The data being sent to IMF and EU bodies should be public

Nat O'Connor10/01/2012

Nat O'Connor: The latest IMF report on Ireland has an important annex: Annex 1. Provision of data (pages 81-82), which gives a list of "indicators and reports" that "shall be made available to the staff of the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF by the Irish authorities on a regular basis." A unit within the Department of Finance will "coordinate and collect" the relevant "data and information". (It is an update on a list that formed part of the original agreement with the IMF and EU bodies; pages 33-34 here).

A lot of this data is very valuable for understanding and analysing the Irish economy and the effects of Irish Government policy. It is reasonable for the IMF, EC and ECB to seek this data to monitor Ireland's ability to repay the money we borrowed from them. Indeed, it is valuable to have their expertise on what data is required to monitor our economy and national debt. However, now that this data is being collected, it should as a matter of course be made publicly available within Ireland as well.

For clarity, the entire Annex is repeated at the end of this post. There are 22 sets of data referred to: F1 to F11 are from the Departments of Finance and PER; N1 to N5 are from the NTMA; and C1 to C6 are from the Central Bank.

First of all, it should be noted that some of this data is already available, but the majority of it is not. Secondly, it is not clear that all of the required information will exist at the time when it is supposed to be submitted. Thirdly, it should be acknowledged that there may, in a limited number of cases, be legitimate reasons for not publicly releasing some of these datasets. For general principles on what might be legitimate reasons for not releasing data, I would refer to the guidelines given in the Freedom of Information Act 1997. However, just because the release of some information can be blocked, does not mean that it should be. Certainly, any refusal to publish a dataset should be explained by the relevant Minister to the Oireachtas.

Conversly, as part of the Government's announced reform of the national Budget process, it may well be their intention to publish this sort of data. Its release would certainly help the Oireachtas to hold the Government to account. Access to this data would also probably be necessary for the new Fiscal Advisory Council to be effective.

F6 is an example of good practice in relation to the budget. It requires the publication of revenue and expenditure plans for the next four years. This original requirement helped open up the Budget process and multi-annual budget planning will hopefully become standard practice even once the agreement with the IMF and EU concludes.

Much of the data being required refers to the national debt. The sustainability of Ireland's debt is crucial to whether or not the economy can recover, or whether a prolonged period of stagnation - or indeed some form of default - is inevitable. There are periods in the history of most states when political discourse is dominated by the debt and the deficit. This is certainly the case in Ireland today. There is a pressing need to ensure that this discussion is grounded in accurate facts and figures, and does not lead to wrong information being spread in public.

The implication of F10 is worrying. The data required here is "Assessment report of the management of activation policies and on the outcome of job seekers' search activities and participation in labour market programmes." One one level that is useful data. However, it is not balanced by other data in the list, and may give a distorted picture of the Irish economy. Labour activation is to be welcomed, but priority should be given to ensuring that jobs exist in the first place, before putting pressure on people who are unemployed.

The Government has signalled that we will make use of our crisis by improving our systems of oversight and scrutiny, to make sure that a similar crisis does not happen again. An important step in that direction would be the regular release of these datasets, on a single website, in machine readable format, at the same time (if not before) they are sent to the IMF and EU bodies. For example, the website of the Fiscal Advisory Council could be used for this purpose.

The extent of the national crisis requires the Government to repeatedly ask the public's patience and understanding for the difficult decisions it has to make. But confidence in those decisions is eroded when access to the relevant data on the economy and national debt is denied. Genuine reform of economic and budgetary policy should begin with a new openness in relation to data, including the full set of data currently being sent to the IMF and EU bodies.

...

Annex 1. Provision of data
During the programme, the following indicators and reports shall be made available to the staff of the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF by the Irish authorities on a regular basis. The External Programme Compliance Unit (EPCU) of the Department of Finance will coordinate and collect data and information and forward to all external programme partners.

Ref.
Report
Frequency


To be provided by the Department of Finance in consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform as appropriate

F.1
Monthly data on adherence to budget targets (Exchequer statement, details on Exchequer revenues and expenditure with information on Social Insurance Fund to follow as soon as practicable).
Monthly, 10 days after the end of each month

F.2
Updated monthly report on the Exchequer Balance and General Government Balance outlook for the remainder of the year which shows transition from the Exchequer Balance to the General Government Balance (using presentation in Table 1 and Table 2A of the EDP notification).
Monthly, 20 days after the end of each month

F.3
Quarterly data on main revenue and expenditure items of local Government.
Quarterly, 90 days after the end of each quarter

F.4
Quarterly data on the public service wage bill, number of employees and average wage (using the presentation of the Pay and Pension Bill with further details on pay and pension costs of local authorities).
Quarterly, 30 days after the end of each quarter

F.5
Quarterly data on general Government accounts, and general Government debt as per the relevant EU regulations on statistics.
Quarterly accrual data, 90 days after the end of each quarter

F.6
Updated annual plans of the general Government balance and its breakdown into revenue and expenditure components for the current year and the following four years, using presentation in the stability programme's standard table on general Government budgetary prospects.
30 days after EDP Notifications

F.7
Data on short- and medium- /long-term debt falling due (all instruments) over the next 36 months (interest and amortisation) for Non-Commercial State Agencies
Quarterly , 30 working days after the end of each quarter

F.8
Data on short- and medium- /long-term debt falling due (all instruments) over the next 36 months (interest and amortisation) for local authorities
Quarterly, 30 working days after the end of each quarter

F.9
Data on short- and medium- /long-term debt falling due (all instruments) over the next 36 months for State- owned commercial enterprises (interest and amortisation)
Quarterly, 30 working days after the end of each quarter

F.10
Assessment report of the management of activation policies and on the outcome of job seekers' search activities and participation in labour market programmes.
Quarterly, 30 working days after the end of each quarter.

F.11
Report on progress achieved towards interim PLAR targets and actual and planned asset disposals.
Quarterly, 10 working days after the end of each quarter.

To be provided by the NTMA

N.1
Monthly information on the Government's cash position with indication of sources as well of number of days covered
Monthly, three working days after the end of each Month

N.2
Data on below-the-line financing for central Government.
Monthly, no later than 15 days after the end of each month

N.3
Data on public debt and new guarantees issued by central Government to public enterprises and the private sector.
Monthly, 30 working days after the end of each month

N.4
Data on short-, medium- and long-term debt falling due (all instruments) over the next 36 months (interest and amortisation) for central Government.
Monthly , 30 working days after the end of each month

N.5
Updated estimates of financial sources (bonds issuance, other financing sources) for the banking and Government sectors in the next 12 months
Monthly, 30 working days after the end of each month

To be provided by the Central Bank of Ireland

C.1
The Central Bank of Ireland’s balance sheet.
Weekly, next working day

C.2
Individual maturity profiles (amortisation only) for each of the domestic banks will be provided as of the last Friday of each month.
Monthly, 30 working days after each month end.

C.3
Detailed financial and regulatory information (consolidated data) on domestic individual Irish banks and the banking sector in total especially regarding profitability (P&L), balance sheet, asset quality, regulatory capital; PLAR funding plan forecasts
Quarterly, 35 working days after the end of each quarter

C.4
Detailed information on deposits for the last Friday of each month.
Monthly, 30 working days after each month end.

C.5
Data on liabilities covered under the ELG Scheme for each of the Covered Institutions.
Monthly, 30 working days after each month end.

C.6
Deleveraging committee minutes and deleveraging sales progress sheets, detailing pricing, quantum, and other relevant result metrics.
Monthly, reflecting committee meetings held each month

Posted in: Banking and financeEuropeFiscal policyThe BudgetDemocratic accountability

Tagged with: transparencyBankingeunational debtimf

Dr Nat O'Connor     @natpolicy

Nat O'Connor

Nat O’Connor is a member of the Institute for Research in Social Sciences (IRiSS) and a Lecturer of Public Policy and Public Management in the School of Criminology, Politics and Social Policy at Ulster University.

Previously Director of TASC, Nat also led the research team in Dublin’s Homeless Agency.

Nat holds a PhD in Political Science from Trinity College Dublin (2008) and an MA in Political Science and Social Policy form the University of Dundee (1998). Nat’s primary research interest is in how research-informed public policy can achieve social justice and human wellbeing. Nat’s work has focused on economic inequality, housing and homelessness, democratic accountability and public policy analysis. His PhD focused on public access to information as part of democratic policy making.


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