Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Fiscal Policy Institutions and Economic Transition in North Africa

Baldi, Guido (2013): Fiscal Policy Institutions and Economic Transition in North Africa.

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Abstract

Sound public finances are crucial for ensuring a successful transformation of transition countries to democratic market economies. The transition countries in North Africa are an important example for this. These countries experienced increasing budget deficits in 2011 and 2012. Public finances will probably remain a serious issue in the coming years due to political uncertainties, distributional struggles and weak world economic growth. What kind of institutional rules for the budget process are suitable to limiting the size of these potential budget deficits in a new democracy? In this paper, I argue that numerical fiscal restraints are not the right tool to reduce budget deficits in a new and fragile democracy. Instead, I hold the view that a strong finance minister and a transparent budget process are much more important than numerical fiscal rules. Assigning prerogatives to the finance minister allows limiting the political deficit bias that may arise due to distributional struggles over government spending and revenue. History has shown that numerical policy rules on their own do not lead to desirable outcomes if they are not supported and embedded by the main political parties. If there are weak institutions, fiscal policy rules might even have a perverse effect when politicians – in trying to comply with the rules – use optimistic forecasts and creative accounting, which would lead to a deterioration of the actual budget situation. Therefore, transition countries should first focus on improving the transparency and accountability of the budget process.

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