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IMF Government Finance Statistics

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IMF Government Finance Statistics (Fiscal Decentralization Indicators)

Summary Advice: The International Monetary Fund’s Government Finance Statistics (GFS) provides data with consistent definitions across countries and years. The purpose of the GFS is to provide data for monitoring, analyzing and evaluating the performance of the general government sectors, in a framework which is applicable across countries with different legal and institutional structures.  The IMF has developed a number of indicators of governance performance using this data. This page describes those indicators which deal with fiscal decentralization that are derived from the IMF's GFS.

Main Points: The GFS covers 149 countries on a yearly basis and is the only data source with such comprehensive coverage, although the number of countries with sub-national data is reduced by about two thirds. The GFS framework distinguishes between state or provincial and local governments, an important distinction in the decentralization context, and it has more than 50 variables for each government tier allowing fairly detailed analysis of fiscal flows between different levels of government.

The GFS framework provides a breakdown of expenditures by function and by economic type. The functional breakdown of expenditures is a useful tool in analyzing sectoral aspects of decentralization.

The breakdown by economic type distinguishes between current and capital expenditures but excludes interest payments. Defense and interest payments are rarely decentralized, and they can potentially distort measures of decentralization, and the GFS contains the necessary information to adjust for this problem.

While various expenditure patterns can be assessed by the GFS data, less can be said about expenditure autonomy. Expenditures that are mandated by the central government appear as sub-national expenditures, even though subnational governments may have no autonomy in these spending decisions. The fiscal decentralization indicators deal with the following topics:


GFS revenues can be broken down into tax and non-tax revenue, intergovernmental transfers and other grants. A typical question asked in a decentralization context is how much autonomy do sub-national governments have in raising revenue; for instance how much is collected through shared taxes versus piggybacked taxes versus locally determined taxes? Shared taxes appear as sub-national revenue, although the sub-national government has no autonomy in determining the revenue base or rate, since the GFS reports revenues based on which level of government ultimately receives the revenues.

Vertical Imbalance

Vertical imbalance - or the degree to which subnational governments rely on central government revenues to support their expenditures - can be measured by intergovernmental transfers as a share of sub-national expenditures. This measure does not distinguish what proportion of transfers is conditional versus general purpose, and the GFS data do not provide this information.


Sub-national data in the GFS are aggregated across all governments within the same tier. Regional disparities can be important factors in designing fair and successful decentralization, but the GFS does not provide information for analyzing dispersion among sub-national regions. Thus, there is no basis for evaluating horizontal imbalances, i.e. the dispersion in sub-national governments’ ability to raise local revenues. With respect to vertical imbalance, it is possible that some provinces may have large vertical imbalances, while others are virtually autonomous, but the aggregation of fiscal data prohibits such assessment.

Number of Tiers and Jurisdictions

The number of government tiers and the number of jurisdictions within each tier is an important measure of the structure of subnational government, and has potential implications for service delivery. The GFS framework reflects three tiers, although data are rarely reported for all of these tiers, and, as noted above, they are not disaggregated by jurisdiction. The institutional tables in the GFS Yearbook provide information on the number of tiers and jurisdictions within each tier.

List of Indicators and Formulas used to calculate

The letter and number codes are consistent with those of GFS:


Total revenues and grants


Total revenue


Tax revenue


Transfers from other levels of national government


Total expenditures (=C.II)


General public services




Public order and safety






Social security and welfare


Housing and community amenities


Recreational, cultural, and religious affairs and services


Fuel and energy


Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting


Mining and mineral resources, manufacturing, and construction


Transportation and communication


Other economic affairs and services


Other expenditures


Total expenditures (=B.I)


Current transfers to other levels of national government


Capital transfers to other levels of national government

The squared brackets indicate the level of government:


Central Government


State or Provincial Government


Local Government

Access to database:

Source: The International Monetary Fund’s Government Finance Statistics, 2013

Page Created By:  Madina Junussova. The content presented on this page is drawn directly from the source(s) cited above, and consists of direct quotations or close paraphrases. This material does not necessarily reflect the official view of the publishing organization.

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School of Public Policy and Governance