PRINCIPLES FOR INDEPENDENT FISCAL INSTITUTIONS (IFIs)
The twenty-two Principles for Independent Fiscal Institutions (fiscal councils and independent parliamentary budget offices) proposed below are grouped under nine broad headings: (1) local ownership; (2) independence and non-partisanship; (3) mandate; (4) resources; (5) relationship with the legislature; (6) access to information; (7) transparency; (8) communication; and (9) external evaluation.
1. Local ownership
1.1. To be effective and enduring, an IFI requires broad national ownership, commitment, and consensus across the political spectrum. While a country seeking to establish an IFI will benefit from the study of existing models and experiences in other countries, models from abroad should not be artificially copied or imposed. Regional or international authorities may provide valuable support and protection.
1.2. Local needs and the local institutional environment should determine options for the role and structure of the IFI. Design choices may also have to take into account capacity constraints, particularly in smaller countries. The basic characteristics of an IFI, including specific protections, should be informed by the country’s legal framework, political system, and culture. Its functions should be determined by the country’s fiscal framework and specific issues that need to be addressed.
2. Independence and non-partisanship
2.1. Non-partisanship and independence are pre-requisites for a successful IFI. A truly non-partisan body does not present its analysis from a political perspective; it always strives to demonstrate objectivity and professional excellence, and serves all parties. This favours that IFIs should be precluded from any normative policy-making responsibilities to avoid even the perception of partisanship.
2.2. The leadership of an IFI should be selected on the basis of merit and technical competence, without reference to political affiliation. The qualifications should be made explicit – including professional standing and relevant government or academic experience. Qualifications should include proven competence in economics and public finances and familiarity with the budget process.
2.3. Term lengths and the number of terms that the leadership of the IFI may serve should be clearly specified in legislation as should be the criteria and process for dismissal for cause. The leadership’s term should optimally be independent of the electoral cycle. Independence may be enhanced by defining the term span beyond the electoral cycle.
2.4. The position of head of the IFI should be a remunerated and preferably full-time position. Strict conflict-of-interest standards, particularly for institutions with council members employed on a part-time basis, should be applied equally vis-à-vis other employment in the public or private sector.
2.5. The leadership of the IFI should have full freedom to hire and dismiss staff in accordance with applicable labour laws.
2.6. Staff should be selected through open competition based on merit and technical competence and without reference to political affiliation. Conditions of employment should be along the lines of that of the civil (or parliamentary) service.
3.1. The mandate of IFIs should be clearly defined in higher-level legislation, including the general types of reports and analysis they are to produce, who may request reports and analysis, and, if appropriate, associated timelines for their release.
3.2. IFIs should have the scope to produce reports and analysis at their own initiative, provided that these are consistent with their mandate. Similarly, they should have the autonomy to determine their own work programme within the bounds of their mandate.
3.3. Clear links to the budget process should be established within the mandate. Typical tasks carried out by IFIs might include (but are not limited to): economic and fiscal projections (with a short- to medium-term horizon, or long-term scenarios); baseline projections (assuming unchanged policies); analysis of the executive’s budget proposals; monitoring compliance with fiscal rules or official targets; costing of major legislative proposals; and analytical studies on selected issues.
4.1. The resources allocated to IFIs must be commensurate with their mandate in order for them to fulfil it in a credible manner. This includes the resources for remuneration of all staff and, where applicable, council members. The appropriations for IFIs should be published and treated in the same manner as the budgets of other independent bodies, such as audit offices, in order to ensure their independence. Multiannual funding commitments may further enhance IFIs independence and provide additional protection from political pressure.
5. Relationship with the legislature
5.1. Legislatures perform critical accountability functions in country budget processes and the budgetary calendar should allow sufficient time for the IFI to carry out analysis necessary for parliamentary work. Regardless whether an independent fiscal institution is under the statutory authority of the legislative or the executive branch, mechanisms should be put in place to encourage appropriate accountability to the legislature. These may include (but are not limited to): (1) submission of IFI reports to parliament in time to contribute to relevant legislative debate; (2) appearance of IFI leadership or senior staff before the budget committee (or equivalent) to provide responses to parliamentary questions; (3) parliamentary scrutiny of the IFI budget; and (4) a role for parliament’s budget committee (or equivalent) in IFI leadership appointments and dismissals.
5.2. The role of the IFI vis-à-vis parliament’s budget committee (or equivalent), other committees, and individual members in terms of requests for analysis should be clearly established in legislation. Preferably, the IFI should consider requests from committees and sub-committees rather than individual members or political parties. This is particularly relevant for those IFIs established under the jurisdiction of the legislature.
6. Access to information
6.1. There is often asymmetry of information between the government and the IFI – no matter how well an IFI is resourced. This creates a special duty to guarantee in legislation – and if necessary to reaffirm through protocols or memoranda of understanding – that the IFI has full access to all relevant information in a timely manner, including methodology and assumptions underlying the budget and other fiscal proposals. Information should be provided at no cost or, if appropriate, sufficient resources should be provided in the IFI budget to cover analysis obtained through government actuarial services.
6.2. Any restrictions on access to government information should also be clearly defined in legislation. Appropriate safeguards may be put in place as regards protection of privacy (for example, taxpayer confidentiality) and of sensitive information in the areas of national defence and security.
7.1. Given that promoting transparency in public finances is a key goal of IFIs, they have a special duty to act as transparently as possible. Full transparency in their work and operations provides the greatest protection of IFI independence and allows them to build credibility with the public.
7.2. IFI reports and analysis (including a full account of the underlying data and methodology) should be published and made freely available to all. As noted in 5.1, all IFI reports and analysis should be sent to parliament in time for legislative debate and the leadership of the IFI should be given the opportunity to testify before parliamentary committees.
7.3. The release dates of major reports and analysis should be formally established, especially in order to co-ordinate them with the release of relevant government reports and analysis.
7.4. IFIs should release their reports and analysis, on matters relating to their core on-going mandate on economic and fiscal issues, in their own name.
8.1. IFIs should develop effective communication channels from the outset, especially with the media, civil society, and other stakeholders. Given that the influence of IFIs in fiscal policy making is persuasive (rather than coercive by means of legal sanctions or other punitive measures), media coverage of their work assists in fostering informed constituencies that may then exercise timely pressure on the government to behave transparently and responsibly in fiscal matters.
9. External evaluation
9.1. IFIs should develop a mechanism for external evaluation of their work – to be conducted by local or international experts. This may take several forms: review of selected pieces of work; annual evaluation of the quality of analysis; a permanent advisory panel or board; or peer review by an IFI in another country.