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II.  Public Availability of Information  (continued)

Obligations Regarding Publication

2.2 A commitment should be made to the timely publication of fiscal information.

89. The Code includes good practices relating to: (1) commitments to publication; and (2) the timing of publication.

Commitments to publication

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

90. The use of discretion in deciding whether, when, in what detail, and to whom to release fiscal information can damage a government's credibility. It will often be tempting for governments to be more forthcoming with favorable than with unfavorable information. A long period of inconsistent observance of a policy of full and timely disclosure can result in a high level of uncertainty about the true fiscal position.

91. To build credibility, it should be a legal obligation of governments to publish fiscal information. This is a basic requirement of fiscal transparency. Best practice is that the public availability of wide range of fiscal information (including official policy papers), with clearly specified and justified exceptions, should be required by law. Examples of national legislation representing best practice in setting clear standards for fiscal reporting are discussed in Box 13.

Box 13. Budget Law and Fiscal Transparency

New Zealand's Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1994 is a benchmark piece of legislation, which sets legal standards for transparency of fiscal policy and reporting, and holds the government formally responsible to the public for its fiscal performance. Similar legislation, the Charter of Budget Honesty, has been enacted in Australia; and the United Kingdom has enacted a Code for Fiscal Stability. Standards of fiscal transparency under such national legislation are generally more demanding than those suggested under the Code.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act principles and standards

The Fiscal Responsibility Act sets out five principles of responsible fiscal management: reducing public debt to prudent levels; requiring an operating balance to be maintained on average over a reasonable time; maintaining a buffer level of public net worth; managing fiscal risks; and maintaining predictable and stable tax rates. The government is permitted to depart from these principles temporarily, provided such departure is clearly justified and a clear plan and time to return to the principles are given.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act then specifies clearly how the government is to report on proposed policies and actual achievements to assure the legislature and the public that the fiscal management principles are being followed. The Fiscal Responsibility Act requires governments:

  • to publish a "Budget Policy Statement," containing strategic priorities for the upcoming budget, short-term fiscal intentions, and long-term fiscal objectives, no later than March 31 for a July 1 fiscal year;

  • to disclose the impact of fiscal decisions over a three-year forecasting period in regular "economic and fiscal updates;"

  • to present all financial information according to GAAP. This requires

presentation of a full set of forecast financial statements and reports-an operating statement, balance sheet, cash flow statement, statement of borrowings, and anything else that is necessary to fairly reflect the financial position of the government; and

  • to refer all reports required under the Act to a parliamentary select committee.

Some of the specific fiscal reporting requirements included in the Fiscal Responsibility Act are: a preelection economic and fiscal update to be published between 42 and 14 days before any general election; projections of fiscal trends over a ten-year period, at least; and statements of the government's commitments and specific fiscal risks, including contingent liabilities. (See

Similar legislation

Australia's Charter of Budget Honesty, and the United Kingdom's Code for Fiscal Stability, are similar in principle to the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Partly because of its federal structure, the Charter of Budget Honesty gives some emphasis to the role of the Australian Bureau of Statistics to set fiscal reporting standards for all levels of government. It also specifically requires an intergenerational report every five years, and a report on tax expenditure. Some of these elements, such as tax expenditure reporting, consolidate and extend existing administrative practice, while others are new requirements.

92. Some countries also have freedom of information legislation that requires government agencies to make available to the public on request any information they hold, subject to certain clearly specified exceptions (which generally include national security, foreign relations, national economic interest, obligations of confidentiality to a third party, law enforcement, and personal privacy). Such legislation can create a presumption in favor of public release and place the onus on government to demonstrate an overriding public interest in nondisclosure.80

The timing of publication

2.2.2 Advance release date calendars for fiscal information should be announced.

93. In line with the GDDS, advance release date calendars should be announced for the year ahead showing no later than release dates for annual reports and a range of dates for more frequent reports.81 For example, notice could be given that a particular fiscal report will be released between, say, the fifteenth and eighteenth of a specified month. Countries should also make widely known the name and address of an office or person responsible for providing the latest information about the likely release date. Governments should make a commitment that fiscal reports and data will be released simultaneously to all interested parties.

94. Best practice is represented by the more demanding requirements of the SDDS.82 For example, where the release calendar specifies a no-later-than date or a range of dates, the country would announce, by the close of business the prior week, the precise date of release during the following week.

80 The country with the longest tradition of such a commitment to open government is Sweden, where the principle has been enshrined in the constitution since 1776. Members of the public in Sweden (and in a number of other countries) have the right to appeal to the ombudsman-an office independent of the executive that receives and investigates complaints of maladministration-any government agency's decision to withhold information. Thailand has recently enacted freedom of information legislation. In other countries, such as the United States, there is a right of appeal to a court.
81 Release calendars could include a statement that the dates are"expected" or "target," but any subsequent delays due to unforeseen events should be announced as soon as they are evident.
82 For discussion of advance release date calendars, see IMF (1996) and IMF (1998b). See also

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