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Fiscal Policy - 20th century; Finance; Public - 20th century; Soft law


Since the early 1990s, the issue of fiscal or budget transparency has attracted increasing attention at transnational and domestic policy levels, among agencies such as the IMF and OECD, and through NGOs initiatives such as the International Budget Project. At the domestic level, where budgeting takes place, some jurisdictions have enacted legislation to formalize their commitments to fiscal disclosure. This paper tracks the emergence of global norms about fiscal transparency through the interaction of 'soft law' measures with more conventional legal forms, drawing on examples from both higher and lower income countries. It offers a critical analysis of the various purposes and interests that transparency may serve, and of the role of international norms and legal institutions in shaping domestic political processes of budgeting. We find that prevailing models of budget transparency focus primarily on reinforcing fiscal discipline, and on the provision of information to establish credibility for financial markets, international lenders and aid donors. These imperatives have overshadowed attempts to shed light on other dimensions of fiscal policy, such as its distributive impact and its democratic legitimacy. As a result, we conclude, the current understanding of "best practices" in this field will be of limited use in generating the political consensus needed to ensure equitable development at the national or the global level.