The impact of public–private partnerships on public accounts: the Portuguese roads sector

Luís Cracel Viana*, Joaquim Miranda Sarmento, José António Moreira, Paulo Alves

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The accounting and reporting of public—private partnerships (PPPs) is a matter of extensive debate and is associated with a compelling incentive to follow the PPP route for the construction of public infrastructures, rather than traditional public procurement, even if the PPP route is not affordable and fails to achieve value for money in comparison to traditional public procurement. The aim of this study is to empirically evaluate the so-called hidden debt hypothesis. Using a novel dataset for the Portuguese roads sector, we studied the annual reports of the operators since the adoption of International Financial Reporting Interpretations Committee (IFRIC) 12 from 2010 up until 2017. Our results show a lack of transparency in the reporting of PPPs in public accounts, as well as a material difference between our simulation of the impact of (International Public Sector Accounting Standards) IPSAS 32 in public accounts, and also the impact resulting from the application of the European System of Accounts, according to which official debt figures are calculated. The paper also presents evidence of the effects of the financial bailout on PPPs accounting. Overall, the results show that public debt is understated from 1.96% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010 (3,519 million euros), to 3.99% of GDP in 2014 (6,907 million euros) and an average of 11,027 million euros of fixed assets for the period 2010–2017 are not reported in the Portuguese State Accounts. The results highlight the need for a closer alignment between national accounts and accrual accounting based on IPSAS standards.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-302
Number of pages24
JournalFinancial Accountability and Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


  • Hidden debt hypothesis
  • National accounts
  • Public choice theory
  • Public–private partnerships accounting
  • Transparency


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