Tracking government debt is hard. Banishing secrecy clauses would make it far easier.

With a few taps on a smartphone, I can check the weather, send messages to friendsMarcello_GIF_700kbps around the world, review my bank account, or even order food. But even in our hyper-connected, data-driven world, it’s exceedingly difficult to pin down government debt – even for researchers with advanced skills and access to big databases. And that’s not for lack of trying.

“Hidden debt” crops up far too frequently and often during or just before a crisis, creating a nasty surprise.  Such was the case in 2016, when the revelation of previously undisclosed debt derailed Mozambique’s development agenda, tainted its reputation as a growth and investment star, and sent its financial sector into crisis. More recently, Chad and Zambia’s debt restructuring negotiations were delayed when their respective debt offices couldn’t produce current and complete records of what was owed (and to whom).

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