The IMF is imploring SA to institute a debt ceiling to stabilise the debt ratio, but the Treasury wants to retain the utmost flexibility to get the country out of its current fiscal bind. To exceed a formal debt ceiling would require parliamentary approval, an obstacle that has brought the US within inches of a complete government shutdown on more than one occasion. So far the US Congress has pushed the debt ceiling up every time it has reached its limit, allowing the debt ratio to keep on climbing. SA, on the other hand, has managed to stick to a self-imposed expenditure ceiling since 2013, mainly through sheer determination on the part of the Treasury. So why should an enforced debt ceiling that is routinely evaded be any better than a voluntary expenditure ceiling that is resolutely observed?Surely it all comes down to the exercise of political will. SA’s problem is that for the past five years in a row the Treasury has set the spending ceiling on the basis of growth forecasts th...

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