Saturday 25 November 2017

'Give teeth to Fiscal Advisory Council' -- expert

Professor John McHale
Professor John McHale
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

THE mandate of the State's budgetary watchdog should be extended and given the same status as the Comptroller and Auditor General, a conference has heard.

George Kopits, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars and a member of Portugal's Public Finance Council, said the resources of the Fiscal Advisory Council should be extended with appropriate pay for its members.

He said the chair -- currently filled by NUI Galway professor John McHale (pictured) -- should be a full-time position.

"I am absolutely amazed what a fantastic job the independent fiscal council is doing. They communicate as well as they can. But no resources. A five-member council who are practically working pro-bono. This is not what Ireland needs.

"The chair of the council should have a full-time job being chair of the council.

"He should be fully remunerated at the level say of the Comptroller and Auditor General."

Mr Koptis told the Future of the Irish Economy conference in Dublin -- organised by the European Commission -- that the council should not merely endorse the macroeconomic projections from the Department of Finance on which the Budget is based, but determine them.

CONFIDENCE

"The endorsement function is like saying if you don't endorse the Government, that's like a vote of no confidence. Can the council really do that, it's like the atomic bomb," he said.

"It would make much more sense as interpreting its mandate as saying we have to produce our own macro fiscal forecasts."

The council's purpose is to provide an independent assessment of official budgetary forecasts and proposed fiscal policy objectives. It is made up of five council members and a secretariat of three.

Mr McHale said the council would be getting two extra economists next month, bringing the total to four.

He said they had sufficient resources to carry out all elements of its mandate.

But he said to be able to do assessments of the fiscal forecasts would be labour-intensive and the council would be "stretched", even with the extra economists.

Irish Independent

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