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Public Financial Management Responses

to an Economically
By: David Nummy, CPA, Jason Levergood and Richard Hudson

Challenging World


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In the second half of 2008, the world saw the beginnings of the most significant economic disruption in more than 50 years. After initial problems in the global credit markets, the economies of most nations were negatively affected, with recession becoming the norm in most countries. The resulting challenges to public financial managers have been enormous. Faced with unpredictable economic ows and a demand for government response, governments had to assess the economic impact on their countries, evaluate policy options and chart a course to counter immediate negative impacts while laying a foundation for future growth. A new survey of global financial management leaders, conducted by Grant Thornton on behalf of the International Consortium on Governmental Financial Management (ICGFM), examines both the impact and the responses to the economic upheavals of the last several years from a public financial management perspective. It seeks to provide insight into the choices made by government financial leaders and the tools employed to respond to the public financial management challenges that have arisen.

Impact of the Global Financial Crisis

Nearly half of all respondents said their country had been impacted by the global financial crisis (see Figure 1). Of those, 77 percent (or a third of all respondents) saw a negative impact. We asked interviewees to rate the impact of the financial crisis on various economic indicators using a scale of one to five, with one being very negative and five being very positive. Survey respondents reported the highest negative impact to be on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and currency value (see Figure 2). Here are a few comments from interviewees who saw a negative effect: The main effect is the reduction of internal and external resources; thus, planned projects were delayed. My country depends on foreign aid, which was reduced. The size of projects had to be reduced accordingly. There has been a reduction in taxes collected from expatriates working in different countries, a reduction in direct foreign investment, a loss of foreign investors and fewer locally produced products in the international market. The crisis has had a negative impact on revenue collection and billing authority. Weve also seen increased borrowing domestically and higher interest rates. Our economic growth has fallenfrom 11.5 percent annual growth in GDP in 2007 to only 5.1 percent in 2010. Our country was on a path of financial consolidation, but those plans all had to be put on hold. For some, the effect of the financial crisis was mixed: Initial reaction was negative, but we were able to turn it into an opportunity for growth. A few saw a positive impact, and one such interviewee said, The global financial crisis has forced and accelerated public financial management reform to reduce the cost of the public administration. Another said, Weve put forth new public financial management regulations and solutions.

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Stimulus Programs As countries around the world have reacted to the crisis, 60 percent of participants said their country has initiated a stimulus program (Figure 3). Of those, 55 percent said the programs were either successful or very successful (Figure 4). Most programs will begin to wind down before 2012, according to respondents, and an increase in Gross Domestic Product will be the key driver for deciding when programs have run their course, followed by lower unemployment and improved debt capacity.

Figure 1: Has the global financial crisis had an impact on your country?

Yes 48% Y No 33% Do not know/does not apply 19%

Types of Stimulus Programs Respondents described a host of programs and initiatives implemented in response to the financial crisis: tax and rate cuts; social welfare programs (for example, unemployment benefits and aid to families); budget cuts; targeted spending on agriculture and infrastructure investments; and government restructuring efforts. Interviewees describe stimulus measures: We cut taxes for the poor, extended public works programs and controlled ination together with interest rates. This had a limited sustainable impact though, and more is required. Funds were earmarked for priority sectors such as infrastructure, education and health. We implemented a program to support the agricultural sector by financing seeds and insecticides. Focus on agriculture and improving the supporting infrastructure to allow farms to grow more for export. We increased public expenditures to create employment. Some countries made use of a combination of initiatives. Faced with the global financial crisis and the lowest consumer and business confidence levels since 1993, my country enacted measures to support families, employment and business, and to restructure the government, said one interviewee, whose government made a significant investment to bolster its economy.

Figure 2: What has been the effect of the financial crisis on economic activities? Positive
100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0 Gross Domestic Currency Product value Export revenue Ability to Public sector issue debt expenditures




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Improving governance and accountability will produce longterm results in addition to improving economic conditions in the short term, according to respondents. We implemented large-scale institutional reforms, putting in place a nancial controller and electronic monitoring of public expenditures. We now publish regularly the amount of taxes collected and have transparency in our budget execution, said one respondent, whose country focused on government restructuring efforts. Another such respondent said, We have embarked on a public sector nancial management reform program with the help of the World Bank. No stimulus program was implemented in 25 percent of countries. As an interviewee from one such country said, [a stimulus program] could not be possible since much of the development programs are donorfunded, and in the economic downturn, such donations also went down, consequently leading to a slowdown in development projects.

Investment in Infrastructure
Infrastructure investments serve as one of the primary vehicles for stimulating an economy, and nearly all respondents reported that their country will need substantial investment in infrastructure to support economic expansion. The top three areas of need are education, transportation and health care. Attracting Outside Investment According to survey respondents, outside investment is an important source of revenue for infrastructure projects, and more than half of respondents said their country is focused on securing such investment. The most often cited goals of outside investment are improving the necessary infrastructure, improving the countrys legal system, increasing government transparency, and providing tax incentives and currency reforms. Even among the few respondents who said their country was not making a signicant push to attract foreign investment, creating the right environment to facilitate that type of investment was still an area of focus. As one respondent said, We have not pursued an active policy to attract outside investments; no special treatment has been provided. However, our governments position is to avoid creating structural obstacles for foreign investors.

Public-Private Partnerships
Despite these efforts, a few interviewees said outside investment is difcult to obtain. More than 60 percent have turned to public-private partnerships (PPPs) to secure funding for infrastructure investments. The results of PPPs have been mixed. Less than half of respondents whose countries had used PPPs reported that they were either successful or very successful. Nearly 40 percent said they were not very successful.

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Figure 3: Has your country initiated a stimulus program?

Yes 60% No 25% Do not know/does not apply 15%

Public-private partnerships offer affordable, practical solutions to the needs of governments and businesses, said a respondent, who is generally supportive of the concept. Below is a sampling of quotes from others who share that sentiment. We implemented a project to improve transportation infrastructure that would not otherwise have been feasible. Large projects were able to be speeded up for development and implementation, and the private sectors knowhow was utilized. PPPs for housing for low-income individuals have been very successful and have helped the private banking sector and construction companies.

Figure 4: Rate the success of your country's stimulus program.

Very successful 10% Successful 45% No effect 27% Not successful 18%

Some interviewees are taking a wait and see attitude toward these types of investments: Most PPPs are quite new and have had limited success up to this point. The benefits will be more tangible in future. Said another, This is still a very new phenomenon, which is still being debated. There is no legal framework to support it as yet. With the inability of the public sector to fund all the necessary infrastructure, it is an idea that many see as the way to go. We just need the legal framework to support it.


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Creating the right legal framework and other governance issues were the most cited reason for not using PPPs, specically a lack of policy and guidance. The second most pressing challenge is the unavailability of resources to coordinate projects on the ground. Political circumstances also play a role. For developing countries, PPPs pose unique challenges: In view of recent events, our government tried to interest the private sector in a PPPtype investment, but this rst try has not met with great success because of mistrust between the two partiesand the fact that rampant corruption exists in the public sector. A few interviewees said that the private sector is where the relationship that serves as the foundation of a public-private partnership breaks down. The government will is real, but the private investors and operators dont follow.

Increasing Transparency
Three-quarters of interviewees said their country had either made or renewed a strong commitment to improve nancial management transparency for citizens. Eighty percent have adopted new international standards to improve public nancial management governance and transparency. The most commonly adopted standards are International Auditing Standards, International Public Sector Accounting Standards and Government Financial Standards (GFS) compliant chart of accounts. XBRL and Financial Management The use of eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) is seen as the next important step to creating true transparency and to enabling access to public sector nancial reporting. Yet only 10 percent of interviewees said their country has adopted XBRL. Furthermore, only 23 percent reported plans to adopt XBRL in the future.

Turmoil in the nancial markets that began in 2008 affected economies around the world, including more than half the countries included in this survey. For a majority of these countries, the impact was negative. Respondents pointed to adverse effects on economic growth, currency values and export revenue, among others. To respond to these negative consequences, public nancial managers followed similar policy paths by adopting economic stimulus programs. More than 60 percent of respondents indicated that stimulus programs had been adopted, and more than half of those pursuing stimulus programs believed they were successful.

The International Consortium on Governmental Financial Management


Working globally with governments, organizations and individuals, the ICGFM is dedicated to improving financial management so that governments may better serve their citizens

PO Box 1077 St Michaels, MD 21663 USA Phone 410-745-8570 Fax 410-745-8569

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By their nature, stimulus programs cannot go on indefinitely. Having opted to stimulate the economy through public expenditure, public financial managers must consider which economic triggers should serve as a benchmark measurement for phasing out economic recovery programs. Most respondents indicated that improvements in economic growth should be the primary trigger, followed by improvement in general employment. The third most often cited reason to phase out stimulus spending was a countrys limit to debt capacity. For some countries, the ability to use public expenditures to boost economic activity is constrained by an inability to borrow at will to increase expenditures. When adopting a spending program, public financial managers must determine the focus of additional spending. An increase in spending on infrastructure was given as the No. 1 area of focus for increased investment. When asked what type of infrastructure was most critical, respondents ranked education, transportation and health care as the top three priorities. Along with the adoption of extraordinary policies to combat the impact of the global financial crisis was a commitment to increased transparency in public financial management, as indicated by more than three-fourths of all respondents. One method used to introduce greater accountability and visibility into public financial management was the adoption of international public sector financial standards, including International Auditing Standards and International Public Sector Accounting Standards. The full impact of the global financial crisis is not yet over, and headlines continue to be dominated by the fallout. Ongoing impacts include localized debt crises, deficit sustainability and continued high unemployment. Public financial managers face some of the most challenging times in decades in meeting their responsibilities, but they have faced them not only with a variety of policy measures but also with an unprecedented commitment to transparency. Survey Methodology In-person interviews were conducted with public financial managers and executives, using an open and closedended survey instrument. A multilingual survey of the same target audience was made available online and promoted in a variety of countries.

Of the in-person and online survey respondents, approximately 80 percent were employed by a government, and 16 percent were employed by donor organizations and other nongovernmental organizations. The remaining 28 percent were from academia and private companies engaged in government service work. Participants represented 54 countries across Africa, East Asia and Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, South Asia and North America. The survey does not attribute thoughts and quotations to any respondents, nor do we name them, their institutions or their specific countries. These measures were essential to gain the confidence and full cooperation of the government officials who participated in the survey. Full copies of all ICGFM survey reports and PFM journals may be found at the ICGFM website at

David Nummy, CPA, a former CFO at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, has public nancial management experience in more than 35 countries. He serves as ICGFM Program Steering Committee chair and moderator for ICGFM conferences.

Jason Levergood is a Grant Thornton International Global Advisory Services manager dedicated to providing public sector capacity building support to GTI member rms in more than 100 countries. He leads survey development for the annual ICGFM/Grant Thornton international surveys. Richard Hudson is a director with Grant Thornton Global Public Sector and has more than 30 years experience in managing large change programs in developed and developing economies. He has been active with ICGFM for more than ve years.

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