FT Logo   Manual on Fiscal Transparency


1. At its fiftieth meeting in Washington, D.C., on April 16, 1998, the Interim Committee of the Board of Governors of the International Monetary Fund adopted the Code of Good Practices on Fiscal Transparency—Declaration on Principles. This was done in response to a clear consensus that good governance is of central importance to achieving macroeconomic stability and high-quality growth, and that fiscal transparency is a key aspect of good governance.1 Fiscal transparency should make those responsible for the design and implementation of fiscal policies more accountable. The stronger, more credible fiscal policies that follow should attract the support of a well-informed public, result in more favorable access to domestic and international capital markets, and reduce the incidence and severity of crises.

2. The Code, together with the explanatory Manual on Fiscal Transparency, a fiscal transparency questionnaire, and a summary self-evaluation report, were posted as fiscal transparency web pages on the IMF's external website in November 1998.2 Since May 1999, fiscal transparency web pages have been part of a Standards and Codes website.3 Fiscal transparency modules of Reports on the Observance of Standards and Codes (ROSCs), which assess the extent to which fiscal management practices in a number of countries are consistent with the Code, are also available on the Standards and Codes website.4 Interactions with country authorities in connection with preparing ROSCs, and other contacts with fiscal policy specialists from a range of international, government, and private sector organizations, have confirmed the usefulness of the framework provided by the Code, and its supporting material, in analyzing fiscal transparency.

3. However, in response to an increased emphasis on ensuring the provision to the IMF and to markets of the best available economic and financial information, it has become apparent that more attention needs to be paid to the data quality aspect of fiscal transparency, and that this should be addressed in the Code. Accordingly, a new section has been added to the Code that includes good practices related specifically to the quality of fiscal data. There are also new good practices concerned with autonomy and openness in tax administration and reporting on public sector5 finances, and other changes have been made to the organization and drafting of the Code to make it clearer. The Manual has been revised to reflect the modifications to the Code, and in response to comments received on its detailed content and general user friendliness.

4. The original definition of fiscal transparency—which emphasizes being open to the public about the structure and functions of government, fiscal policy intentions, public sector accounts, and fiscal projections (Kopits and Craig, 1998)—continues to form the basis of the Code.6 The following four general principles of fiscal transparency, which provide the organizational structure of the Code, also remain largely unchanged.

  • The first general principle—Clarity of Roles and Responsibilities—is concerned with specifying the structure and functions of government, responsibilities within government, and relations between government and the rest of the economy.

  • The second general principle—Public Availability of Information—emphasizes the importance of publishing comprehensive fiscal information at clearly specified times.

  • The third general principle—Open Budget Preparation, Execution, and Reporting— covers the type of information that is made available about the budget process.

  • The fourth general principle—Assurances of Integrity—deals with the quality of fiscal data and the need for independent scrutiny of fiscal information.

The fourth general principle has been amended compared to the previous version of the Code, where the focus was entirely on the provision of independent assurances of the integrity of fiscal information by an external auditor, a national statistics agency, and other experts. Reflecting the increased emphasis on the quality of fiscal data noted above, the fourth general principle now addresses more directly this aspect of fiscal transparency.

5. Specific principles and good practices correspond to each of the general principles. The good practices represent a standard of fiscal transparency that is judged appropriate to provide assurances to the public and to capital markets that a sufficiently complete picture of the structure and finances of government is available to allow the soundness of a country's fiscal position to be reliably assessed. It is therefore a standard that most countries should seek to meet.

6. In preparing the Manual, a number of points have been taken into account. First, the Code is being implemented on a voluntary basis. To promote an appreciation of the rationale for the Code, and an understanding of its fiscal transparency requirements, the Manual sets out in detail the principles and practices included in the Code. However, because of the complexity of fiscal management systems, the Manual does not provide comprehensive directions on how all the good practices are to be put in place. Instead, it contains numerous references and website addresses that can assist with the practical implementation of the Code. But even then, many countries will have to make a significant effort and need considerable time to achieve a level of fiscal transparency consistent with the Code.

7. Second, fiscal transparency is only one aspect of good fiscal management, and care is needed to distinguish fiscal transparency from two other key aspects, namely the efficiency of fiscal policy, and the soundness of public finances. As the introduction to the original version of the Code notes, attention has to be paid to all three aspects, which are clearly interrelated. But institutional changes that would lead to more efficient government and promote sound public finances are not advocated directly in the Code. Thus if the government pursues fiscal policy objectives through extrabudgetary funds and tax expenditures, or if nongovernment public sector agencies engage in quasi-fiscal activities, the Code requires only that the purpose of such interventions should be clearly identified and their financial consequences reported. However, the expectation is that transparency about extrabudgetary funds, tax expenditures, and quasi-fiscal activities will provide less incentive for their extensive use, and lead to some of them being replaced by traditional practices of fiscal management.

8. Third, diversity of institutional backgrounds and capacity constraints to improving fiscal management are clearly recognized. For this reason, the Code is not a best practice standard. Rather, it is a set of good practices that can be implemented by most countries over the medium to longer term. Moreover, the Manual highlights a selection of good practices that should be the main focus of attention in countries with weaker fiscal management systems. These basic requirements of fiscal transparency, which are given in Box 1, emphasize good practices related to fiscal reporting and fiscal data quality.

9. The fact that the Code is pitched at the general government level, in the sense that it requires information to be provided by the central government about general government activities and finances, may also be a problem for some countries, and especially for those where weaknesses in fiscal management systems relate to fiscal relations between central government and subnational levels of government. It is therefore recognized that the application of the Code (and the basic requirements of fiscal transparency) in certain cases may have to be limited, at least in the first instance, to central government. It is also realized that the constitutional relationship between central and subnational governments in a few countries makes it inappropriate for central government to report on general government activities and finances.

10. The Manual also goes beyond the Code by identifying best practices of fiscal transparency which should be put in place by advanced economies which have already attained or are close to attaining the standard of the Code. In this connection, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has produced a set of best practice guidelines—OECD Best Practices for Budget Transparency—which provide a useful starting point.7 These OECD guidelines are derived from a compendium of OECD member country practices. However, they include much that is already in the Code. Also, by focusing only on budget (rather than fiscal) transparency, and the central government (rather than the general government), they are narrower in coverage than the Code. Box 2 therefore suggests best practices in all areas covered by the Code, drawing where appropriate on the OECD guidelines.

11. Fourth, in some areas covered by the Code there are already international standards that have been developed by the IMF and other organizations. The Code and the Manual are coordinated with these other initiatives. In particular, consistency has been maintained with those parts of IMF data standards—the Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS) and the General Data Dissemination System (GDDS)—that relate to fiscal data, with the proposed revision to the IMF Government Finance Statistics (GFS) system, and with the IMF Code of Good Practices on Transparency in Monetary and Financial Policies—Declaration of Principles (the monetary and financial transparency code) insofar as it relates to links between the government and the banking and financial sectors.8 Public sector accounting standards developed by the Public Sector Committee of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC-PSC) are highlighted in the Manual, and auditing standards produced under the auspices of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) are also taken into account.

12. Finally, as noted above, assessments of fiscal transparency in the form of ROSC fiscal transparency modules have commenced. A few countries have also undertaken independent assessments. Such assessments are based primarily on completed fiscal transparency questionnaires. While the Manual has provided a sufficient basis for country authorities in some cases to respond fully to the questions posed, in other cases expert help has been required to complete questionnaires. Such help is likely to be even more important when it comes to drawing up action plans in response to shortcomings that might be identified in ROSCs and with implementing measures included in those plans. Thus, the availability of the Manual notwithstanding, it is recognized that the provision of technical assistance—from the IMF, other international organizations, or bilateral government agencies—is an essential component of the effort to promote fiscal transparency through the implementation of the Code.

Box 1. Basic Requirements of Fiscal Transparency

I. Clarity of Roles and Responsibilities

The structure and functions of government should be clearly specified. An institutional table should be published showing the structure of government and the rest of the public sector.

Relations between the government and nongovernment public sector agencies (i.e., the central bank, public financial institutions, and nonfinancial public enterprises) should be based on clear arrangements. Links between fiscal and monetary operations of the central bank should meet the requirements of Sections 1.2 and 1.3 of the Code of Good Practices on Transparency in Monetary and Financial Policies—Declaration of Principles. The annual reports of public financial institutions and nonfinancial public enterprises should indicate the noncommercial services that the government requires them to provide. Privatization of government assets should be open to independent audit.

II. Public Availability of Information

The budget documentation, final accounts, and other fiscal reports for the public should cover all budgetary and extrabudgetary activities of the central government, and the consolidated fiscal position of the central government should be provided. Detailed statements should be provided for all extrabudgetary funds.

Statements describing the nature and fiscal significance of central government contingent liabilities and tax expenditures, and of quasi-fiscal activities, should be part of the budget documentation. Such statements should indicate the public policy purpose of each provision, its duration, and the intended beneficiaries. Where possible, major provisions should be quantified.

The central government should publish full information on the level and composition of its debt and financial assets.

Where subnational levels of government are significant, their combined fiscal position and the consolidated fiscal position of the general government should be published. Subnational levels of governments should also report publicly on their extrabudgetary activities, debt and financial assets, contingent liabilities, and tax expenditures, and on the quasi-fiscal activities of public financial institutions and nonfinancial public enterprises under their control.

The publication of fiscal information should be a legal obligation of government.

III. Open Budget Preparation, Execution, and Reporting

The annual budget should be prepared and presented within a comprehensive and consistent quantitative macroeconomic framework, and the main assumptions underlying the budget should be provided. This information should be provided in a background paper that is part of the budget documentation.

Budget data should be reported on a gross basis, distinguishing revenue, expenditure, and financing, with expenditure classified by economic, functional, and administrative category. Data on extrabudgetary activities should be reported on the same basis. The GFS or another widely accepted classification system should be used.

There should be a comprehensive, integrated accounting system which provides a reliable basis for assessing payment arrears. Cash accounting reports should be supplemented by accounts-based reports of bills due for payment to assess arrears.

A mid-year report on budget developments should be presented to the legislature within three months of the mid-year. More frequent (at least quarterly) reports should also be published. Details of central government debt and financial assets should be published annually, within six months of the end of the fiscal year.

Final accounts should be presented to the legislature within a year of the end of the fiscal year. The coverage of final accounts, and the timing of their presentation, should be specified in the budget law.

IV. Assurances of Integrity

Budget data should reflect recent revenue and expenditure trends, underlying macroeconomic developments, and well-defined policy commitments. Summary information on revenue forecasts and expenditure estimates should be provided in a background paper that is part of the budget documentation, and detailed supporting information should be available for independent scrutiny.

The annual budget and final accounts should indicate the accounting basis (e.g., cash or accrual) and standards used in the compilation and presentation of budget data. Reference should be made to the recognized or generally accepted accounting standards that are followed (e.g., International Public Sector Accounting Standards).

Specific assurances should be provided as to the quality of fiscal data. In particular, it should be indicated whether data in fiscal reports are internally consistent and have been reconciled with relevant data from other sources. Final accounts should be fully reconciled with budget appropriations, and each should be reconciled with GFS fiscal reports. The change in the stock of debt (and financial assets) should be reconciled with the reported budget balance. A background paper should be included with the budget documentation which analyses the difference between budget forecasts of the main macroeconomic and fiscal aggregates and the outturn for recent years. There should be rigorous reconciliation of fiscal and monetary data, and where reconciliation processes are weak, this should be drawn to public attention (e.g., in audit reports) in a timely manner. Countries should participate in the GDDS.

A national audit body or equivalent organization, which is independent of the executive, should provide timely reports for the legislature and public on the financial integrity of government accounts. Such a body should be set up under law. There should be mechanisms to help ensure that remedial action is taken in response to adverse findings in external audit reports.


Box 2. Best Practices of Fiscal Transparency

I. Clarity of Roles and Responsibilities

There should be full compliance with SNA definitions of economic sectors.

Relevant disclosure and transparency requirements of Principle IV of the OECD Principles of Corporate Governance should be observed by public financial institutions and nonfinancial public enterprises.

OECD Policy Recommendations on Regulatory Reform dealing with the transparency of regulations should be fully implemented.

OECD-PUMA principles for managing ethics in the public sector should be observed.

II. Public Availability of Information

Aggregate fiscal projections for 5-10 years ahead should be provided in the budget documentation.

Contingent liabilities should be disclosed in the annual budget, the mid-year report to the legislature and the final accounts; they should be classified by category; and information on the past calls on the government to meet contingent liabilities should be disclosed (item 2.6 of the OECD Best Practices for Budget Transparency).

The estimated cost of all tax expenditure items should be provided in the budget documentation. To the extent possible, discussion of tax expenditures and general expenditure should be combined (item 2.2 of the OECD Best Practices for Budget Transparency). Reporting on quasi-fiscal activities should include quantified estimates of their fiscal significance, and information should be provided on the basis for quantification.

A government balance sheet should be published as part of the budget documentation. It should ideally cover financial liabilities and assets, and nonfinancial assets, of government. Where nonfinancial assets are not covered, a register of nonfinancial assets should be maintained, and a listing of nonfinancial assets should be provided in the budget documentation.

SDDS requirements relating to the provision of information on central government debt and to the commitments made in advance release date calendars should be met.

Either comprehensive fiscal data should be compiled by all levels of government using a uniform classification and a consolidated general government financial position should be presented with the annual central government budget, or subnational levels of government that are independent fiscal agencies should observe the same standard of fiscal transparency as the central government.

Public availability of wide range of fiscal information (including official policy papers), with clearly specified and justified exceptions, should be required by law.

III. Open Budget Preparation, Execution, and Reporting

Presentation of a prebudget report no later than one month prior to the tabling of the annual budget, stating the government's medium-term economic and fiscal intentions, and highlighting the total revenue, expenditure, the deficit or surplus, and debt (item 1.2 of the OECD Best Practices for Budget Transparency). Presentation of the draft budget to the legislature no less than 3 months prior to the start of the fiscal year, and approval of the budget prior to the start of the fiscal year (item 1.1 of the OECD Best Practices for Budget Transparency).

A long-term report assessing the sustainability of current fiscal policies should be published every five years (item 1.7 of the OECD Best Practices for Budget Transparency).

A comprehensive, rolling medium-term budget framework should be published as a central basis of fiscal management.

The estimated fiscal effects of all proposed central government legislation, including the cost implications for subnational levels of government, should be made publicly available.

A statement of fiscal risks should be included in the budget documentation as a basis for assessing the budget's reliability as a guide to likely fiscal outcomes.

Transactions should be classified by activity or output, and by program or outcome. Detailed financial and nonfinancial performance information for all outputs/activities and programs/outcomes, together with comparable information for the previous year, should be part of the budget documentation.

The accounting system should have the capacity for accounting and reporting on an accrual basis, as well as for generating cash reports.

The mid-year budget report should be presented to the legislature within six weeks of the mid-year (item 1.4 of the OECD Best Practices for Budget Transparency).

A monthly budget report should be published with a lag of a month.

Central government debt (and debt service projections) should be reported quarterly, with a lag of a quarter.

Reliable information on the general government outturn should be presented within twelve months of year end.

Final accounts should be presented to the legislature within six months of the end of the fiscal year.

Results achieved relative to all performance targets should be independently audited and presented to the legislature within six months of the end of the fiscal year.

IV. Assurances of Integrity

Mechanisms should be set up to provide for openness of the standard setting process for government accounting and financial reporting, and for its independence from government.

Fiscal forecasts and outturns should be reconciled and all significant differences should be explained.

A national audit body, or equivalent organization, should report to the legislature and the public on all matters relating to fiscal policy integrity and transparency.

Institutional mechanisms should be established to provide the public with independent assurance that macroeconomic and fiscal forecasts are of high quality.


1 See IMF (1998a).
2 A draft of the Manual was posted on the website in November 1998 and was replaced by the current version of the Manual in April 1999.
3 See http://www.imf.org/external/standards/index.htm.
4 ROSC fiscal transparency modules, which were first published in March 1999, have made the summary self-evaluation report redundant and it has been taken off the external website.
5 A number of technical terms are italicized on first usage and defined in the glossary.
6 From here on, the Code refers to the revised Code of Good Practices on Fiscal Transparency.
7 See OECD (2000) at http://www.olis.oecd.org/olis/2000doc.nsf/87fae4004d4fa67ac125685d005300b3/
8 The SDDS, GDDS, and the monetary and financial transparency code are also available on the Standards and Codes website.  

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