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A Practitioner´s Guide to Intergovernmental Fiscal Transfers

By Anwar Shah


Intergovernmental fiscal transfers are a dominant feature of sub-national finance in most countries. They are used to ensure that revenues roughly match the expenditure needs of various orders (levels) of sub-national governments. They are also used to advance national, regional and local area objectives such as fairness and equity and creating a common economic union. The structure of these transfers create incentives for national, regional and local governments that have a bearing on fiscal management, macroeconomic stability, distributional equity, allocative efficiency and public services delivery. This paper reviews conceptual, empirical and the practice literature to distill lessons of policy interest in designing the fiscal transfers to create the right incentives for prudent fiscal managment and competitive and innovative service delivery. The paper provides practical guidance on the design of performance-oriented transfers that emphasize bottom-up, client- focused and results-based government accountability. It cites examples of simple but innovative grant designs that can satisfy grantors’ objectives while preserving local autonomy and creating an enabling environment for responsive, responsible, equitable and accountable public governance. The paper further provides guidance on the design and the practice of equalization transfers for regional fiscal equity as well as the institutional arrangements for implementation of such transfer mechanisms. The paper concludes with negative (practices to avoid) and positive (practices to emulate) lessons from international practices.

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