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Budget 2008 Home Page Budget Economic and Fiscal Update 2008

4 Specific Fiscal Risks

Introduction

This chapter describes the specific fiscal risks to the Crown, including contingent liabilities. The Public Finance Act 1989 (PFA) requires disclosure of all Government decisions and other circumstances that may put pressure on the forecast spending amounts, and/or have a material effect on the fiscal and economic outlook.

Criteria for Disclosure of Specific Fiscal Risks

To ensure a practicable and consistent disclosure approach, fiscal risks are disclosed based on the following criteria, consistent with the principles of the PFA:

  • Reasonable certainty criterion - risks have not been included in the fiscal forecasts because they reflect Government decisions or legislative commitments with uncertain fiscal consequences or timing.
  • Materiality criterion - risks have an impact on the fiscal forecasts (operating balance, net worth or gross debt) of $10 million or more in any one forecast year.
  • Active consideration criterion - risks are being actively considered by the Minister of Finance and responsible Ministers (eg, are the subject of written reports) or are decisions that have been deferred until a later date.

Exclusions from Disclosure

The PFA requires that all specific fiscal risks be disclosed, except where it is determined by the Minister of Finance that disclosing a risk is likely to:

  • prejudice the substantial economic interests of New Zealand
  • prejudice the security or defence of New Zealand or international relations of the Government
  • compromise the Crown in a material way in negotiation, litigation or commercial activity, or
  • result in a material loss of value to the Crown.

Specific fiscal risks do not include:

  • normal forecasting risks, such as uncertainty around welfare benefits, State-Owned Enterprise/Crown entity surpluses, the impact of regular revaluations of physical assets, finance costs or fluctuations in external markets
  • possible changes to the interpretation of accounting policies, such as the changes to revenue recognition rules and recognition of liabilities, or
  • discussion documents containing proposals that the Minister of Finance and responsible Ministers will not actively consider until the consultation process has been completed.

In addition, the Minister of Finance has to determine that there is no reasonable or prudent way the Government can avoid this prejudice, compromise or material loss by making a decision on the fiscal risk before the finalisation of the forecasts, or by disclosing the fiscal risk without reference to its fiscal implications.

Contingent liabilities are also included according to materiality. Contingent liabilities below $10 million are included in the “other quantifiable contingent liabilities” total. Comparatives have been adjusted where appropriate to align with the disclosure of new “material” contingent liabilities. The total amount of prior years’ contingent liabilities remains unchanged.

Information Relating to All Disclosed Risks

  • The risks disclosed may not eventuate into Government policy and the final cost or saving may differ from the amount disclosed if the policy is developed.
  • All risks, should they eventuate, would impact on the Government's forecast operating and/or capital spending amounts. There are new spending amounts already incorporated into the forecasts to accommodate policy initiatives on which decisions have yet to be made. Most risks outlined in this chapter, if they eventuate, would be covered by these amounts and therefore have no impact on the overall level of the forecasts. The risks have been disclosed to indicate the pressure the risks place upon the forecast spending amounts.
  • If the total of all risks considered exceeds the forecast new operating spending amounts in the forecasts, this would impact on the operating balance.
  • The impact of capital spending initiatives is described as increasing the Government's gross debt position. This is correct but because the Government also holds some financial assets the actual impact could equivalently be described as reducing the Government's assets.
  • There are a number of other pressures on the fiscal position that have not been included as risks. These pressures comprise proposals largely generated within individual departments and not yet considered by the Minister of Finance and responsible Ministers. Such items are expected to be managed within forecast spending amounts noted above.
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