Briefing Note: Navigating Sri Lanka’s Debt

The published information on debt underestimates Sri Lanka’s overall external public debt burden and its distribution amongst external lenders. This problem arises because Sri Lanka’s reporting of external debt is limited to debt held directly by the central government and excludes debt held by state-owned enterprises (SOEs). This reporting problem is especially evident when estimating Sri Lanka’s overall debt obligations to China, since much of Sri Lanka’s debt from China is placed on the books of Sri Lanka’s SOEs. It also exposes a loophole by which debt statistics can be manipulated, and even miscounted, in the midst of such manipulations.