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The effects of poor financial information systems on the long term sustainability of local public services. Empirical evidence from the Catalan Municipalities
Garcia Alegre, Eugeni; López, Guillem
Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Departament d'Economia i Empresa
In this paper we describe the existence of financial illusion in public accountingand we comment on its effects for the future sustainability of local publicservices. We relate these features to the lack of incentives amongst publicmanagers for improving the financial reporting and thus management of publicassets. Financial illusion pays off for politicians and managers since it allowsfor larger public expenditure increases and managerial slack, these beingarguments in their utility functions. This preference is strengthen by the shorttime perspective of politically appointed public managers. Both factors runagainst public accountability. This hypothesis is tested for Spain by using anunique sample. We take data from around forty Catalan local authorities withpopulation above 20,000 for the financial years 1993-98. We build this databasis from the Catalan Auditing Office Reports in a way that it can be linkedto some other local social and economic variables in order to test ourassumptions. The results confirm that there is a statistical relationship between the financialillusion index (FI as constructed in the paper) and higher current expenditure.This reflects on important overruns and increases of the delay in payingsuppliers, as well as on a higher difficulties to face capital finance. Mechanismsfor FI creation have to do among other factors, with delays in paying suppliers(and thereafter higher future financial costs per unit of service), no adequateprovision for bad debts and lack of appropriate capital funding either forreposition or for new equipments. For this, it is crucial to monitor the way inwhich capital transfers are accounted in local public sheet balances. As a result,for most of the Municipalities we analyse, the funds for guaranteeing continuityand sustainability of public services provision are today at risk.Given managerial incentives at present in public institutions, we conclude thatpublic regulation recently enforced for assuring better information systems inlocal public management may not be enough to change the current state of affairs.
15-09-2005
Labour, Public, Development and Health Economics
public management
financial information systems
financial illusion
and spanish local authorities
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