Contingent Government Liabilities: A Hidden Risk for Fiscal Stability

36 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2016

Date Written: October 1998


Many governments have faced serious fiscal instabilities as a result of their growing contingent liabilities. But conventional fiscal analysis and institutions fall short in addressing contingent fiscal risks. What approaches in fiscal analysis and standards for public sector management would foster sound fiscal performance? And how can policymakers be made accountable for recognizing the long-term costs of both direct and contingent forms of government activity in their decisions?

Governments are increasingly exposed to fiscal risks and uncertainties for three main reasons: ° The increasing volume and volatility of international flows of private capital. ° The state's transformation from financing services to guaranteeing that the private sector will achieve particular outcomes. ° Moral hazards arising in markets because the government is perceived to have residual responsibility for market outcomes.

Sources of fiscal risk may be direct or contingent (a liability only if a particular event occurs). Whether direct or contingent, they are either explicit (recognized as a government liability by law or by contract) or implicit (a moral obligation reflecting public expectations and pressure from interest groups).

The recent Asian crisis revealed that major moral hazards exist in markets and that sizable hidden fiscal risks may arise from contingent forms of government support.

Governments must understand and know how to handle contingent liabilities if they are to avoid the danger of sudden fiscal instability and realize their long-term policy objectives. They can reduce fiscal risks by incorporating contingent liabilities into their analytical, policy, and institutional public finance frameworks.

Governments can address fiscal risk through three channels in particular, says Polackova: ° By including contingent and implicit financial risks in their fiscal analysis and (to deter moral hazard in the market) by publicly acknowledging the limits of state responsibilities. ° By reflecting the cost of contingent liabilities in policy choices, budgeting, financial planning, reporting, and auditing. ° By developing institutional capacity to evaluate, regulate, control, and prevent financial risk in both the public and private sectors. Given the increasingly serious implications of contingent government liabilities for the fiscal outlook of countries, Polackova argues that it is time for the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and others to: ° Incorporate government contingent fiscal risks in their analysis of a country's fiscal sustainability, policies, and institutions. ° Require countries to disclose information regarding their exposure to contingent fiscal risks. ° Help countries embrace contingent liabilities in their analytical, policy, and institutional public finance frameworks.

This paper - a product of the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Sector Unit, Europe and Central Asia Region - is part of a larger effort in the region to enhance the Bank's analytical and operational work in public finance. The author may be contacted at

Suggested Citation

Polackova, Hana, Contingent Government Liabilities: A Hidden Risk for Fiscal Stability (October 1998). Available at SSRN:

Hana Polackova (Contact Author)

World Bank ( email )

1818 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20433
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics