Sunday, September 19, 2010

Making PFM TAs more effective- follow the Chinese way

I really liked the suggestions made by Richard Allen on improving PFM technical assistance. The second recommendation is for me more relevant and practical. The first one is not something practical, and should be left to the reform champions in the country. As in other areas, the we could learn a thing or two from the Chinese on PFM.

The first is for technical PFM missions to become less purely technical...
Take, for example, a recommendation that I found in a recent report on a middle-income country with a distinctively Southern European approach to public administration. This was to establish a top-down budget preparation process, in which the cabinet of ministers would play a key role in debating fiscal policy options, and setting multi-annual ceilings on budgetary expenditure. A related recommendation was to establish a system of periodic expenditure review, as used quite successfully in countries such as the Netherlands and the U.K.

...Unfortunately, in relation to the country concerned they make very little sense because (i) the cabinet system is weak and would require a complete overhaul to make it work on the lines suggested, an outcome which seems politically implausible; (ii) the government is a weak coalition, unlike in many Anglo-Saxon countries which have one-party governments, and has no proven capability to make hard choices about public expenditure; (iii) the ministry of finance is politically fragmented, weakly led and has limited capacity to undertake the technical analysis which would be necessary to improve the efficiency of the expenditure prioritization process...

... My suggestion would be that technical PFM missions mounted by the Fund or Bank should include a political economy expert whose job should be to carry out the necessary institutional analysis and subject the recommendations of the PFM technicians to a rigorous reality check before they are put onto paper. Greater use could also be made of local consultants with an in-depth knowledge of both public finance and the institutional environment...

My second suggestion is that technical assistance reports should never be the end-point of a process of intervention by the Bank or Fund. To prevent such reports being quietly put on a shelf in the minister’s back office, and left to gather dust, they should always be the starting point of a discussion and dialogue with the finance ministry on the analysis undertaken by the mission, and its findings and recommendations,..
 Instead of reports containing 50 or more recommendations compressed into a complex multi-annual action plan, the outcome of such a dialogue should be, for the average developing country, a much smaller subset – say three or four, at most -- of carefully selected actions that could realistically be undertaken during a 4-5 year period, and which stand a reasonable chance of being implemented.

China has adopted this approach for many years, with some success. Rather than asking the Bank or Fund to mount a full-blown technical assistance mission, the authorities propose a seminar on accounting or budget classification or budget preparation to which they invite specialists from a range of countries. The emphasis is on learning, engaging in a dialogue with experienced counterparts, and translating the experience of others into ideas which might (or might not) be relevant to the Chinese experience, their institutions and decision-making processes.

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