general government.

    Among these countries, only New Zealand has applied the formal consolidation rules required for “whole of government” reporting.

    According to International Monetary Fund (1996a, p. 12), the concept “includes all government functions carried out by general government units and units outside the general government sector and excludes nongovernment functions carried out by general government units.”

    For example, the cost of sectoral credit ceilings used for directing credit to specific activities would require calculating implicit taxes and subsidies relative to an unconstrained outcome. According to estimates in Tanzi (1995), the cost of financial suppression through regulation in past years amounted to as much as 40 percent of total revenue in Mexico and 20 percent in India and Pakistan.

    A variant of the accrual basis is the due-for-payment basis, whereby the transaction is recorded when receipt or payment falls due.

    Specifically, recording takes place at the time economic value is created, transformed, exchanged, transferred, or extinguished.

    For a discussion of the usefulness of accrual-based government accounting, see Efford (1996) and International Federation of Accountants (1997).

    For instance, under a modified cash approach, changes in floating debt can be shown as a memorandum item. In another example, under a modified accrual approach, only payment or tax arrears within a certain time limit are recorded in the financial statement. See the general treatment in International Federation of Accountants (1995, 1997).

    Advance tax payments (or other methods of accelerating revenue) have, of course, an effect similar to that of accumulating expenditure arrears, in that they temporarily improve the budget balance under cash-based recording. An analogous case of nontransparency is the recording of extraordinary—though requited—transfers from state-owned enterprises as revenue in the budget, without an offset for the assumption of (e.g., pension) liabilities from those enterprises by the government in an equivalent amount.

    A similar practice, found, for example, in Italy and Sri Lanka, involves recording expenditures that have not been incurred because of suspended appropriations. The unused cash is deposited by the spending agencies in government accounts to boost the cash available to meet the public sector borrowing requirement; see Premchand (1994).

    See Premchand (1996) for a critique of the problems created for fiscal accounting.

    According to Teijeiro (1996), this has been an important source of understatement of the officially recorded budget deficit in Argentina in the early 1990s.

    Whereas it may be desirable to exclude the inflation component of interest payments for calculating an operational measure of the budget balance (Appendix III), such an adjustment should be executed uniformly, not just for certain indexed securities.

    See the revised version in Inter-Secretariat Working Group on National Accounts (1993).

    In Australia, several subnational governments employ accrual-based recording, and the Australian National Commission of Audit (1996) has recommended this approach for the national level. In the United States, the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB) has been responsible for examining government accounting practices and issuing recommendations. For an early recommendation to adopt accrual-based recording, see United States, President’s Commission on Budget Concepts (1967).

    For example, member countries of the European Union (EU) are required to show their financial statements for the general government on a modified accrual basis for determining compliance with the fiscal criteria under Economic and Monetary Union (EMU); see European Commission (1995). In a recent survey of GFS data users, undertaken by the IMF’s Statistics Department, 87 percent of respondents expressed a need for cash-based information, whereas 47 percent indicated that accrual-based data are also required; see Efford (1996).

    An advantage of this approach may be apparent in budget-cutting exercises. Under a cash approach, there is an incentive to cut expenditures that will affect the current year’s budget, whereas accrual-based recording removes the bias of cutting investment outlays because only the capital used in the year is shown.

    See Comiez (1966) for an early discussion of depreciation of government assets, and Coen (1975) for an analysis of economic depreciation in general.

    For example, the guidelines issued recently by FASAB have been adopted by the U.S. government.

    In some countries, government liabilities are consolidated with those of the central bank, as the latter acts as the government’s fiscal agent in external debt management.

    At the international level, the Public Sector Committee of the International Federation of Accountants (1996) has proposed guidelines on public sector accounting.

    That is, the standards embodied in the System of National Accounts issued by the Inter-Secretariat Working Group on National Accounts (1993), which encompass public sector balance sheets.

    For a review of specific technical difficulties encountered in projecting pension obligations, see Van den Noord and Herd (1995) andFranco (1995).

    For the United States, for example, in 1997, the government balance sheet contains an assessment of the accrued cost of deposit insurance and private pension scheme guarantees. While known losses on loan guarantees or other contingencies are included in most countries, Italy includes estimates of likely losses on loans, legal claims, and the like. If such estimates cannot be made, some countries (e.g., Netherlands) list contingencies in a separate statement. In New Zealand, for example, all quantifiable and nonquantifiable contingencies are so listed. Quantifiable claims include loans guaranteed for public corporations, callable capital to international and other organizations, prospective costs of contract disputes, and legal claims. Nonquantifiable claims include natural disasters, exchange rate losses incurred by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, losses incurred as a result of court decisions, and indemnities arising from various regulatory practices. In Canada, the matter is handled through formal provisioning of funds against identified contingent losses likely to be realized.

    Under the modified GFS classification, privatization receipts are to be shown below the line to remove the impact of such transactions from the measurement of the thrust of fiscal policy.

    For an informative critique of the traditional administrative budget in the United States, see United States, President’s Commission on Budget Concepts (1967).

    The lack of sufficient disaggregation in the statia codes, formerly used to compile economic information in the countries of the former Soviet Union, led to a large share of expenditures being lumped into a very large “other expenditure” category; the codes also often failed to distinguish between nonrepayable and repayable payments, that is, between expenditure and net lending, social security contributions, and transfers to various economic sectors. See International Monetary Fund and others (1991) and Montanjees (1995).

    To determine compliance with the fiscal criteria for participation in European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), EU members are required to exclude proceeds from privatization—whether undertaken directly or through a state holding company—from government revenue; see European Commission (1995).

    As nominal interest rates reflect expected inflation—to compensate the lender for the loss in capital value—the inflationary component should be calculated in reference to the expected rate of inflation rather than the recorded rate of price inflation.

    In the United States, during 1977–80, on the basis of an estimate that the real value of net government debt declined by $82 billion, generating a cumulative surplus in that amount (whereas the officially recorded deficits totaled $96 billion, at constant prices), Eisner (1986) argued that the authorities aggravated the ensuing recession by adopting a restrictive monetary and fiscal stance.

    This largely explains the choice of general government gross debt ratio to define the public debt criterion for participation in the EMU.

    Along these lines, Canada subtracts all fixed assets valued symbolically at one dollar. Despite widespread agreement about netting out social security reserves, Japan disregards such reserves for precautionary reasons.

    In a number of countries, various government agencies may construct their own indicators of fiscal stance. The U.S. Congressional Budget Office calculates the standardized employment deficit. The New Zealand Treasury is experimenting with an “economic fiscal indicator” that allows for a sectoral breakdown.

    For example, according to a general definition in Bean and Buiter (1987, p. 27), “a government is solvent if its spending programme, its tax-transfer programme, and its planned future use of seigniorage [that is, its ability to issue currency at a face value in excess of its cost of production] are consistent with its outstanding, initial financial and real assets and liabilities (in the sense that the present value of its spending programme is equal to its comprehensive net worth).” For a theoretical treatment of sustainability, see Horne (1991). See also proposals by Parker and Kastner (1993) for a practical framework for assessing fiscal sustainability in IMF-supported programs.

    The stability condition is given by the equation Δd = [(rg)/(1 + g)]d–1pb, where d is the debt-to-GDP ratio, pb is the ratio of the primary balance to GDP, r is the nominal interest rate on public debt, and g is the growth rate of nominal GDP. See, for example, the calculations for major industrial countries in International Monetary Fund (1996b, pp. 50–51).

    For 10 OECD member countries, the estimated present value of net unfunded pension liabilities reaches or exceeds the level of GDP, assuming a 5 percent discount rate and 1.5 percent yearly productivity growth. See Roseveare and others (1996) and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (1996a, pp. 36–37).

    To illustrate the point, in the United States, as a result of the 1983 amendments to the Social Security Act, the present value of net unfunded liabilities of the old-age, survivors’, disability, and hospital insurance programs fell from 70 percent of GNP at end-1982 to less than 10 percent by end-1983.

    The contribution gap is the difference between a constant sustainable contribution rate that, over a long time, would lead to no buildup of pension debt above an initial level and the expected average contribution rate under existing budget law. See, for example, Chand and Jaeger (1996).

    For an overview of generational accounts, see Auerbach, Gokhale, and Kotlikoff (1994), and for a critical assessment, see Haveman (1994).

    See United States, Office of Management and Budget (1995), Hagemann and John (1995), and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (1995b). Italy shows the most inequitable outcome; there, future generations will have to pay five times larger net taxes than the present generation, assuming a 5 percent discount rate and 1.5 percent yearly productivity growth.

    A government has the prerogative to choose the most appropriate framework—emphasizing, for example, Keynesian, Ricardian, or various eclectic features—and to supplement model-based results with judgment as to elements—particularly, credibility effects—that are not always captured satisfactorily by those results. Alternatively, lacking adequate data or statistically significant estimates, it may justifiably decide to rely purely on computational or judgmental methods. Transparency simply requires explicit and timely disclosure and, preferably, the publication of methods to permit public assessment of the quality, including consistency, and track record of the forecasts.

    In Australia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, for example, the macroeconomic model used for official fiscal forecasting is

    Although they still face severe data constraints, a number of transition economies are also pushing ahead with developing their macroeconomic forecasting capability.

    Canada’s Department of Finance adopts assumptions on the basis of an average of forecasts prepared by private institutions, with a prudential margin added to interest rates. The impact of these upward-adjusted rates is reflected in output and inflation assumptions, with the private sector averages being revised accordingly. Thus, for example, the short-term interest rate assumption for fiscal year 1997/98 was raised by 80 basis points above the private sector consensus.

    In France, for example, the budget deficit for 2001 was initially based on a 2.1 percent annual medium-term GDP growth rate—at the time seen as a conservative assumption—to signal adherence to the target even under less favorable cyclical conditions. In Chile, for the macroeconomic and budget forecasts, a relatively low price is assumed for copper exports.

    In Italy, for example, the baseline budget was occasionally inflated because spending ministries were asked to calculate the cost of maintaining existing policies with no regard for potential cost savings.

    In the United States, both the Office of Management and Budget, which is responsible for forecasts incorporating all policy proposals of the administration, and the Congressional Budget Office, directly responsible to the Congress, prepare separate projections of baseline “current services” and of the effect of new policy measures. Differences between the two sets of projections reflect primarily differences in economic and technical assumptions.

    This is illustrated, for example, by the significant unanticipated shortfall in the value-added tax and corporate income tax revenue recorded recently in the United Kingdom.

    In Australia, for example, the authorities provided the following summary reconciliation for fiscal year 1995/96 (in billions of Australian dollars):

    Revenue forecast124.4
    Effect of policy changes–0.2
    Effect of adjustment in parameters and other changes–2.5
    Revenue outcome121.7
    Expenditure forecast123.7
    Effect of policy changes0.8
    Effect of wage and price adjustments0.4
    Effect of adjustment in parameters0.2
    Other adjustments1.7
    Expenditure outcome126.7
    Source: Statement 1 to Budget Speech 1996/97 (Australia, Department of the Treasury, 1997).

    In Japan, the Ministry of Finance has prepared both baseline and policy-adjusted projections covering the period through 2006; see Okamura (1996).

    In several countries (e.g., Germany, New Zealand, and Switzerland), these forecasts are limited to the central government.

    In the United Kingdom, this process was for a time strengthened by a new emphasis on imposition of cash limits on many budget aggregates—a warning to managers that initial estimates had to be prepared more carefully and that the source of potential error, including the interaction of cost factors with prospective macroeconomic forecasts, had to be carefully reconciled. Although in the United States the projections are highly disaggregated for mandatory and discretionary programs, projections of discretionary expenditures depend on yearly appropriations and cannot be made effective through current legislative actions.

    See the review of national projections for EU member countries in Franco and Munzi (1996).

    In the United States, this requirement encompasses moving 10-year and 75-year projections separately for the old-age and survivors’ insurance, disability insurance, and hospital insurance trust funds. For the 10-year projection, the trust fund ratio (trust fund reserves as a percentage of annual benefit payments) is calculated; the 75-year projection consists of a summary actuarial balance (annual revenue less payments as a ratio of taxable payroll, adjusted to include the beginning fund reserves and the cost of ending the projection period with reserves equivalent to yearly benefit payments). The purpose of the exercise is to ascertain the profile of these indicators over time and to determine the period until exhaustion of the reserves in each fund. As of end-1995, the remaining period under intermediate assumptions was 35 years for the old-age and survivors’ insurance, 19 years for disability insurance, and 5 years for hospital insurance; see Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees (1995). Canada also prepares detailed long-run projections for public pension programs; see Canadian Pension Plan Secretariat (1996).

    See, for example, the recent long-term simulations, incorporating hypothetical reform options for the old-age and survivors’ insurance and the hospital insurance programs, in United States, Congressional Budget Office (1996).

    Ideally, of course, policy simulations should be performed with an appropriate economywide model that allows fully for endogenous macroeconomic repercussions of the hypothesized policy changes. See, for instance, the application of such a model in the United States in Aaron, Bosworth, and Burtless (1989). The most recent set of model-based policy scenarios can be found in United States, Congressional Budget Office (1996).

    For a more complete account of these reforms, see Cangiano (1996) and Scott (1996).

    The Fiscal Responsibility Act requires that all government financial statements (including projections) be drawn up in accordance with generally accepted accounting practices and thus meet the same standards (set by the Accounting Standards Review Board) as private sector financial reports. The Minister of Finance must formally accept overall responsibility for the integrity of the disclosures and their consistency with the act, and must also state that all relevant information has been transmitted to the Secretary of the Treasury.

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