II Purpose of the Guidelines

International Monetary Fund
Published Date:
November 2001
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The Guidelines are designed to assist policymakers in considering reforms to strengthen the quality of their public debt management and reduce their country’s vulnerability to international financial shocks. Vulnerability is often greater for smaller and emerging market countries because their economies may be less diversified, have a smaller base of domestic financial savings and less developed financial systems, and be more susceptible to financial contagion through the relative magnitudes of capital flows. As a result, the Guidelines should be considered within a broader context of the factors and forces affecting a government’s liquidity more generally, and the management of its balance sheet. Governments often manage large foreign exchange reserves portfolios, their fiscal positions are frequently subject to real and monetary shocks, and they can have large exposures to contingent liabilities and to the consequences of poor balance sheet management in the private sector. However, irrespective of whether financial shocks originate within the domestic banking sector or from global financial contagion, prudent government debt management policies, along with sound macroeconomic and regulatory policies, are essential for containing the human and output costs associated with such shocks.

The Guidelines cover both domestic and external public debt and encompass a broad range of financial claims on the government. They seek to identify areas in which there is broad agreement on what generally constitutes sound practices in public debt management. The Guidelines endeavor to focus on principles applicable to a broad range of countries at different stages of development and with various institutional structures of national debt management. They should not be viewed as a set of binding practices or mandatory standards or codes. Nor should they suggest that a unique set of sound practices or prescriptions exists, which would apply to all countries in all situations. Building capacity in sovereign debt management can take several years and country situations and needs vary widely. These Guidelines are mainly intended to assist policymakers by disseminating sound practices adopted by member countries in debt management strategy and operations. Their implementation will vary from country to country, depending on each country’s circumstances, such as its state of financial development.

Each country’s capacity building needs in sovereign debt management are different. Their needs are shaped by the capital market constraints they face, the exchange rate regime, the quality of their macroeconomic and regulatory policies, the institutional capacity to design and implement reforms, the country’s credit standing, and its objectives for public debt management. Capacity building and technical assistance therefore must be carefully tailored to meet stated policy goals, while recognizing the policy settings, institutional framework and the technology and human and financial resources that are available. The Guidelines should assist policy advisors and decision makers involved in designing debt management reforms as they raise public policy issues that are relevant for all countries. This is the case whether the public debt comprises marketable debt or debt from bilateral or multilateral official sources, although the specific measures to be taken will differ, to take into account a country’s circumstances.

Every government faces policy choices concerning debt management objectives, its preferred risk tolerance, which part of the government balance sheet those managing debt should be responsible for, how to manage contingent liabilities, and how to establish sound governance for public debt management. On many of these issues, there is increasing convergence on what are considered prudent sovereign debt management practices that can also reduce vulnerability to contagion and financial shocks. These include: recognition of the benefits of clear objectives for debt management; weighing risks against cost considerations; the separation and coordination of debt and monetary management objectives and accountabilities; a limit on debt expansion; the need to carefully manage refinancing and market risks and the interest costs of debt burdens; and the necessity of developing a sound institutional structure and policies for reducing operational risk, including clear delegation of responsibilities and associated accountabilities among government agencies involved in debt management.

Debt management needs to be linked to a clear macroeconomic framework, under which governments seek to ensure that the level and rate of growth in public debt are sustainable. Public debt management problems often find their origins in the lack of attention paid by policymakers to the benefits of having a prudent debt management strategy and the costs of weak macroeconomic management. In the first case, authorities should pay greater attention to the benefits of having a prudent debt management strategy, framework, and policies that are coordinated with a sound macro policy framework. In the second, inappropriate fiscal, monetary, or exchange rate policies generate uncertainty in financial markets regarding the future returns available on local currency-denominated investments, thereby inducing investors to demand higher risk premiums. Particularly in developing and emerging markets, borrowers and lenders alike may refrain from entering into longer-term commitments, which can stifle the development of domestic financial markets, and severely hinder debt managers’ efforts to protect the government from excessive rollover and foreign exchange risk. A good track record of implementing sound macropolicies can help to alleviate this uncertainty. This should be combined with building appropriate technical infrastructure—such as a central registry and payments and settlement system—to facilitate the development of domestic financial markets.

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