Guidelines for Public Expenditure Management

©1999 International Monetary Fund

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Guidelines for Public Expenditure Management

Barry H. Potter and Jack Diamond



1.   Introduction

2.The Expenditure Aggregates and Data Sources
 What government activities should be covered?
 What are the data sources?
 How are short-run expenditure projections to be made?

3.Budget Preparation
 What is the framework in which budget decisions are made?
    Recognizing the usefulness of budget principles
       Knowing the rules
       Identifying the responsibilities within the budget system
 Who is responsible for preparation of the budget?
 What are the basic steps in budget preparation?
 What are the typical weaknesses of budget preparation systems?
 What are the typical questions?
    Is the central government's budget really unified?
    Is the macroeconomic constraint explicitly taken into account?
    Are the assumptions underlying the budget accurate
and consistent?
    Are recent budget execution figures known and analyzed?
    Do procedures exist for resource prioritization?
    Is there any multiyear planning?
    Is there a legitimate need for extrabudgetary funds?
    How are quasi-fiscal activities and contingent liabilities to be taken into account?
    How should appropriations-in-aid be handled?
 How are changes in expenditure plans to be targeted?

4.Budget Execution
 What are the different stages of the budget execution process?
 Who is responsible for budget execution?
 How can budget appropriations be revised during the year?
 How good is the information on outturn expenditure?
What are the problems encountered in budget execution
 What are the typical questions?
How should the multiplication of exceptional procedures
be dealt with?
How can the reconciliation of budgetary and banking data
be handled?
How can the accumulation of arrears be measured--
and avoided?
    Is there a complete consolidation of funds?
    How efficient is foreign aid management?
 How can expenditure be adjusted in-year?
 How should good governance be pursued?

5.Cash Planning and Management
 What are the essential features of cash planning?
 Who is responsible for preparing and monitoring the cash plan?
 What are the main constraints that disrupt smooth financing
    of expenditure plans?
 What are the typical questions?
    Is the budget realistic?
    Are the procedures for the release of appropriations adequate?
Are there adequate experienced and skilled staff to
carry out this task?
 Are there clear borrowing rules?


Text Tables
1.  Potential Weaknesses in Budget Preparation
2.  Stages in the Expenditure Process

Text Boxes
1.  Assessing the Soundness of the Budget
2.  The Framework that Regulates the Budget:
        What Do You Need to Know?
3.  Pros and Cons of Extrabudgetary Funds
4.  Key Questions Concerning Extrabudgetary Funds
5.  Cash Accounting vs. Accrual Accounting
6.  Payment Delays and Arrears

1.  The Budget Countdown: A Timeline for Budget Preparation
2.  Budget Execution
3.  Cash Planning



When mission teams from the International Monetary Fund visit countries for either surveillance or program work, one person is usually designated as the "fiscal economist." This economist's duties extend over both the revenue and expenditure sides of the fiscal accounts.

Traditionally, economics training in public finances has focused more on tax than expenditure issues, and within expenditure, more on policy considerations than the more mundane matters of public expenditure management. Thus, many economists participating in their first IMF mission may have relatively little experience of practical issues in public expenditure management; typically, they face questions that are more about accounting and institutional structures than economic theory or policy.

For many years, the IMF's Public Expenditure Management Division has answered specific questions raised by fiscal economists on such missions. Based on this experience, these guidelines arose from the need to provide a general overview of the principles and practices observed in three key aspects of public expenditure management: budget preparation, budget execution, and cash planning. For each aspect of public expenditure management, the guidelines identify separately the differing practices in four groups of countries--the francophone systems, the Commonwealth systems, Latin America, and those in the transition economies.

Following the preparation of an internal document for training and guidance purposes in early 1998, it was suggested that this document might be made more widely available to the public. This publication is thus intended for a general fiscal, or a general budget, advisor interested in the macroeconomic dimension of public expenditure management.


The authors wish to acknowledge the contributions from other members and former members of the Public Expenditure Management Division of the Fiscal Affairs Department, particularly Taryn Parry, José-Luis Ruiz, Véronique Bédague, and Ian Lienert. In addition, comments from G.A. Mackenzie, Sanjeev Gupta, and Adrienne Cheasty on earlier versions were especially helpful in assisting the authors in the preparation of the final text. Special thanks are due to Theresa Garrison for her patience and diligent production of many drafts of this manuscript and her editorial suggestions. Jeff Hayden of the External Relations Department edited the manuscript and coordinated its production.


The budget as approved by the legislature for a line item of spending. The budget law gives the executive branch the authority to incur obligations, which become due during the budget year up to a specified amount for specified purposes within a financial period (usually one fiscal year).

Below-the-line items
These are below the line drawn to establish the deficit between revenues and expenditures; correspondingly, above-the-line items comprise expenditures and revenues. Below-the-line items thus normally relate to the financing of the deficits.

Budget provision
The amount of appropriation proposed or approved for a line item or for a higher aggregate set of line items, such as a subprogram, program, sector, etc.

The placement of a purchase order or signing of a contract or other agreement for the provision of goods or services.

Contingency reserve
A small portion of the total budget that is set aside for expenditures on unexpected needs or emergencies, not appropriated in other budget lines.

Any spending program where expenditure is open-ended (usually transfer/grant payments) and where recipients must be paid or given transfers/grants, if they meet certain criteria. Some common examples are found in social security programs, unemployment programs, and poverty programs.

Extrabudgetary funds
Accounts held by government bodies but not included in the governmental budget; expenditures from such accounts are often financed by earmarked revenues or user fees and charges.

Organic budget law
A law specifying the schedule and procedures by which the budget should be prepared, approved, executed, accounted for, and final accounts submitted for approval.

Actual revenues and outlays on expenditures.

Payment order
Authorization for payment against a bill or invoice made by officials of line ministries, the ministry of finance, and others.

Planning reserve
A small portion of total planned budget expenditure that is (notionally) set aside by the ministry of finance before the budget is formulated, and then allocated to budget line items by the cabinet according to perceived policy priorities on individual sectors, programs, etc.

Provisional appropriation
Legislation that permits an expenditure to get under way before the actual budget appropriation, without any further authorization procedures. This is most commonly used at the start of the fiscal year (e.g., when the legislature has not yet finalized the budget).

Quasi-fiscal operations
Activities of the central bank (or possibly other state-owned financial or nonfinancial enterprises) that are in nature similar to fiscal actions pursued by the government. Although undertaken at the direction of the government, they are usually financed by the banks or state enterprises but not included in the government's budget. Examples include credit to commodity boards (or other entities) at below-market interest rates, and central bank expenditures on the bailout of failing banks.

Usually, the process of checking payment orders issued by a government agency against actual payments according to bank statements; (reconciliation can also apply to other stages of the expenditure process, such as commitments made and payment orders issued).

Special accounts
Accounts recording transactions of an "exceptional" character that are made outside the normal procedures for expenditure approval and recording; many refer to temporary accounts (such as advances), or to transactions whose authority is questionable or to the accounts of formal extrabudgetary funds or "below-the-line" accounts.

Special funds
Usually similar to extrabudgetary funds, but sometimes refer to funds financed by earmarked revenues/user charges that are within the government's budget.

Supplementary appropriation
Legislation passed during the budget year to provide for expenditures additional to the original budget.

Suspense accounts
A type of special temporary account used to record balances, or correct mistakes in amounts, that have not yet been "posted" to the relevant line item. Such transactions often include payments of adjustable advances, until the final amount chargeable is known.

Once a bill for goods or services has been received, the relevant line ministry/spending agency must confirm that the bill is correct and that the goods or services have in fact been received. At this point, the bill becomes a liability of the public sector; in accrual accounting terms, an expenditure is recognized even though the bill has not yet been paid.

The process of transferring expenditure provision from one line item to another during the budget year. To prevent misuse of funds, spending agencies must normally go through administrative procedures to obtain permission to make such a transfer.

A release of all, or more commonly a part, of the total annual appropriation on a quarterly or monthly basis that allows a line ministry or spending agency to review commitments.

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