While other governments in the world are looking anxiously at their public spending, it turns out that China still has a quarter of its fiscal budget for 2009 left in its coffers.
According to the Ministry of Finance, government spending had reached 5.62 trillion yuan, only 74pc of its target of 7.62 trillion yuan for the year.
Which means that central and government departments are likely to rush headlong into a December spending spree to try to get rid of the remaining 2 trillion yuan ($292 billion) or face having their budgets cut for next year.
There are a combination of reasons why there is so much left-over cash. The first is that fiscal spending is always weighted to the end of the year.
Spending policies are set in March and projects take a while to get off the ground. Indeed, each year ministries and local governments are unable to finish, or even start, projects that they have budgeted for, so the Finance ministry doesn’t disburse the cash. These funds are never rolled into the next year, according to Stephen Green at Standard Chartered.
This year, ministries and local governments were ordered to cut costs because no one knew how the tax projections would turn out in the wake of the financial crisis. In the event, after a slow start, there was a wave of tax revenue in the tail-end of the year, including a 32.6% rise in November.
At the end of the day, the government is receiving a larger share of China’s economic growth than at any previous time, which is a good thing in the wake of the bankrupted state of the public finances in the 1990s.
(Whether or not the public finances are more indebted than they seem because of off-balance sheet public-private projects is another debate, however.)
But there is now a tricky dilemma to wrestle with. If the money ends up being spent in December, it is likely to go on a variety of luxury offices, cars and other trinkets for officials, as well as on vanity projects or even straight into the pockets of bureaucrats.
But if the money ends up accumulating in the Ministry of Finance, and the government keeps hanging onto the benefits of growth, there is a significant if hidden "unbalancing" of the economy, according to Mr Green. It is not just Chinese consumers who are saving too much – it’s the government too.
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