The Role and Importance of Debt Management Offices-Part Two
There are four main areas where Guyana hopes to improve its debt management capacity in the coming years. According to Finance Minister, Winston Jordan, these include; strategy formulation, self assessment, operational risk management and negotiations.
With regard to Strategy Formulation, Jordan said that the real focus of a debt management office should be developing and implementing a medium-term debt management strategy. He said that this requires staff with a strong understanding of how to formulate debt strategy, including designing a Medium Term Debt Strategy (MTDS).
Jordan said that increasingly, this also requires the ability to analyze complex financial instruments. Jordan noted that debt management staff must understand financial conventions, financial market calculations, and the mathematics behind the instruments being contracted. He said that they must be able to conduct a cost-benefit analysis that allows the Government to make smart decisions when faced with a menu of instruments or borrowing terms.
Speaking on the area of self-Assessment, the Finance Minister said that a modern debt management office should not have to rely solely on external reviews to guide its improvement.
“We need to master the use of self-assessment tools, such as the Debt Management Performance Assessment (DeMPA), so that our debt management teams can be more proactive in identifying and remedying weak areas in debt management operations and in the institutional framework for public debt management on our own,” the Finance Minister contended.
In relation to Operational Risk Management, the Finance Minister articulated, “We give a lot of attention to managing debt risk, but our internal operations must be robust as well. Debt management offices are responsible for recording debt data, instructing debt payments, and storing loan agreements. Storing information non-systematically, or only in paper form, puts us at risk for data loss.”
He continued, “For example, many of Guyana’s government institutions are housed in wooden heritage buildings. While beautiful, these facilities could be devastated by fire or flooding. When Guyana’s Ministry of Finance Annex was burnt by fire several years ago, important grant and tender board documents were destroyed, and information was lost.”
The Finance Minister said that the Ministry of Finance must improve records management and data storage to avoid such losses, by improving our systems and taking advantage of new technology. In effect, the politician said that Guyana must develop much greater capacity in operational risk management, especially in debt management operations in order to minimize the possibility of loss from system failures, human error and misconduct as well as from natural disasters, such as fires and floods.
As for the area of negotiations, the economist expressed that every country should be able to borrow on terms that are fair and mutually advantageous and that achieve government’s cost and risk debt management objectives. To do this, he said that Guyana’s representatives must be able to negotiate well. He said that this requires better understanding of complex borrowing instruments, as well as a trained team of professionals with demonstrated skills in negotiation strategies and techniques.
The Finance Minister said that improving debt management capacity in these four areas will require Guyana to address a number of institutional challenges. With this in mind, he said that the legal framework for debt management in Guyana comes from a patchwork of legislation, much of it outdated, including the External Loans Act (last updated in 1991), the Guarantee of Loans Act (1974), the General Loans Act (last updated in 1984), the Financial Administration and Audit Act (1963), and the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (2003).
Ideally, a debt management legal framework should address authority to borrow, borrowing limits, guarantees, and on-lending arrangements, and establish institutional structures for debt management. Current laws place some limits on government borrowing, and assign general debt management responsibilities to different agencies.
Jordan said however, that especially with regard to institutional roles and procedures, the laws do not provide a clear legal framework for Guyana’s increasingly modern and complex debt management.
He explained that the broad mandates in the current legislation omit specific parameters for contracting, guaranteeing and servicing external and domestic debt.
“For example, there are no guidelines regarding the issuance and management of guarantees. The existing legal structure also fails to clearly delineate roles, responsibilities and protocols among the agencies that share debt management functions. More importantly, there is no requirement to develop and implement a comprehensive debt management strategy consistent with a clearly articulated view by the government of the portfolio costs and risks it is willing to bear. In addition, there is no requirement under the law to report on debt management performance and whether it has achieved its stated debt management objectives,” the Finance Minister explained.
He noted however that attempts to address these gaps have begun. Jordan said that a single Public Debt and Aid Management Act and Regulations, drafted since 2006, is under active consideration. Once enacted, this legislation would combine the current, disparate laws into a single public debt management framework.
He said that borrowing limits would be specified for total public debt (external and domestic) and provide the needed flexibility to borrow in new markets and with new instruments in tandem with the changing financial architecture.
The Finance Minister also said that the legislation would also establish rules for on-lending arrangements. He said that it would create a legal mandate for the DMD established in the Ministry of Finance, and formalize its role as the lead agency for public debt management.
He said, too, that it would also establish domestic debt functions in the DMD. By assigning responsibility for roles, defining debt management objectives, and establishing audit procedures, the legislation would improve the accountability and transparency of Guyana’s debt management.