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Appropriations

Purpose and Nature of Appropriations

An appropriation is a statutory authority from Parliament allowing the Crown or an Office of Parliament to incur expenses or capital expenditure.

Neither the Crown nor an Office of Parliament can legally incur any expense or capital expenditure - as those terms are defined in the Public Finance Act 1989 (PFA) - unless it is expressly authorised by or under an Act of Parliament.

Limits Created by Appropriations

Each appropriation is allocated to, and managed as, one of seven types of appropriation.

Each appropriation has a defined scope that limits the uses or activities for which the expenses or capital expenditure can be incurred. The scope should be sufficient on its own to establish the nature and extent of the authority to incur expenses or capital expenditure. The wording of the appropriation scope should achieve the balance between being sufficiently precise to act as an effective constraint against non-authorised activities and not so specific that it inadvertently limits activity intended to be authorised.

Except in a very limited number of cases (eg, permanent appropriations or revenue dependent appropriations) an appropriation also limits the amount of expenses or capital expenditure that can be incurred, and the time period within which those expenses or capital expenditure can be incurred.

Aside from the very limited exclusions provided for in the PFA, the amount of expense or capital expenditure authorised by an appropriation is measured in accordance with generally accepted accounting practice.

Responsibility for Appropriations

The PFA requires each appropriation to be the responsibility of one Minister (or the Speaker) and to be administered by one department (or an Office of Parliament).

A Vote is a group of appropriations (and can be a single appropriation) administered by a single department or Office of Parliament. Different appropriations within a Vote may be the responsibility of different Ministers.

Types of Appropriation

The PFA provides for seven types of appropriation. Four appropriation types authorise the incurring of expenses; one type authorises the incurring of capital expenditure; and the remaining types authorise both. These appropriation types can be further differentiated by whether the expenses or capital expenditure are departmental or non-departmental transactions.

Appropriation Type Transaction Status Description
Output Expenses Departmental Authorises expenses to be incurred by a department or an Office of Parliament in supplying a specified category of outputs (goods and services).
  Non-Departmental Authorises expenses to be incurred by the Crown (excluding departments) in purchasing a specified category of outputs (goods and services) from Crown entities or other third parties.
Benefits or Related Expenses Non-Departmental

Authorises expenses to be incurred by the Crown (excluding departments) in transferring resources (generally to individuals for their personal benefit) for which the Crown receives nothing directly in return.

Examples include Jobseeker Support and Emergency Benefit, Student Allowances and various scholarships and awards.

Borrowing Expenses Departmental

Authorises the incurring of interest or other financing expenses for loans made to a department or an Office of Parliament, or public securities (undertakings that represent part of the public debt) issued by a department or an Office of Parliament.

In practice, limitations on the rights of departments to borrow or issue securities and limitations on how Offices of Parliament can be funded mean that this type of appropriation is unlikely to be used.

  Non-Departmental

Authorises the incurring of interest or other financing expenses for loans made to the Crown (excluding departments), or public securities (undertakings that represent part of the public debt) issued by the Crown.

Crown debt management is centralised, which means that most debt-servicing expenses appear in Vote Finance.

Other Expenses Departmental

Authorises expenses to be incurred by a department or an Office of Parliament that are not either output expenses or borrowing expenses.

Other expenses should be used only for events that cannot be related back to output production, such as redundancy costs arising from a government decision to cease purchasing certain types of outputs, or a loss on sale of assets made surplus by departmental restructuring.

  Non-Departmental

Authorises expenses to be incurred by the Crown (excluding departments) that are not structured or managed as output expenses, benefits or related expenses, or borrowing expenses.

Other expenses is the residual appropriation type, which should not be used where an appropriation could be better classified or managed as one of the other appropriation types (eg, as output expenses).

Examples include disposal of an asset for less than market value, grants to community organisations, subscriptions for membership of international bodies and remuneration of independent statutory officers.

Capital expenditure Departmental Authorises capital expenditure to be incurred by a department or an Office of Parliament to acquire or develop assets for the use of the department.
  Non-Departmental Authorises capital expenditure to be incurred by the Crown (excluding departments) to acquire or develop Crown assets, including the purchase of equity, or making a loan to a person or organisation that is not a department.
Expenses or Capital expenditure Incurred by an Intelligence and Security Department Departmental Authorises both expenses and capital expenditure to be incurred by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service or the Government Communications Security Bureau.
Multi-Category Appropriations Departmental or
Non-Departmental
Allows separate categories of departmental output expenses, non-departmental output expenses, departmental other expenses, non-departmental other expenses, or non-departmental capital expenditure to be grouped together in one appropriation provided all the categories contribute to a single overarching purpose.

Types of Output Expense Appropriations

Some variation is possible for output expense appropriations. For example, the constraint on the amount of expense that can be incurred is not always a fixed sum.

Output Expense Appropriations Type and Authority Description, Constraints on Form and Typical Application

Standard Output Expense Appropriations

(section 7A(1)(a), Public Finance Act 1989)

Departmental or non-departmental:  Authorise a department or an Office of Parliament to incur expenses in supplying a specified category of outputs (goods and services), or the Crown (excluding departments) to incur expenses to purchase a specified category of outputs.

Annual or multi-year:  The authority lapses at the end of the financial year or multi-year period specified.

Single category of output expenses only:  The scope is limited to a single category of outputs (a grouping of similar or related outputs).

Amount limited by Appropriation Act: The amount of a standard output expense appropriation is limited to a set amount of New Zealand dollars specified in an Appropriation Act.

Typical application:  The normal or default form for an output expense appropriation, used for a wide range of outputs for which the flexibility offered by a multi-category appropriation is not required.

Revenue-Dependent Appropriations (RDA)

(section 21(1), Public Finance Act 1989)

Departmental only:  Authorises a department or an Office of Parliament to incur expenses in supplying a specified category of outputs (goods and services) that are not paid for directly by the Crown.

A proposed RDA must be approved by the Minister of Finance, before it is presented in the Estimates.  Each category of outputs for which an RDA is approved is listed in an Appropriation Act for the relevant financial year.

Annual only:  The authority lapses at the end of the financial year specified.

Single category of output expenses only:  The scope of an RDA is limited to a single category of outputs (a grouping of similar or related outputs).

Amount limited by amount of revenue earned:  The amount of an RDA is limited tothe amount of revenue earned by a department or an Office of Parliament from other departments or from parties other than the Crown during a financial year.  The Minister of Finance can further direct a department to incur expenses to a level lower than the amount of revenue earned, though such directions have been rare.

Typical application:  An RDA provides flexibility to respond to unanticipated changes in the level of external demand for a category of outputs, where the full cost of the outputs is met by external parties and not the Crown.

Appropriation Period

Three kinds of appropriation can be distinguished on the basis of period - annual and multi-year (as referred to in the above table on types of output expense appropriations), and permanent:

  • Annual Appropriations - Most appropriations allow expenses or capital expenditure to be incurred only during a particular financial year. The amounts for RDAs are forecasts only.
  • Multi-Year Appropriations (MYAs) - The PFA also permits appropriations that allow expenses or capital expenditure to be incurred during a specified period that spans the whole or parts of more than one financial year, but no more than five financial years.
  • Permanent Appropriations (sometimes referred to as permanent legislative authorities or PLAs) -Permanent appropriations are authorised by legislation other than an Appropriation Act and continue in effect until revoked by Parliament. Generally the authorising legislation will impose limits on the scope of the appropriation and not its amount. For those appropriations with limits set in cash terms, section 11(2) of the Public Finance Act 1989 requires that they be reported on an accrual basis. The usual legislative wording allows for expenses to be incurred for the purpose specified in the legislation “without further appropriation than this section”. The scope of a permanent appropriation will reference the relevant section of the authorising legislation.
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