Ethiopia debt restructuring plan faces hurdles of transparency
Dual-track danger Zambia, heavily indebted to China, in November became the first African country to default on its debt during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even the G20’s less expansive debt service suspension initiative (DSSI), which allows repayments to be deferred but does not provide for writing off debt, is hard to implement in the absence of transparency, says Harry G. Broadman, managing director at Berkeley Research Group LLC in Washington. “The mode and channels through which Chinese lending is made to poor countries present thorny challenges for the effective functioning of the DSSI,” he says.
Chinese state-owned entities do not face strong incentives to follow market standards of transparency. And on the borrower side, there can be disincentives or bans on fully disclosing the terms and magnitude of debts to Beijing, he adds. A DSSI may have only a limited impact if a debtor government is unable to come clean, Broadman says. “Perversely, what may emerge, in effect, is a dual track paradigm for debt relief, one pertaining to bona fide official flows under the auspices of the DSSI, and the other focused on Chinese debt,” he says. “This would hardly be a framework for sound macroeconomic management in recipient countries.” Bottom Line: As was the case with Zambia, opaque debts to Chinese creditors are likely to continue to hamper attempts to provide African debt relief.