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About Government Debt ... Who Knows?

This article argues that essential information about sovereign debt must be publicly accessible and intelligible. Sovereign debt is a public institution, and sovereign debt statistics are a matter of public interest. For most stakeholders, information about sovereign debt is hard to find, harder to understand, and often incoherent. The problem is particularly severe when it comes to domestic debt, non-financial terms, and creditor composition. The leading international data templates were originally designed for relatively narrow policy and commercial objectives, with public accountability as a limited side benefit. This helps explain many of the shortcomings in the prevailing data collection and disclosure regime. To avoid past mistakes and create a durable platform for public accountability, sovereign debt data collection and disclosure should be designed for its public constituents: first and foremost, the people of the borrowing country.